Student Appreciation Day Recap: Jeremiah Smith Looks Like A Superstar and Ohio State’s Quarterback Competition Remains Tight

By Dan Hope on March 30, 2024 at 5:49 pm
Jeremiah Smith at Student Appreciation Day

Saturday’s Student Appreciation Day made it clear why everyone at Ohio State is talking up Jeremiah Smith this spring.

In this year’s first opportunity for media members to get an extended look at the Buckeyes practicing in competitive situations, no one stood out more than the true freshman wide receiver, who made multiple spectacular plays that showed why he was the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2024 recruiting class.

During a 7-on-7 drill early in the early window of practice that was open to media members and students, Smith skied over sophomore cornerback Jermaine Mathews Jr. to snag a deep ball from Lincoln Kienholz.

During team drills later in practice, Smith made another spectacular catch against Ohio State’s top cornerback, Denzel Burke, to haul in a long bomb from Devin Brown.

Knowing that Smith’s catch against him would get plenty of attention, Burke quickly took to social media after the practice to defend himself but compliment Smith.

Those weren’t the only plays Smith made on Saturday, either, as he also looked sharp running short and intermediate routes and making catches throughout the practice.

Asked after the practice if Smith could be an immediate starter this season, Ryan Day indicated that Smith is on that trajectory if he continues to perform like he did on Saturday.

“I’m gonna be careful what I say, but he’s been certainly a pleasure to watch, and we’re all really excited about his future,” Day said. “If he continues on the path that he’s on, he’s gonna play a lot of football and certainly will have a chance to start as well.”

Smith wasn’t the only wide receiver who performed well at Student Appreciation Day. Unsurprisingly, Emeka Egbuka was also among the standouts, making multiple long catches during the practice.

With Brandon Inniss sidelined by what Day described as a “temporary injury,” Carnell Tate and Jayden Ballard took most of the first-team receiver snaps alongside Egbuka, with Smith also mixing in with the top group. Kyion Grayes and Bryson Rodgers saw extensive work alongside Smith with the second unit and both of them made their share of plays, as well, with Rodgers hauling a deep ball on one of the best throws of the day from Devin Brown.

“I think that he's an excellent route runner. I think we need him to play for us this year,” Day said of Rodgers. “He's very quick in short areas. I think he does a nice job in the slot in particular. I think he's a mismatch for a lot of guys in there because of his quickness. He's a very good route runner for the quarterback. He's got excellent body language. Understands space really well and can operate in the short areas very, very well. So the challenge for him is to continue to get stronger and play off contact. But if he can do that, then he'll definitely contribute for us this year.”

Quarterback competition continues

When Will Howard transferred to Ohio State in January, many people (myself included) thought it was a foregone conclusion that the former Kansas State quarterback would be Ohio State’s starting quarterback this season. Saturday’s Student Appreciation Day, however, suggested that may not be the case.

Each of Ohio State’s top four quarterbacks took considerable reps during Saturday’s practice. Devin Brown took the first reps in the order – just as he did during the two previous portions of spring practice that were open to the media – followed by Howard, Lincoln Kienholz and Julian Sayin. That said, all four quarterbacks took snaps with different units over the course of Saturday’s scrimmage. The only scholarship quarterback who didn’t see substantial action on Saturday was Air Noland, who got occasional work at the back of the order but far fewer reps than the other four.

Howard had arguably the worst day among the four quarterbacks on Saturday, at least in terms of throwing the deep ball, where he struggled with his accuracy. Brown, on the other hand, looked the part of a potential starter as the crispest deep passer on the day.

Sayin also had an impressive day, showing the ability to throw the ball with accuracy and zip to all levels of the field as he appears to have separated himself from fellow freshman Noland with the potential to continue climbing the depth chart. Kienholz wasn’t as consistently sharp as Sayin or Brown but had a couple of the day’s best downfield throws.

Howard was better on intermediate throws than he was throwing the deep ball on Saturday, and still performed well enough overall that he had his black stripe removed following the practice, so he remains very much in the thick of the quarterback competition. Day said after the practice that he has been pleased with the progress he’s seen from Howard through Ohio State’s first eight practices, though he wants to see more from Howard over the next two weeks.

“I think you can see it, he was a little bit more calm in the pocket. I thought he had some really good throws. He did miss some throws as well, but I think that it is slowing down for him. He does a really good job in the pocket of having poise in there,” Day said. “I think his height helps him to see over the trees. I've definitely noticed that about him. He's got a good way about having poise back there. And so as we have different reads, as his eyes get right and his feet time up with that, you're starting to see some of those plays being made and the handle of the offense. But only a few weeks in here, I think we're seeing progress, but I’d really like to see him take the next step the next two weeks.”

In the trenches

As has often been the case during spring practices that have been open to the media in recent years, Ohio State’s defensive line was often a step ahead of the offensive line. But the gap between the two units wasn’t nearly as stark on Saturday as it was at this time a year ago.

Saturday’s most common first-team offensive line consisted of left tackle Josh Simmons, left guard Donovan Jackson, center Seth McLaughlin, right guard Luke Montgomery and right tackle Josh Fryar. Center Carson Hinzman, right guard Enokk Vimahi and right tackle Tegra Tshabola also mixed in with the first unit. George Fitzpatrick and Zen Michalski also mixed in at offensive tackle while Austin Siereveld saw action at left guard.

Defensive line standouts on the day included the second-year defensive tackle trio of Kayden McDonald, Will Smith Jr. and Jason Moore. McDonald and Smith both broke through the line to record safeties during a drill on which the offense was backed up to its own goal line. Moore, who entered Saturday’s practice with buzz after Larry Johnson talked him up earlier this week, got to Howard with an inside rush to knock a pass out of his hands.

Adding to the challenge for the offensive line on Saturday was Jim Knowles’ defense bringing frequent blitzes throughout the scrimmage action. C.J. Hicks made the most of those blitzing opportunities, blowing up multiple plays in the backfield. Caleb Downs also recorded a sack on a blitz.

More observations from Student Appreciation Day

  • With Lathan Ransom still working his way back to full speed from the Lisfranc injury that ended his season last year, redshirt freshman Jayden Bonsu took most of the first-team reps at strong safety alongside Downs at free safety. With Malik Hartford and Ja’Had Carter also absent from team drills, Jaylen McClain and walk-on Brenten “Inky” Jones also saw extensive action at safety, with Jones making multiple pass breakups.
  • Mathews saw regular work with the first-team defense, rotating in with Burke and Davison Igbinosun at cornerback. The second-team rotation consisted primarily of Lorenzo Styles Jr., Calvin Simpson-Hunt and Aaron Scott Jr., all of whom held their own against Ohio State’s receivers in coverage, showing that the Buckeyes have plenty of cornerback depth to work with this season.
  • Quinshon Judkins’ speed in space stood out during Saturday’s practice, highlighted by a 60-yard catch-and-run touchdown off a wheel route.
  • Former Ohio State players in attendance for the practice included Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Chris Olave, Marvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Johnson, Luke Wypler, Kamryn Babb, Sam Wiglusz, Cade Kacherski and Avery Henry.
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