A few thousand fans crowded into Ohio State’s indoor practice facility on Saturday, and, as he’s done three camps running, Michael Thomas gave them all something to remember and rave about.
The redshirt sophomore stuck out one hand in the corner of the end zone, plucked a pass out of the air as if the football and his glove were made of velcro and started a team-wide celebration with yet another entry on his spring highlight reel.
“I just took last season like a developmental year,” Thomas said. “That motivates me more, motivates me every day.
“We’ve been waiting for spring to come around since we knew we were probably going to redshirt. Now it’s here and we’re going hard and competing every day.”
Thomas has had a knack for winning those battles in the spring, and it has only made his lack of production when it really counts all the more puzzling.
As an early enrollee in 2012, Thomas dominated the spring game with a team-high 12 catches, a number that was even more notable with the Buckeyes coming off a season in which no player made more than 14 receptions.
Last spring, Thomas seemed to always have the edge on the practice field during open workouts, using his 6-foot-3, 203-pound frame to overpower defensive backs on intermediate routes or flashing his speed and ball skills to make plays deep down the field.
But his first season in 2012 ended with just three receptions. Last fall, a disappointing training camp in August prompted the coaching staff to bench him for the opener, a decision that ultimately sent him down the path to a season on the sideline.
“He didn’t have a great fall camp,” wide receivers coach Zach Smith said. “So, I didn’t play him in the first game, mainly because I wanted him to realize that we’re not going to go a whole season with him preparing the way he prepared, performing the way he performed in practice. That’s just not what we expect here. After that game, kept going, he kept growing, but we didn’t want to waste a year on Mike just to catch 12 balls or 15.
“We weren’t going to put him in the game unless we had to, so we saved a year, but he got a year of experience preparing to play.”
That extra year might come in handy down the road for the Buckeyes when or if Thomas does end up tapping into his outsized potential, and he certainly had plenty of chances to build himself into a dangerous target while working against future NFL cornerback Bradley Roby on the practice field last season.
Ohio State has been able to put up prolific, historic offensive statistics in the past two seasons while leaning heavily on its rushing attack and not getting quite as much balance from the passing game as the coaching staff would like, an issue Urban Meyer has made well known he’d like to fix heading into his third season with the program. A lack of depth at receiver isn’t solely to blame for that, much like a rough training camp that produced a redshirt for Thomas wasn’t the only factor that limited some of the options and production on the perimeter.
But Thomas has the ability to help solve both problems at the same time. He’ll just have to move his next encore performance up to the fall.
“I just had to reach out a little bit, extra effort, one-handed catch, it hit my glove and stuck to it,” Thomas said after adding another spring touchdown catch to his collection. “There are still a lot of things I have to work on, but we’re getting better every day.”
Small crowds have had a chance to see that improvement in the spring. But the Buckeyes are still waiting to see him show it off to a packed stadium when it truly matters.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State will pay more than $2 million in total guarantees to bring Virginia Tech, Kent State and Cincinnati to Ohio Stadium this fall.
The university disclosed the payouts on Monday at the request of The Associated Press.
Cincinnati, located a couple of hours away, will receive the most money -- $888,246 -- to play the Buckeyes on Sept. 27. Kent State, also located about two hours away, will get $850,000 to appear in Columbus on Sept. 13. Virginia Tech, which comes to Ohio Stadium on Sept. 20 as the first of a home-and-home series, will get a $350,000 guarantee.
The Buckeyes get an $850,000 guarantee to open against Navy on Aug. 30 at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.
Several Big Ten squads held scrimmages or open practices, and the defenses had the edge in most of them. The offenses stepped up in a few, and several quarterbacks appear to be separating themselves.
Let's recap the weekend scrimmages. (Note: Scrimmages that were closed to the media and had no available statistics.)
Despite a new-look front seven and several position changes, Wisconsin's defense dominated Saturday's scrimmage. Cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary both had good days against an undermanned receiving corps, and coach Gary Andersen called the quarterback play very average. "We have a long way to go in the throw game, and that's disappointing," Andersen said. "If we want to be a good team, we have to figure that out." The defense also shined against the run, even against top backs Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement.
