Even though C.J. Stroud has emerged as the frontrunner to start at quarterback, he isn’t taking all the first-team reps yet.
He actually took almost none of them on Wednesday. As reporters who cover Ohio State had the rare opportunity to watch the Buckeyes’ full practice on Wednesday morning (the final practice that will be open to the media before the start of the season), Stroud spent most of the practice watching the other quarterbacks throw – and when he did take reps in team drills, he only handed the ball off.
Ryan Day said after the practice, though, that Stroud was not injured. Rather, on what was Ohio State’s 13th of 25 preseason practices before the Sept. 2 season opener at Minnesota, the Buckeyes simply decided to give him a rest day for his arm.
“Something typically we do in camp is just shut them down at times with their arm, so that’s all that was,” Day said. “It just depends on how much they’ve been throwing, how much we’ve been throwing and how tired they get. So we just kind of rely on them.”
Stroud did throw deep balls at the beginning of practice along with the other quarterbacks, including Quinn Ewers, who was participating in just his third practice as a Buckeye after arriving in Columbus and officially joining the team over the weekend.
Ohio State quarterbacks, including Quinn Ewers in his third practice as a Buckeye, throwing deep balls at the start of practice today. pic.twitter.com/Dtp4FxrcMf— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) August 18, 2021
With Stroud mostly taking mental reps, Kyle McCord and Jack Miller split the vast majority of quarterback reps during team drills on Wednesday. Both of them saw work with the first-team offense, giving each of them the chance to show what they could do in the middle of what could be the final week of the quarterback competition before the Buckeyes start to set their depth chart for the first game.
“What a great opportunity today for them to really step up and take reps with the ones, and a big evaluation this week for those guys,” Day said of Miller and McCord. “They got a few reps this week with the ones, and then by Friday, we need to find out who’s game-ready. So this is a big week for everybody, but certainly those guys as well.”
Ewers, who arrived in Columbus too late to seriously factor into the preseason quarterback competition, got in for a few occasional reps with the backups during team drills but spent most of the practice watching the other quarterbacks alongside Stroud.
That said, what was apparent just from watching Ewers throw the ball during individual drills – the first time I’ve ever seen Ewers throw in person – is that the ball just comes off his hand differently from the average quarterback. While he still has a long way to go to catch up to the other quarterbacks from a mental standpoint, it’s easy to see the physical ability to throw the ball that made him one of the most highly-touted quarterback recruits ever.
Munford still sidelined
A week ago, the question surrounding Thayer Munford was whether he would start at left tackle for a fourth consecutive season or move to left guard. Right now, the question is when Munford will be healthy enough to get back on the practice field.
Munford has been limited in practice since the middle of last week with an undisclosed injury, and he was held out once again on Wednesday. Wearing a baseball cap instead of a football helmet, Munford spent Wednesday’s practice watching the other offensive linemen go through drills but did not participate in any himself.
Day indicated Wednesday, though, that he did not expect Munford’s injury to linger into the season.
“He’s gonna be practicing here real soon,” Day said.
Ohio State does appear to be sticking with the plan of playing Nicholas Petit-Frere at left tackle and Dawand Jones at right tackle, as each of them continued to take the first-team reps at those positions on Wednesday. With Munford out, Matthew Jones took the first-team reps at left guard alongside center Harry Miller and right guard Paris Johnson Jr.
With Jones elevated to the first-team unit, Jakob James and Luke Wypler each took reps at both left guard and center with the second-team offensive line, which also consisted of Enokk Vimahi at left tackle, Donovan Jackson at right guard and Josh Fryar at right tackle.
Walk-on freshman Toby Wilson repped at center with the third-team offensive line, which also included Zen Michalski at left tackle, Ben Christman at left guard, Trey Leroux at right guard and Grant Toutant at right tackle.
Burke and Johnson impress
Out of all the players whose names were called out over the speakers by director of football operations Quinn Tempel because they made good plays during Wednesday’s practice, two whose names seemed to come up as much as any other were freshman cornerbacks Denzel Burke and Jakailin Johnson – so much so that Day jokingly wondered whether Tempel was doing them a favor.
