Teleconference Bullets: Ohio State Assistant Coaches Discuss Their Position Groups, How They're Adapting to Unusual Offseason

By Dan Hope and Colin Hass-Hill on April 22, 2020 at 10:15 am
Kerry Coombs

For the first time since the coronavirus outbreak canceled Ohio State's final 12 spring practices, reporters who cover the Buckeyes had the opportunity to talk to some of the team's assistant coaches on Wednesday.

Seven assistant coaches participated in Wednesday morning's teleconference, with defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs, defensive line coach Larry Johnson, running backs coach Tony Alford, wide receivers coach Brian Hartline, offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, linebackers coach Al Washington and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson each available in one of three 30-minute sessions.

Updates from each of them are below.

Kerry Coombs

  • Coombs said Sevyn Banks, Tyreke Johnson and Marcus Hooker are among the defensive backs who he expects to play bigger roles this season.
  • Banks “competed really well” in the three days of spring practices the Buckeyes had, Coombs thought.
  • Coombs said he didn't want to “over-install” this spring because there was no need to make major changes to a defense that was ranked No. 1 in the country last year, but he was pleased with what they were able to install during the first three days of spring practice. Said he isn't trying to install many new plays or concepts in virtual meetings, because that's difficult to do over a computer screen.
  • On being cooped up in the house: “I'm absolutely climbing the walls ... but I'll tell you this, it gives you a lot of time to recruit, and watch tape, so that's fun.”
  • Coombs said he bought a ping-pong table yesterday. “I said we've got to compete somehow, honey. We've got to find something to do.”
  • On Damon Arnette: “Don't be surprised how high he gets drafted. That kid's a player.”
  • Coombs said he thinks Tyreke Johnson fits better outside than inside, and Coombs is excited about his potential.
  • On Pete Werner: “I think Pete has tremendous versatility ... I think that he has the athletic skill set to be able to play virtually anywhere on the field.”
  • Coombs said he remembers his kids returning home from college for the first time and that being a difficult adjustment for them. "I can only imagine what it would have been like if we were locked in the house all that time. I think there might have been murders involved."
  • On the Buckeyes' NFL draft success, Coombs said he only wants to recruit players who have visions of playing in the NFL. At the high school level, where Coombs said he only coached two players in 24 years who went on to play in the NFL, it's different; you're just trying to hope players be the best they can be.
  • Coombs said he believes Ohio State's defensive back recruiting efforts for the class of 2021 have gone “fantastic“ so far. 
  • On how coaches are building camaraderie with their players: “I'll let Larry answer that, because I think he's one of the best in the world at it.”
  • Coombs said he has been talking regularly with Arnette and Jeff Okudah as they prepare for this week's NFL draft.
  • Coombs said Ryan Day “has a great feel” for talking to players and their families, which has been crucial to the Buckeyes' recruiting success.
  • Coombs said he once saw Larry Johnson riding in the tailgate of a pickup truck with the family of a player he was recruiting. That's how hard he works as a recruiter.

Larry Johnson

  • Taron Vincent, Haskell Garrett, Jerron Cage and Antwuan Jackson are among the defensive tackles who need to step up, Johnson said.
  • Johnson said he's “really pleased” with where Jonathon Cooper is at right now. 
  • While it's unfortunate he only had three spring practices after missing all of last season with a torn labrum, Vincent performed well in the first three spring practices and Johnson likes what he's seen from him so far. Said Vincent could be a really important player for the defense at the 3-technique position.
  • On developing players who get to the NFL: “Talent is a gift. To be elite, you have to choose to be elite.”
  • Johnson said he thinks Ohio State sells itself, so the Buckeyes' track record of developing NFL players is just one part of its recruiting pitch.
  • “If you look up the word warrior, you're gonna see Coop's name right next to it.” Johnson said it was tough to see Cooper go through his injury last year, but Johnson's thrilled to have him back for another year to provide key experience and leadership for the defensive line this year. “The minute he told me he was coming back, you talk about the happiest coach in the world.”
  • Johnson said he could see right away that Zach Harrison had a “really incredible work ethic.” On his potential, “I think the sky's the limit for Zach.”
  • Johnson said Zoom meetings have played a key role in building camaraderie with his unit while away from campus. Said they have “great dialogue” and “open conversation.”
  • When you have players like Chase Young and the Bosa brothers, “you almost expect him to leave in three years.”