Technically, the Boilers' offense won Saturday's jersey scrimmage at Ross-Ade Stadium. But the defense looked stronger for much of the day, recording seven sacks and two takeaways. Unofficially, five Boilers recorded sacks, including two from tackle Michael Rouse III, who finished with three tackles for loss. Coach Darrell Hazell said of the defensive line, "They played in the [offensive] backfield."
Top quarterbacks Danny Etling and Austin Appleby struggled, combining to complete 21 of 42 passes for 205 yards with a touchdown (Etling) and an interception (Appleby). Running back Raheem Mostert highlighted the offense with 134 yards and two touchdowns on only nine carries. Mostert is making a strong push this spring to be Purdue's No. 1 running back.
The Gophers' defense loses top performers Ra'Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen from last fall's unit, but it controlled play on Saturday. Minnesota's D held the offense without a point on its first seven possessions in the scrimmage. Safety Cedric Thompson had an excellent interception off a deflection on the first drive. The offense picked it up later in the scrimmage, as quarterback Mitch Leidner found KJ Maye for a 50-yard touchdown strike, and both Leidner and Berkley Edwards had long touchdown runs.
Here's one offense that flexed its muscles on Saturday after being subdued earlier in the week. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. had an "efficient" performance, according to coach Bo Pelini, as he continues to look like the team's top signal-caller. Armstrong ran for two touchdowns. Sophomore Terrell Newby received a lot of work at running back as Ameer Abdullah sat out, and receiver Jordan Westerkamp turned a short pass into a long gain. Defensive tackle Aaron Curry left the field with a neck injury, but Pelini thinks he'll be fine.
The offense recorded a 27-25 win against the defense in MSU's first spring jersey scrimmage, as quarterback Connor Cook completed 15 of 21 passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett, who has been relatively quiet since transferring from Tennessee, had five receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown. Tyler O'Connor, competing for the backup quarterback job, had a good day (10-for-15 passing, 132 yards, TD).
After allowing a touchdown on the opening possession, the defense forced four consecutive stops. Standouts included safety Kurtis Drummond (six tackles, 1 TFL, interception), end Shilique Calhoun (two sacks) and linebacker Chris Frey, an early enrollee, who had two sacks and three tackles for loss.
The Illini had their second off-site practice of the spring, traveling to Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield for a controlled scrimmage on Friday night. Quarterback Wes Lunt continues to look like Illinois' starter. According to Rivals.com's Doug Buchson, Lunt completed his first 14 pass attempts against the second-string defense for about 250 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman wideout Mike Dudek continues his strong spring, and receiver Geronimo Allison had a 45-yard touchdown catch from Lunt.
Defensive linemen Kenny Nelson and DeJazz Woods stood out against the second-team offensive line, consistently penetrating the backfield. Cornerback Caleb Day also looked good.
The most important thing coming out of Rutgers' first spring scrimmage was some clarity at quarterback, as Gary Nova, Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano all worked with the first-team offense. Although a rash of injuries made it tough to get a true gauge, Bimonte had the best day, leading two touchdown drives. Coach Kyle Flood said all three signal-callers will continue to work with the top offense. Flood singled out defensive linemen Darius Hamilton and Kemoko Turay for their play during the scrimmage.
Like several other Big Ten teams, Northwestern can't have full-blown scrimmages because of its injury situation. But the Wildcats had their top units match up for stretches of Saturday's practice on the lakefront. Trevor Siemian entered the spring as the No. 1 quarterback and appears to be ending it the same way. Siemian looked sharp on his first series, completing all three of his attempts. Dropped passes were a problem for much of the day, but wide receiver Kyle Prater, a USC transfer who has battled injuries for much of his career, had a one-handed grab on a pass from Zack Oliver. Cornerback Matt Harris and safety Kyle Queiro both made plays for the defense.
The Buckeyes invited students inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for Saturday's practice, creating some cool scenes. Several young players stood out, namely cornerback Eli Apple, who had two interceptions and a big hit. Running back Curtis Samuel, an early enrollee, also sparked the crowd with a 50-yard touchdown run. Linebacker has been an area of concern for Ohio State, but Darron Lee and Chris Worley both made some plays on the outside. Ezekiel Elliott is looking more like Ohio State's top running back, as he showed his size and versatility during the practice.
Links time ...
