Ohio State Practice Observations: Student Appreciation Day Provides First Real Look at Buckeyes’ 2022 Offense and Defense

By Dan Hope on April 2, 2022 at 2:43 pm
Jaxon Smith-Njigba makes a catch in practice

We got our first real opportunity to evaluate the 2022 Ohio State football team in action on Saturday.

The Buckeyes welcomed Ohio State students into the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Saturday for Student Appreciation Day, and reporters who cover Ohio State were welcomed in alongside them to watch the Buckeyes practice, giving us an opportunity to see the Buckeyes go through 11-on-11 work for the first time this spring.

While Ohio State has previously allowed media to watch the first three periods of each of their three Tuesday practices this spring, each of those viewing opportunities only allowed us to watch the Buckeyes go through individual drills, as reporters were asked to leave before the Buckeyes started team drills. With students in the building, however, we had the opportunity to watch more than an hour of practice on Saturday, giving us a closer look at which players might be emerging on offense and defense.

A first look at the offensive depth chart

Because Saturday was our first opportunity this year to watch the Buckeyes go through team drills, it gave us a closer look at who might be in line to start on both sides of the ball as of right now.

There were no big surprises on the first-team offense as TreVeyon Henderson lined up alongside C.J. Stroud in the backfield behind an offensive line of Paris Johnson Jr., Donovan Jackson, Luke Wypler, Matt Jones and Dawand Jones. Cade Stover took most of the first-team reps at tight end, though Joe Royer also mixed in for a healthy amount of first-team work. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Julian Fleming took the majority of first-team reps at wide receiver, though Emeka Egbuka rotated in with Fleming.

Kyle McCord and Devin Brown both took second-team reps at quarterback – led by McCord – with Miyan Williams or Evan Pryor lining up alongside them at running back. Jayden Ballard and Xavier Johnson were the second-team wide receivers along with either Egbuka or Fleming. True freshman Bennett Christian mixed in with Royer for some second-team reps at tight end.

In addition to taking first-team reps at left guard, Jackson also practiced with the second-team offensive line at left tackle. The rest of the second-team offensive line consisted of Toby Wilson at left guard, Jakob James at center, Enokk Vimahi at right guard and Grant Toutant at right tackle. George Fitzpatrick also mixed in for second-team reps at left tackle, while Jack Forsman substituted in at left guard.

Wide receiver Kamryn Babb and tight end Gee Scott Jr. were not spotted at Saturday’s practice, while running back Marcus Crowley, tight end Mitch Rossi and offensive lineman Josh Fryar are among the offensive players unavailable this spring.

A first look at the defensive depth chart

Per usual, Ohio State rotated heavily on the first-team defensive line during Saturday’s practice, but for what it’s worth, sophomores Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau were the first two defensive ends on the field for most of the periods of practice that were open to the media and students. Zach Harrison and Javontae Jean-Baptiste also saw their share of first-team reps at defensive end; both of them have been limited at times this spring due to injuries, so it appeared as though they may have been on a pitch count Saturday.

Taron Vincent and Jerron Cage led the rotation at defensive tackle, as expected, but Ty Hamilton, Tyleik Williams and Mike Hall also got in for first-team work.

Ohio State rotated heavily at linebacker during Saturday’s practice, keeping the picture cloudy with the depth chart there. Steele Chambers and Tommy Eichenberg appeared to take the largest share of first-team reps at the two inside linebacker spots, but Teradja Mitchell and Chip Trayanum also mixed in for first-team work, and true freshmen C.J. Hicks and Gabe Powers even saw some snaps with the starters.

Reid Carrico also took some first-team reps at Sam linebacker when the Buckeyes had three traditional linebackers on the field. In drills where the Buckeyes had a Leo on the field, Sawyer and Mitchell Melton took the majority of reps while true freshman Caden Curry also mixed in for some reps with the second-team defense.

