Rose Bowl Practice Observations: Several Notable Defenders Absent, Cade Stover at Linebacker and Chris Olave Still Practicing for Ohio State

By Dan Hope and Griffin Strom on December 28, 2021 at 4:39 pm
Cade Stover with the linebackers

For the first time since preseason camp, members of the Ohio State press corps had the opportunity to watch practice for about 30 minutes on Tuesday afternoon as the Buckeyes held their second practice of Rose Bowl week in Southern California.

A total of 63 scholarship players were spotted by Eleven Warriors during the portion of practice that was open to the media. Not including players who have entered the transfer portal since the end of the regular season, that meant that 18 scholarship players were not seen at practice.

The list of absences from practices included several notable defenders. Defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson, linebacker Cody Simon, cornerback Sevyn Banks and safety Marcus Williamson – all of whom started games during the regular season – were not present on Tuesday afternoon, leaving their availability uncertain for Saturday’s game. Simon battled a shoulder injury for most of the regular season, while Banks missed the final two games of the regular season with an undisclosed injury.

Other players who were not seen at practices included three of the four Buckeyes who have opted out of the Rose Bowl – wide receiver Garrett Wilson, offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere and defensive tackle Haskell Garrett – as well as running back Marcus Crowley, wide receiver Kamryn Babb, offensive linemen Harry Miller and Josh Fryar, defensive end Tyler Friday, defensive tackles Jaden McKenzie and Noah Potter, linebacker Mitchell Melton and safeties Josh Proctor, Jantzen Dunn and Jaylen Johnson.

Crowley, Babb, Miller, Friday, Melton, Proctor, Dunn and Johnson are all out for the season due to injuries.

Despite also opting out of the Rose Bowl, wide receiver Chris Olave was an active participant during the portion of Tuesday’s practice that was open to the media. While he did not participate in every drill, he was seen fielding punts along with wide receivers Jaxon Smith-Njigba and defensive backs Cameron Martinez and Demario McCall.

Ryan Day said Monday that Olave has been practicing with the team throughout bowl practices.

“I have an unbelievable amount of respect for Chris and what he’s done here and everything he’s done for this program,” Day said. “He still wanted to be part of the team and everything like that. Certainly he came out with the team and just wanted to be part of it for the next week.”

Stover practices at linebacker

Cade Stover could be on the move again. After playing one snap at linebacker in a goal-line package against Michigan, Stover was seen practicing with the linebackers for the entirety of Tuesday’s open practice window.

Wearing a white defensive jersey rather than the red offensive jersey he would wear as a tight end, Stover was lining up as a Sam linebacker – the position he was initially recruited to play for the Buckeyes out of high school.

Stover began his Ohio State career as a linebacker in 2019 before moving to defensive end later that season. Stover moved to tight end during the 2020 offseason and has played that position for the past two years, but now, it appears he could be making at least a temporary move back to the defensive side of the ball.

Tackling practice

During his interview session Tuesday morning, Ohio State defensive play caller and secondary coach Matt Barnes said the Buckeyes had been placing an extra emphasis on tackling and fundamentals during bowl practices.

“At the end of the day, X’s and O’s are great, but it usually comes down to running fast, hitting hard, getting off blocks, making tackles, particularly in a bowl game,” Barnes said.

We got to see that in action during Tuesday’s practice when the Buckeyes’ defensive backs spent one period of the open viewing window running through a tackling drill.

Other observations

  • With Wilson opting out, Smith-Njigba was Ohio State’s first-team punt returner while Martinez was fielding punts with the second unit.
  • After missing four of the final six games of the regular season, including Ohio State’s most recent game against Michigan, Master Teague appeared healthy at practice for the Buckeyes. Teague was third in the running back line in multiple drills Tuesday, behind TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, with Evan Pryor occupying the fourth spot.
  • Freshman wide receiver Emeka Egbuka, who missed the final two games of the regular season, appeared healthy and active at practice for the Buckeyes on Tuesday. Day said Monday he expected to have the five-star recruit available for Saturday’s game.
  • There were several notable jersey number switches on the practice field Tuesday, with Stover switching from No. 8 to No. 5 – the number normally worn by Williamson on defense – and Jeremy Ruckert and Gee Scott Jr. swapping jerseys during the session. Ruckert wore No. 13, and Scott wore No. 88.
  • Freshman cornerback Denzel Burke, who wore a bulky shoulder brace against Michigan after suffering an injury against Michigan State, was not wearing the brace on practice Tuesday.
  • With Simon absent from practice, Tommy Eichenberg appeared to be the first-string middle linebacker next to Steele Chambers, while Teradja Mitchell and Palaie Gaoteote comprised the second unit in a couple drills. Mitchell, who did not play at all against Michigan and only played on special teams against Michigan State, was wearing a brace on his right knee.
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