- Michigan's defense definitely had the edge in the spring game. The young excuse is getting old for the Wolverines.
- Indiana WR Isaac Griffith speaks publicly for the first time since his swimming accident. Hoosiers wideout Cody Latimer could be a first-round pick.
- A good primer on the Northwestern union vote.
- New Nebraska QB recruit Kevin Dillman boasts tremendous potential.
- Like defense? Wisconsin's dominated Saturday's scrimmage. Minnesota's defense also shined, although there were a few offensive bright spots. Purdue's defense controlled the tempo in its scrimmage.
- Penn State coach James Franklin lists his spring standouts.
- Illinois QB Wes Lunt performed well in Friday's scrimmage. So did freshman WR Mike Dudek, a standout through the spring.
- What we learned from Rutgers' sixth spring practice. Yet another misstep for Rutgers AD Julie Hermann.
- Ohio State's freshmen stepped up on student appreciation day.
- Michigan State LB Darien Harris has waited for this moment.
- Iowa shouldn't worry about a lack of a featured back.
- Projecting Michigan's post-spring depth chart.
Don't forget: Twitter!
To the inbox ...
Kenny from Cincy writes: I was comparing on-the-field accomplishments of the past two Ohio State QBs and I feel like Terrelle Pryor has had a better career (you know, despite crippling the program the next year but I feel like most in Buckeye land have forgiven him). Pryor: 3 Big Ten championships, a Rose Bowl win, and a Sugar Bowl win over a SEC team in three years (I know the games were vacated, but it did happen). Braxton Miller: 0-2 in bowls and 0 Big Ten championships, but two Silver Footballs and 24 wins in a row are nice. My question is, due to the expectations that QBs like Troy Smith and Pryor elevated, do you think Miller has to win a Big Ten championship or more this year or will the Braxton Miller years be seen as a failure in Buckeyes fans' eyes?
Adam Rittenberg: Kenny, this is a really interesting debate regarding each quarterback's legacy. There's no doubt Miller has accomplished more individually than Pryor. He could be the first Big Ten player to win three offensive player of the year awards. He likely would have won a Big Ten championship in 2012 if Ohio State had been eligible for postseason play, but when you look at macro team accomplishments -- league titles and BCS bowl wins -- Pryor definitely gets the edge. He likely was an ill-timed blitz away from having a third BCS bowl win in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl against Texas. One big difference is Pryor played on teams with much better defenses. Miller had several reasons to return for his senior season, and winning a Big Ten title certainly is one of them.
Adam Rittenberg: Joe, I hear you and it definitely increases the likelihood of a rematch in the Big Ten championship, but I also see the league's viewpoint. It wants a greater schedule rotation to enhance your product week after week. It wants players to face every league team at least once in a four-year period. I also think it's tricky to demand another quality nonleague game in place of the ninth Big Ten contest. Some schools would step up, but you need teams from other power conferences to play ball, too, which is no guarantee. I also think some schools would schedule cupcakes. Bowl committees rarely care about strength of schedule.
Adam Rittenberg: Joe, I'm very impressed with James Franklin's staff. They're very sharp guys who know how to keep the energy level high and relate well to a group of new players. Everyone knows that Franklin operates in fifth gear, but his assistants do, too, and there's tremendous cohesion with the staff. It would have been much harder if the staff lacked familiarity as it tried to get to know the players. My big takeaway: Penn State's defense is much further along than the offense, and the Lions likely will need to win low-scoring games this fall. Coordinator Bob Shoop has a good plan and inherits some good pieces. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is a once-in-a-generation type quarterback, but he'll face more pressure this year because of the issues with the offensive line.
Adam Rittenberg: Kevin, it's a good point to raise, especially because I think Michigan State is being overlooked heading into 2014 just because it hasn't been a traditional power. You hear a lot about Ohio State making a run for the College Football Playoff, but Michigan State dominated the Big Ten last year (nine wins by 10 or more points), won the Rose Bowl and brings back quarterback Connor Cook and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, among others. Wisconsin has gained national respect in the past 20-plus years, but the Badgers also recently lost three consecutive Rose Bowls, which hurt their cause. Iowa has had its moments but lacks the consistency of Wisconsin. Michigan State, meanwhile, really has it rolling under Mark Dantonio. At some point, the Spartans need to be viewed as elite for what's happening now, not in the past.