With Cameron Brown only practicing in a limited capacity, Jordan Hancock took first-team cornerback reps opposite Denzel Burke while Jakailin Johnson and Jyaire Brown took the second-team reps at cornerback.

With neither Kourt Williams nor Josh Proctor participating in 11-on-11 work, the starting safeties in team drills were Ronnie Hickman and Bryson Shaw as the two deep safeties and Tanner McCalister at the nickel position. That said, Proctor was on the field and running with the first-team unit alongside Hickman and McCalister in 7-on-7 drills, an encouraging sign for Proctor as he continues to recover from the broken leg he suffered in September.

Defensive back Lejond Cavazos was not spotted at Saturday’s practice, while linebackers Cody Simon and Palaie Gaoteote did not participate in any drills during the portion of practice we got to see. Defensive ends Jacolbe Cowan and Tyler Friday and safeties Lathan Ransom and Jantzen Dunn are among the players unavailable to practice this spring.

A reminder of Ohio State’s quarterback talent

Above all else, the thing that struck me most while watching Saturday’s practice at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center was that Ohio State’s present and future at the quarterback position both look very bright.

Stroud looked as sharp as you would expect Ohio State’s starting quarterback to look entering his second season in the lineup, but McCord and Brown also put their impressive arms on display. Although Brown had his share of freshman moments – during one three-play sequence, he fumbled two snaps, after which Day took Brown off of the field – he also made several beautiful throws, including one 30-yard fade to Kyion Grayes in the left rear corner of the end zone that might have been the throw of the day.

All three of the quarterbacks demonstrated the arm strength and accuracy that could make them elite passers for Ohio State – or in Stroud’s case, already has – and you can watch just a few of their throws below.

On the receiving end of their throws, Smith-Njigba looked ready to pick right up where he left off last season as he proved to be a tough cover for Ohio State’s defensive backs throughout the practice session. Harrison Jr. also stood out as he made several impressive plays, while Egbuka made the catch of the day when he snagged a Brown deep ball with one hand.

A look at kickoff returns

While we had the opportunity to watch the punt team at work during each of the first three practice sessions that were open to the media, Saturday gave us our first chance to see the kickoff and kickoff return teams in action this spring.

As you would expect, Egbuka remains in place as the first-team kickoff returner after coming close to breaking Ohio State’s kickoff return touchdown drought on multiple occasions as a true freshman. Pryor took second-team kickoff return reps behind Egbuka, while Henderson ran with the third-team kickoff return unit.

Other players on the first-team kickoff return unit with Egbuka included Chambers, Xavier Johnson, Mitchell, Stover and Sam Wiglusz, among others.

Recruits, former players in the building

Not coincidentally, Saturday’s Student Appreciation Day came in the midst of Ohio State’s biggest recruiting weekend of the spring, giving some of the Buckeyes’ top targets an opportunity to see how much fan support Ohio State gets.

Notable prospects in attendance included five-star 2023 wide receivers Brandon Inniss, Carnell Tate and Jalen Hale, five-star 2024 wide receivers Jeremiah Smith and Joshisa Trader, five-star quarterbacks Dante Moore (2023) and Dylan Raiola (2024), running backs Mark Fletcher (2023) and Stacy Gage (2024) and 2023 defensive backs Sharif Denson and Daemon Fagan. All five of Ohio State’s 2023 commits – Luke Montgomery, Ty Lockwood, Joshua Padilla, Cedrick Hawkins and Will Smith Jr. – were also in attendance, along with 2022 signees Sonny Styles and Tegra Tshabola.

A bunch of former Ohio State players were also in the building to watch the Buckeyes practice on Saturday, including current NFL draft prospects Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jeremy Ruckert and Master Teague III as well as current and former NFL players Joey Galloway, Cardale Jones, Parris Campbell, Jalyn Holmes and Tyquan Lewis, among many others.

More video

Here’s some more video from Saturday’s Student Appreciation Day practice at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

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