Spring Practice Insider — Lots of Familiar Faces on Defense
By Tony Gerdeman
Wednesday was the start of Spring practice for the Buckeyes, and defensively speaking it looked a lot like practices from last year. When a defense returns nine starters, that sort of thing tends to happen.
Wednesday's practice consisted mainly of position drills with some basic scrimmaging mixed in. Right now players are in shorts and helmets, so there isn't any hitting going on.
Players and coaches are feeling each other out at the moment, but the coaches aren't missing anything. For instance, when watching new cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs with his unit, he was always getting on his players for putting their hands on their hips when they were tired.
He also made his players do push ups whenever they dropped an interception—and they ended up doing quite a few push ups on the day.
The lone surprise on the first unit was rising sophomore Curtis Grant at middle linebacker. He came in last year as a top five high school player, but was never able to pick up the system. It appears that business is beginning to pick up for Grant.
Ryan Shazier was at the weakside linebacker spot and Etienne Sabino was at the strong side. When they went to the nickel, Sabino left for Orhian Johnson, who went to safety while Christian Bryant went to nickel back.
Here is how the first two units looked (there was no third unit):
DE - Adam Bellamy / Chase Farris / Se'Von Pittman
DT - John Hankins / Michael Bennett
DT - Garrett Goebel / Joel Hale
DE - John Simon / Steve Miller
SLB - Etienne Sabino / Luke Roberts
MLB - Curtis Grant / Storm Klein / Conner Crowell
WLB - Ryan Shazier / Conner Crowell / Joshua Perry
CB - Bradley Roby / Adam Griffin / Tyvis Powell
CB - Travis Howard / Doran Grant
S - C.J. Barnett / Corey Brown / Ron Tanner
S - Christian Bryant / Orhian Johnson
While Grant was certainly with the first team for the entire day, it should be mentioned that Storm Klein was working with a green jersey, denoting some type of injury. He only participated for about half of the practice. When his day was done, Conner Crowell moved to middle linebacker behind Grant.
It's probably safe to consider the linebacking situation a bit fluid at the moment behind the top three.
The defense worked a little bit on a five-man defensive line, and when they did Joel Hale moved to the first team. Kenny Hayes came in with the second team.
Judging Books By Their Covers
By the time September rolls around, I think Kenny Hayes is going to look more like Johnathan Hankins than Johnathan Hankins will.
Hayes, who was listed as a 240-pound freshman defensive lineman last year, is now every bit of 285 pounds. Granted, last year's listing was a little light, but there is no mistaking Hayes for a speed rusher any longer. If he can keep the quickness that he has always had, he could end up quite a player on the inside down the road.
This being my first time seeing freshman linebacker Joshua Perry in person, I couldn't believe how skinny he looked. He's listed at 6-3 231 pounds, and he probably is, but he looks more like a receiver than a linebacker at the moment.
Just looking at him, you wonder how much weight he could comfortably carry and still play linebacker. To get him to look like you'd expect a linebacker to look, he'd probably have to put on another 25 pounds just to keep from looking skinny. His frame, along with his speed and athleticism, gives him a very high ceiling.
This was also my first time getting to see freshman defensive back Tyvis Powell in person. He's listed as a 6-3 corner, and I completely buy that number. He's noticeably tall when working with the cornerbacks. In fact, when he was standing next to sophomore cornerback Adam Griffin (5-8 180), the top of Griffin's helmet barely reached the bottom of Powell's neck.
I sort of thought that Powell might start out at corner simply because of the lack of scholarship numbers at the position, but he didn't look all that out of place. We'll learn more over the next few weeks though.
Hankins, now a junior, also continues to look good, though Meyer did add after practice that Hankins still has some work to do with his weight. "I saw some jiggling out there," he quipped.
Sophomore Ryan Shazier is now weighing in at 227 pounds, and it's a "solid 227 pounds" according to Meyer. Shazier weighed in at 227 pounds prior to Spring Break and weighed in at 227 upon his return, which Meyer indicated was a sign that Shazier is taking things very seriously.
The Wonder Twins
When Kerry Coombs was putting his unit through the paces, he would always have cornerbacks Travis Howard and Bradley Roby do the drills first so that everyone else could see how it was supposed to be done.
Clearly, they are two of the leaders on the defense this season, and that leadership starts right in their own group. Now they weren't completely free of Coombs' criticisms, but they certainly did more good than bad on the afternoon.
One of the more interesting things that I saw on the day was that Howard appeared to be almost like a liaison between Coombs and his fellow cornerbacks. Following one particular drill when Coombs wasn't happy with rising sophomore Doran Grant, Howard stepped in and explained why Grant did what he did. Coombs listened to them both, nodded, and sent them on their way.
Howard and Roby should both be very good this season, and it's clear that the coaches are counting on them to be leaders in every facet.
Counting on Curtis
It was a bit of a surprise to see Curtis Grant running with the first team on Wednesday, but according to his head coach, it's almost do or die time for the sophomore.
"He had an excellent offseason and he’s a guy who has to play well for us," Meyer said. "It’s his first day. He’ll be fine. We have no choice. He has be a player for us. If he’s not, we have a problem."
As far as what held Grant back last year, Meyer explained it pretty succinctly.
"He wasn’t enjoying football, not very confident and not playing fast," he said.
When we spoke to Grant last season, he explained that up until college, football had come very easy to him. Last year was a hard lesson for him, and now it's time to put that lesson to good use.
Emptying the Notebook
- Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel and Shazier shared a chest bump prior to practice beginning. I don't recall Jim Heacock ever doing that. Though I also don't recall looking for it.
- Safeties Zach Domicone and Jamie Wood were both held out today as both are still recovering from January surgeries. Defensive end J.T. Moore was in a green jersey, indicative of some type of injury.
- It was fun watching Kerry Coombs chasing his cornerbacks down during scrimmaging. He also has a whistle that must be specific to him, because when he whistles, his players turn immediately.
- Rising sophomore defensive tackle Michael Bennett certainly hasn't lost any quickness. He still bursts through the line and is a tough matchup for any guard. I believe he played defensive tackle exclusively today, which is where he is certainly at his best.
- I think we witnessed the tallest cornerback-receiver matchup in the nation today when 6-3 Tyvis Powell stood opposite 6-6 T.Y. Williams during seven on sevens.
- Can't say enough about how good it was to see redshirt freshman Conner Crowell running around again. After a horrific ankle injury in his state high school playoffs, it's been a long road back for Crowell. He finally appears good to go, and it will be interesting to see what it leads to.
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