Adam Rittenberg: There are potentially quite a few this year, Charlie. Early enrollees have an advantage, so keep an eye on players such as Ohio State LB Raekwon McMillan, Michigan WR Freddy Canteen, Ohio State WR Johnnie Dixon and Penn State WR De'Andre Thompkins. Other potential impact recruits arriving in the summer include Michigan CB Jabrill Peppers (the Big Ten's top-rated recruit in the 2014 class), Illinois DE Jihad Ward (junior college transfer), Minnesota RB Jeff Jones and Michigan State DT Malik McDowell, whom Mark Dantonio gushed about Wednesday after he finally signed.
For the spring, that figuratively applies to a group of defensive backs being challenged and pushed to the limit on a daily basis, removing their personal comfort zone in order to to improve on the disaster that was last season’s pass coverage.
By the fall, it will literally mean the spaces that used to be open to opposing wide receivers at the line of scrimmage will no longer exist, replaced instead by a relentless barrage of nonstop press coverage.
The goal both now and later is for the Buckeyes to make an opponent uncomfortable when the ball is in the air, and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs is more than willing to do his part to take out the buffer and dial up the pressure to make sure that happens.
“We’re playing a style of defense that is very appealing to me as a corners coach,” Coombs said. “Every single snap of spring football we have lined up in press coverage, and that’s the way we’re going to learn it. Then we’ll find out how we stack up when the fall comes around.”
Ohio State survived a shootout against rival Michigan despite allowing 451 passing yards, but even its high-powered offense wasn’t able to keep trading punches against Michigan State and Clemson as those teams combined for 682 yards and eight touchdowns through the air in those two losses. Collectively the Buckeyes allowed 250 yards or more eight times as they sank to No. 110 in the nation in pass defense, and coach Urban Meyer has made it well known that he believed the defense was too conservative.
That message has clearly been delivered to returning assistants such as Coombs, and a fresh voice in co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has echoed it as he helps install a much more aggressive system that will bring the cornerbacks up to the line of scrimmage to force the issue in man-to-man coverage.
“It takes practice to play that way,” Coombs said. “Football is made up of a myriad of different schemes. There are lots of different things, and it’s not like you can just say, ‘Hey, go put those guys up on the line of scrimmage and go play.’ It’s the scheme; it’s how everything fits together.
“I’m not blaming that on anybody, but that was not what we were doing. We did it at times, but it wasn’t our base concept -- it was an adjustment. Now it is our base alignment, and we will adjust off of that. So, in order to do that, you’ve got to do it.”
That alone doesn’t guarantee improvement, and the Buckeyes are certainly aware that it will take more than tweaking the playbook to get results.
For starters, three veterans from the secondary must be replaced, including cornerback Bradley Roby, after he elected to skip his final season of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. The Buckeyes do still have senior Doran Grant around to fill that void at the boundary position in the secondary, and he has all the tools to become a shutdown defender, the role Roby filled during the last couple seasons.
The new scheme also presents some personnel challenges, as the demanding nature of press coverage will force the Buckeyes to rotate cornerbacks more frequently to keep them fresh. That will make it imperative to bring along an inexperienced, but talented, group of players, including former elite recruits such as Gareon Conley and Eli Apple to supplement Grant and projected starter Armani Reeves without much drop-off in production or effort.
But there is still time left in spring practice to work on that, plus an entire offseason this summer and training camp in August until the Buckeyes feel comfortable dealing with the pressure.
Then it will be their turn to put it on somebody else.
“I actually like it,” Grant said. “Our whole team is liking it. We’re buying into it and we appreciate this defense. We’re going to work our butts off to get [it right].”
After all, the Buckeyes know they can’t get it fixed sitting on cushions, either.
Our all-time Big Ten coaches tournament is attempting to answer that question, and we're down to our final four candidates. Our first semifinal opened yesterday with No. 3 seed Nebraska's Tom Osborne taking on No. 2 seed Michigan's Bo Schembechler.
Now it's time to take a look at our other Final Four showdown ...