Tony Alford

  • He says he had a previous relationship with Trey Sermon from recruiting him in high school, and he's been able to "watch him from afar" at Oklahoma the past couple of seasons. Says they reached out to him when Ohio State "felt like we had a need." 
  • On Sermon: "We're anxious to get started with him. We're happy to have him. And we're expecting him to come in here and compete and help this football team the best he can."
  • On how he'll split carries and use the running back: "They're all going to get ready to play. They're all going to get prepared to play. We're going to do whatever we need to win games." He said it would be "premature" to decide whether or not to use a running-back-by-committee approach.
  • Alford says Miyan Williams would've been able to come to watch spring practices since he's from Cincinnati to "kind of get his feet wet by sight." That, he says, might set him back just a little bit, but he wasn't an early enrollee so the benefits would've been limited anyway.
  • On filling up the proverbial toolbox with abilities from afar: "It's hard. It's challenging, to be honest." He says it's a challenge throughout the country, so it's not unique to Ohio State. 
  • On the recruiting successes: "I think that we have a great staff. We've got a great product, if you will, to showcase at The Ohio State University and our football program." He says they've "got a long way to go until signing day."
  • On Steele Chambers: "He wasn't overlooked from within our walls. He was anticipating getting a ton of reps, as we all were." He says Chambers is more vocal and is somewhat of a perfectionist. "He's a big back. He's a big guy and wants to improve on his skills." He says he was showing in the first couple practices that he's improved from the fall.
  • Alford says he follows what the doctors say about the rehabs of Master Teague and Marcus Crowley: "I go off of what they tell me. All indications are they're both doing well in rehab."
  • "Football, obviously, we love what we do," he says, but there are other people affected by the coronavirus. He says he's "very sensitive to the health and well-being of our players, staff and families," but he's also trying to keep the team prepared to play when allowed.
  • On whether what happened in the 2020 class changed his philosophy: "We're honest. We call it what it is. So no, it doesn't change my philosophy."
  • On talking about the NFL in recruiting: "I think that our track record speaks for itself." However, he says "this place is much, much, much bigger than the NFL." He says reaching the NFL isn't "the selling point." Says it's about "relationship-building."
  • On the difference between the 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes: "They said yes. I don't know." He says he gets tired of talking about next year and he's not sure what changed between this cycle and last cycle.
  • Alford said he wants to make it "very clear" that he is excited about Miyan Williams, Ohio State's running back signee for the class of 2020.
  • He says he's relied heavily on Master Teague for his leadership during this time.

Brian Hartline

  • "Our goal is to improve day in and day out." He says they want to have a "myself versus myself" approach while also out-working every other team's players.
  • On what Ohio State missed out on by not having spring camp: "It's more the ability to take meetings to the field. The mental aspect of the game. The ability to make mistakes and correct them." He says it's more about finding out how players dissect and interpret different things.
  • "I really wanted to room to begin having that bond." He says they'll "be OK" from the football side, but he believes the biggest loss of not having spring camp was within the wide receivers room.
  • Hartline says he's "very encouraged" with the four freshman wide receivers.
  • On Chris Olave: "Chris is a coach's dream." He says the Fiesta Bowl-ending play had "a chance to enhance where he thought he was and be that much better." He wants to be the best player in the country.
  • He says he's at home with his 7-month old and 2-year old kids right now with his wife away from the house while on the conference call.
  • Hartline says beyond Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, "we don't have a ton of guys who have played a lot."
  • At Ohio State, he says, if you get onto the field at Ohio State, you're one of the best in the country.
  • "When we get back, we've got to probably be on a fast track."
  • Says Jaylen Harris is "doing an excellent job" taking the group under his wing.
  • On the message to the team while working through the effects of the coronavirus: "Be where your feet are. Be in the present." He says you "have to find the silver lining of the current situation" and "control the now." 
  • On Garrett Wilson in the slot: "Frankly, I was already having visions of that last year." He says spring would've been a good time to test players in different spots. Hartline says Wilson will "probably" play the slot, though he notes things can change.
  • He says he emphasized to the wide receivers the importance of getting into the playbook this offseason in order for the quarterbacks to know they know what they're doing when they get together on the field again.
  • Hartline says the recruiting conversations about playing in the NFL are quick. "At the end of the day, guys, I think it just comes down to having real relationships." He says he really enjoys getting to know young men that are trying to reach their dreams. He says Anthony Gonzalez will speak at Real Life Wednesdays today.
  • On how the wide receivers are working together virtually: "A lot of what we do from a day-to-day is really family-based."