“I don’t know if they’ve got pictures of Quinn on the microphone back in the office somewhere, but they get called out a lot. They’re either making plays or they’ve got blackmail on Quinn,” Day joked. “But nah, they’ve been making a lot of great plays. I gotta give them a lot of credit, they’ve been challenging a lot of routes. It’s been one of the more competitive preseasons we’ve had. And if you can cover Chris (Olave) and Garrett (Wilson) and those guys, then you’ve got a lot of confidence you can cover a lot of guys in the country.”
Both of those freshman cornerbacks broke up multiple passes in team drills on Wednesday, which came on the heels of both of them being named champions for their performances in Saturday’s scrimmage. Burke, who was the first player to lose his black stripe in preseason camp, has been generating buzz for his development since the spring, while Johnson certainly appears to be coming along quickly after enrolling at Ohio State this summer.
Where those two freshmen might stack up on the cornerback depth chart remains uncertain, as Ohio State was rotating heavily on defense during Wednesday’s practice, but it seems as though Burke and Johnson have positioned themselves to potentially challenge for playing time sooner than later.
A banged-up defense
Stroud and Munford weren’t the only Buckeyes that weren’t full participants in practice on Wednesday. Other players who spent at least some of the practice working out on a side field instead of practicing with the rest of the team included wide receiver Kamryn Babb, tight end Patrick Gurd, defensive ends Zach Harrison and Jacolbe Cowan, defensive tackles Jerron Cage, linebackers Tommy Eichenberg, Dallas Gant, Mitchell Melton and Cody Simon, cornerback Sevyn Banks and cover safety Marcus Williamson.
While Babb and Melton are known to be recovering from long-term injuries, Gant has been working his way back from a foot injury that kept him out of spring practices and Banks (who did participate in some team drills on Wednesday) has missed some practice time after he “tweaked something” earlier in camp, it’s uncertain whether the other players are dealing with injuries or if Wednesday was simply a load-management day for them. Ohio State has held some players out of practices at times this month to keep them fresh for the season, like it did last Thursday with Garrett Wilson, who was back on the field as a full participant Wednesday.
The number of defensive players who were limited during Wednesday’s practice was notable during team drills, though, which at times featured walk-on linebackers Ryan Batsch and Cade Kacherski taking reps with the top defensive units along with Teradja Mitchell, Palaie Gaoteote, K’Vaughan Pope and Steele Chambers. Day said he expects to have a healthy defense for the season opener, but he acknowledged that the Buckeyes are “battered and bruised” in their third week of camp and that they will need to know soon who will be ready to play against Minnesota.
“I think there is some depth being built across the board on defense, but you also gotta have your guys. You gotta have your guys that play. And eventually, someone’s gotta get out there and make it happen,” Day said. “By the end of the week, we’ve gotta find out who those guys are when we kick off against Minnesota and that first play, who’s gonna be out there and who are we counting on.”
- Freshman wide receivers Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. have looked like players who can make an immediate impact since spring, and Wednesday’s practice was no different. Both of them had their names called frequently by Tempel, too, as Egbuka consistently got open for catches while Harrison continued to show his ability to make plays on the ball. Olave, Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba are the starters at wide receiver, but I’d be surprised if Egbuka and Harrison don’t also factor significantly into the rotation.
- Miyan Williams and Master Teague both saw plenty of work with the first-team offense at running back, making it appear increasingly likely that the Buckeyes will rotate regularly at the position for at least the beginning of the season.
- Kourt Williams appears to be fully healthy after tearing his ACL last fall. He saw regular action at bullet on Wednesday, along with Ronnie Hickman and Craig Young, and looked the part.
- Because Wednesday was the first time we’ve been able to watch a full Ohio State practice in more than a year, it gave us a new feel for Day is structuring practices this year, and one thing I noticed was that the Buckeyes routinely sprinkled in “teach” periods – in which players work with their individual position groups, and the focus is on learning rather than competing at full speed – throughout the practice. Day said this spring that the Buckeyes added those periods to ensure that players are still able to go full-speed at the end of practice rather than wearing them down.
- Finally, here’s an additional minute of video featuring defensive linemen practicing their tackling:
Ohio State defensive linemen practicing tackling. pic.twitter.com/vs4biZTnvW— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) August 18, 2021