No. 4 Penn State's Joe Paterno vs. No. 1 Ohio State's Woody Hayes
- Hayes: He's the No. 1 seed in the tournament for a reason. Hayes won 205 games, the most of any coach while a member of the Big Ten, and a record 152 league games. He also captured 13 Big Ten championships, tying him for the most all time, and five national titles (1954, 1957, 1961, 1968 and 1970). He was irascible, unyielding and one of a kind, and some of those qualities led to his downfall. But he is virtually synonymous with Ohio State and the Big Ten.
Which coach moves on to the title game? Voting will be open through the weekend, and make sure to drop us a note saying why you voted the way you did. The best responses will run in our results posts.
- Jerry Kill's assistants are getting new deals, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and the contracts are expected to be finalized next week. Both coordinators reportedly agreed to three-year deals.
- Two players raised in SEC country will compete for one of Nebraska's starting cornerback spots.
- Recruiting coordinator Curtis Blackwell played an integral role in finally getting Malik McDowell in a Spartans' uniform.
- In an effort to improve last year's struggling secondary, Ohio State is now having the safeties and cornerbacks meet together -- and has adopted a more aggressive philosophy.
- DE Brad Bars missed last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, but Penn State's fifth-year senior is expecting to bounce back in a big way.
- Randy Edsall says this is his best Maryland team yet in a Q&A with the Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart.
- Michigan's running backs have taken big strides this spring, and Brady Hoke has been pleased with their progress.
- Wisconsin's quarterback is a projected No. 1 NFL draft pick ... in the upcoming Kevin Costner movie "Draft Day." The film will use game footage of former signal-caller Tyler Donovan.
- Rutgers TE Nick Arcidiacono is aiming to become a more well-rounded player, and he's hoping for a significant role opposite Tyler Kroft.
- Iowa QB Jake Rudock says he's hoping to improve his decision-making in this Q&A with the Des Moines Register.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A former Ohio State player previously caught up in the school's memorabilia scandal has been sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to drug trafficking.
The sentence issued Thursday in Franklin County for 27-year-old Ray Small is expected to run concurrent with a shorter sentence he received in a drug case in Meigs County.
The Columbus Dispatch reports that Small apologized in court and told the judge he takes responsibility for what he did.
Small was charged after police found heroin and prescription pain and anti-anxiety pills while searching his apartment last year.
He was a wide receiver at Ohio State from 2006 to 2009. He was among the players involved in the memorabilia scandal that led to the forced resignation of coach Jim Tressel.
- Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner joined in the tradition of poking fun at a rival during a fundraising event with fans. Should anybody be offended by his canned jokes?
- Michigan coach Brady Hoke responded to Warinner's comments with a bit of humor of his own.
- Mark Dantonio doesn't usually hold press conferences to talk about one player, but the recruitment of Malik McDowell called for some discussion of how it all went down for Michigan State.
- Penn State tight end Adam Breneman will be on the shelf for the rest of spring practice thanks to a bone bruise in his knee.
- Nebraska wide receiver Sam Burtch is a no-nonsense guy, and his businesslike approach could be a boost for the offense this fall.
- Mark Weisman saw plenty of room to grow after reviewing every carry from last season, and the Iowa running back might need to improve to keep getting most of the carries in a crowded backfield.
- Purdue tailback Raheem Mostert's speed isn't up for debate based on his times on the track. The next thing he has to do is prove he can be physical on the football field.
- Illinois is looking for more team speed on defense, and the early returns from spring practice suggest the unit might be getting faster.
- Yet another Big Ten tight end is currently stuck on the sideline during spring practice, and like the others, Tyler Kroft is trying to make the most of it.
- Deon Long is now "90 percent" healthy, but he's well on the way to getting back and helping Maryland at wide receiver.
Was it a clutch touchdown grab that tipped the scales in a close game down the stretch? Devin Smith probably caught it.
Maybe it was a jaw-dropping, head-turning display of aerial athleticism, probably resulting in points for the Buckeyes? No doubt, Smith is again popping into mind.
Perhaps no player short of Braxton Miller has done more than Smith to stock the highlight reel for the Buckeyes since the spread offense arrived and the passing game started its rapid evolution out of the Stone Age. And even if he never has another chance to reach up to snag another one-handed reception against tight coverage, Smith has already supplied enough memories to fill several hype videos or decorate the walls of the practice facility with photos of his scoring exploits.