Greg Studrawa

  • He notes the importance of the veteran leadership on the line.
  • On Wyatt Davis is showing up on lists as one of the country's best players: "Because he's physical. He tries to destroy people. He doesn't try to position block or just get the job done." He says that's a blessing and sometimes a curse because he sometimes eschews technique in favor of power. He says they're trying to blend that mindset with improved technique.
  • To win a position battle, it's going to take someone to come out and take the job "by the you-know-what." He says he thinks all three of Nicholas Petit-Frere, Dawand Jones and Paris Johnson are capable of winning the starting right tackle job.
  • On Paris Johnson not having a full spring: "Yes, it is a setback. But we've all been dealing with setbacks." He says his maturity and how he attacks things makes him think he's still able to win a starting job as a freshman. Says the weightlifting "transformed him."
  • He says Jonah Jackson will be "outstanding" in the NFL. He thinks Jackson can be an "elite center" at the next level, which some teams have asked him about. "I think he's going to play a long time."
  • On the left guard competition: "Harry Miller, Gavin Cupp, Matt Jones, all three of those guys are going to be working at that spot." He says Miller did well in the spring and Jones opened his eyes a bit in the spring.
  • On Nicholas Petit-Frere: "I think this is Nick's time." He says he's finally got his weight and strength up after being a little bit light last year. He also got important snaps last season, Studrawa said. "He is a rep guy. A guy that needs to do it and do it and do it." He says he walks with a bit of a different swagger and talks with more confidence these days.
  • He says keeping weights up and down is "a concern" and something they pay attention to every day. Some players, such as Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis, don't have problems with their weights. Younger players, though, need to spend a lot of time on their weight.

Kevin Wilson 

  • They've had discussions about how many weeks the football team would need to ramp up to the season. "You're going to need a few weeks, three, four weeks just to get back in running shape." He says three weeks of conditioning followed by around four weeks of preseason camp might work. He thinks a six-to-eight-week window might be necessary.
  • Wilson runs through all of the benefits of Ohio State football throughout what the program calls the "circle of care." He says "it's a great sell in recruiting."
  • A lot of benefits from the quarterbacks come throughout the summer when they work with the team's wide receivers, which won't happen. "That's going to be a concern." As they get through the summer, "it'll be interesting to see how we close that gap."
  • He says Ryan Day will trust Justin Fields more. Says the playbook might open up a bit more. He says Fields is just about the most talented quarterback he's ever seen catching snaps.

Al Washington

  • Washington says because of the returners, the linebackers were able to ramp up their install more so than usual. "It was good to see what we saw" in the three practices of spring camp. He notes that some of the veterans might be able to come back "with a little more spring in their step" after having limited spring practices.
  • On whether he has a linebacker depth chart: "To be honest, it's hard to make that statement because you got three practices, and it's hard to change what was with three practices." He says the less experienced players will be "critical to our success." 
  • Malik Harrison was "starting to hit his stride" this season, and "his trajectory is headed upward." Washington thinks he showed a lot of what he can do in the Senior Bowl. He believes Harrison will "thrive in any system."
  • On Zach Harrison: "My take on Zach is No. 1, he's highly intelligent." He says Harrison has had a passion for football, and he remembers him meeting with his high school coach about coverage, which never happens with defensive linemen. He says he thinks everyone saw Harrison "fundamentally grow" throughout his freshman season.
  • Washington says this is the first time he's been at the same school since 2016, which helps in recruiting. Last year, he moved from Michigan to Ohio State: "To be honest, it was difficult." He says they do "a lot of group recruiting," which is "far more effective" when working with the other coaches on the staff. "I'm not theorizing. I'm talking about experience."
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