But for all those unforgettable moments, there have also been a few games where it’s hard to even remember Smith was on the field at all. And rather than duplicate all the dizzying highs heading into his senior season, the emphasis now is instead on eliminating the lows.
“I look back at some of the plays I’ve made, I have made some plays that people will remember forever,” Smith said. “But inside me, I still feel like there’s more that I need to give.”
The Buckeyes are more than willing to take whatever else Smith has to offer, particularly with leading receiver Philly Brown no longer in the picture and coach Urban Meyer still stressing the importance of balancing his high-powered rushing attack with more contributions from the passing game.
Smith is the logical choice to lead that effort on the heels of a 44-catch, 660-yard, eight-touchdown season in 2013, another campaign that featured go-ahead scores, game-changing strikes from long distance and impressive catches while simultaneously fighting off gravity and cornerbacks. But what the Buckeyes need now is the kind of consistency and reliability Brown provided by making multiple receptions in every outing but two, something Smith struggled to offer late in the season a year ago while catching just 6 balls in the final five games.
“Obviously with some game plans, there are times when it’s going away from me, putting the ball in Philly’s hands or keeping it with Braxton and Carlos [Hyde], things like that,” Smith said. “But I think one thing that kind of hurt me a little bit was towards the end I was banged up a little bit and not making as many plays in practice, and that held me back from getting plays in a game.
“I’m just making sure I take care of my body every single day and make plays that I can, act like practice is a game. If I do that here and perfect that, I think it will carry over to the season.”
Part of that process during the spring involves challenging Smith as if he were in the middle of the season, putting him in different scenarios designed to take him out of his comfort zone and forcing him to overcome a few hurdles.
Notably, the Buckeyes have moved him all over the formation as part of the ongoing development of his game, having him spend one full day away from his starting "X" position while working at "Z," then lining him up at other times in the slot to continue keeping him on his toes and finding a way to tap into his potential more regularly.
“The biggest thing we’ve had to do is present adversity to him, moving positions and moving him around, creating those hard situations because he’s great when things are great,” receivers coach Zach Smith said. “When things are hard, that’s when he needs to shine. He’s been inconsistent in that.
“But so far, so good.”
That, of course, is as true for Smith’s career as a whole as it is his development this spring. But he isn’t done with either quite yet.
- Northwestern players returned to practice and faced questions about the possible formation of a union.
- Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman is out for the rest of the spring after a foot injury. Joey Bosa is going to be a marked man this year.
- Michigan punter Will Hagerup worked his way back from a suspension after a year away, which included time working at a steel plant.
- Michigan State's Lawrence Thomas is motivated to prove that he's healthy and that he can have an impact on the Spartans' defense.
- Nebraska is going with a youth movement on its offensive line.
- A crowded group of running backs is vying to jostling for the No. 1 spot at Purdue.
- Iowa overspent its budget on the Outback Bowl trip.
- Wisconsin's receiving corps, already wildly unproven, is down to four healthy players right now.
- The offensive line could be a major problem for Penn State this season.
- Rutgers cornerback Nadir Barnwell has grown after a difficult freshman campaign.
- Indiana's Shane Wynn is working as an outside receiver despite his 5-foot-7 frame.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State Buckeyes senior tight end Jeff Heuerman's spring camp is over after suffering a mid-foot injury which required surgery and is expected to sideline him from workouts until early June.
Heuerman, a respected team leader and one of Ohio State's top returning threats in the passing game, will need to spend the next six weeks in a cast and walking boot before being cleared to resume physical activities.
His spring-ending injury is the third for the Buckeyes since practice opened last month and the second to a projected starter, joining safety Vonn Bell and backup receiver Jalin Marshall on the injured list heading into the final two weeks of camp for the program.
All three are expected to be full participants in time for summer workouts.
"Jeff didn't need as many reps, but we lost Jalin and we lost Vonn Bell, but the positive is they'll all be back fairly early," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said after practice Tuesday. "Sometimes you lose that summer training, which is terrible.
"Jeff is going to be fine. I think it's been right about the normal number of injuries." The Buckeyes were stretched a bit thin at safety after losing Bell early in March, but there is some depth at tight end capable of filling in for the productive Heuerman during the closing stretch of practices.
Heuerman finished his junior season with 26 catches for 466 yards and four touchdowns and was also a physical presence as a run blocker for one of the nation's best rushing attacks.
For now, Chris Ash is only focused on how the Buckeyes go about their business, regardless of the schemes the new co-defensive coordinator might install to fix a unit in need of repairs.
More man coverage and a new package of aggressive blitzes were part of the promises that accompanied Urban Meyer’s hiring of Ash in the offseason. But at least through the first half of spring camp, there has been no deep dive into the playbook. At this point, Ash has largely stayed on the first few pages, keeping the approach as simple as possible in the first phase of the rebuilding job, focusing on effort above everything else.
“It doesn’t matter what we do schematically,” Ash said. “We’re going to have a philosophy; we’re going to have a system, an identity for what we’re doing. But really, it’s about how hard we play and how consistent we are doing it.
Ash might not have any baseline with which to compare Ohio State’s practices this spring compared to the last couple of seasons, but the returning players certainly do. And the differences have not gone unnoticed at the midway point of spring practice.
The coaching staff has kept a running tally of loafs in practice, pointing out when players are coasting or failing to meet the oft-repeated standard of giving “4 to 6 seconds” of relentless effort from “Point A to Point B.” The Buckeyes are picking up every loose ball and trying to duplicate “scoop-and-score” scenarios. Every interception is supposed to be returned at least 10 yards at full speed, though safety Tyvis Powell has taken it upon himself to double that when the football comes his way, trying to build his case as a potential leader for the revamped secondary.
That type of gesture and work ethic won’t go unnoticed by Ash, mostly because it’s exactly what he’s looking for before adding wrinkles to a pass defense that finished last season ranked No. 110 in the nation.
“There’s really not much [that’s difficult to learn] because it’s all that simple right now,” Powell said. “They’re not overloading us with plays or different schemes right now; everything is really kind of basic. They’re not trying to put in too many plays. They’re just making sure that we master what they’re already giving us.
“Basically the biggest difference right now is just flying around. ... Practice was kind of relaxed, but it’s getting back to high energy now. They demand effort out of us right now, so that’s the best thing about it.”
In some respects, that’s about the only demand the Buckeyes are making on defense.
They’re allowed to give up big plays if mistakes happen, as long as those gains don't come as a result of lackadaisical effort. If an assignment is missed, that can be excused if a player does everything possible to make up for it by chasing down the football. Even if the fundamentals aren’t perfect, there’s still plenty of time to address that later as well.
“We have some talented players here, and if they can be consistently in the right spots and executing and going with maximum effort, we’re going to do pretty well,” Ash said. “The first thing I want to make sure they’re doing is coming out here and living the culture of Ohio State football that coach Meyer has -- that’s going 4-to-6, A-to-B and playing with extreme effort. As long as we can do that, we’ll fix anything else that we have wrong.”
Those changes are coming, too. For now, Ash’s top priority is as simple to understand as the scheme.
HOOVER, Ala. -- When ESPN Junior 300 star Jauan Jennings visited Auburn this past weekend, he had the opportunity to take in the Tigers’ first scrimmage of the spring and watch quarterback Nick Marshall, a player not so different from himself.
Marshall played quarterback in high school but signed with Georgia as a defensive back. After committing a violation of team rules, he was dismissed from the team and ended up in junior college. One positive that came from the incident was that it gave Marshall an opportunity to return to the position he loves, and now he’s one of the top returning signal-callers in the SEC.
“He came from not playing quarterback at first,” Jennings said. “He was a defensive back. He did a lot of things I want to be able to do. A lot of coaches don’t feel I can play quarterback. A lot of fans don’t feel I can play quarterback. I want to say, ‘I told you so.’”
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Scene and Heard: Top 10 Predictions
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
TBD California Northwestern TBD Indiana State Indiana TBD Jacksonville State Michigan State TBD Appalachian State Michigan TBD Florida Atlantic Nebraska TBD Youngstown State Illinois TBD Northern Iowa Iowa TBD Ohio State Navy TBD Western Michigan Purdue 8:30 AM ET Penn State UCF 9:00 PM ET LSU Wisconsin