- Austin Ward, College Football
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Ultimately the goal is to find a rotation of six guys.
For now, Luke Fickell is just making sure he's got half of that.
The Ohio State defensive coordinator has a depth chart to work with and seemingly enough bodies to fill it out at linebacker. But at least after three practices in training camp, Fickell clearly isn't ready to lock the Buckeyes into positions quite yet.
"You know what, we don’t know that we truly have three starters yet, let alone have depth," Fickell said after practice on Tuesday. "That’s my biggest concern.
"Yes, we’ve got to develop depth and I’m looking for those six guys that you can lay your head on the pillow at night and say, ‘They’re going to give everything they’ve got. Football is that important to them, they’re going to figure out a way to be successful.'"
The line and secondary probably aren't going to keep Fickell up too often this month, but the middle of the defense figures to give him plenty to think about ahead of the opener against Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 1.
Fickell has a veteran presence at one outside spot in veteran Etienne Sabino. The Buckeyes have an emerging sophomore in Ryan Shazier on the other side who comes into this season perhaps still riding the momentum he built at the end of last year. And Curtis Grant offers the kind of dedication to the game that Fickell indicated wouldn't cause him to lose sleep.
But after that, there might be some questions that need answering and possibly some openings for playing time that could keep the Buckeyes busy.
"It definitely leaves the door open for young guys," Fickell said. "I think that’s what those guys that came in are excited about, and it creates some excitement. The key is trying to keep them motivated, and it also pushes those guys that might have that opportunity to be in that position, too."
At least during the third workout of camp in the late-afternoon heat, those second-team chances seemed to be going to players who had at least been through a spring practice with the program. During one team period in particular, redshirt freshman Conner Crowell was flanked by true freshmen Joshua Perry and Luke Roberts -- a pair of early enrollees.
But there's at least one challenger that is consistently drawing praise in the early stages of camp, with true freshman Jamal Marcus again getting singled out as a potential early factor at linebacker thanks to his raw ability.
"There’s a guy that when you ask what’s very important, what coach (Urban) Meyer says is a core value, it’s going from Point A to Point B very, very, very fast," Fickell said. "Jamal Marcus does that. At times you have to try to control yourself as you go from Point A to Point B.
"But I can assure you I’d rather have to teach a guy how to control himself rather than teach him how to go really hard."
That problem, at least, probably wouldn't contribute to many restless evenings for Fickell. For now, it seems he's still got some things on his mind.
Double down: On the scale between 1 and 10, the Buckeyes still have plenty of room for improvement.
After spring practice, offensive coordinator Tom Herman would have rated Ohio State's ability to throw the ball as a 2.
Starting camp after a productive offseason, he doubled it on Tuesday to a 4.
And while that surely isn't where Herman might like his attack to be and definitely isn't where he's planning on it ending up, that doesn't mean he's not pleased with what he's seeing early in camp.
"Lightyears, lightyears, lightyears, lightyears better," Herman said. "We actually can throw and catch a football.
"We’re still not real good, but we’re a lot better than we were at the end of the spring. It’s a testament to our guys and how much they worked in the offseason."
The credit apparently goes to both the guys throwing and those catching, though the former has impressed quickly this month with improved footwork from Braxton Miller.
The sophomore quarterback flashed a strong arm again on Tuesday, along with an ability to fit the ball in tight spots and nice accuracy while throwing on the move. But it's not just the technical issues Miller has worked on that has helped him bump up that rating Herman gave the passing game so far.
"I think he’s a lot more mentally confident and you can see a little bounce in his step," Herman said. "He’s certainly still got a long ways to go, but you can tell he studied in the offseason and he’s worked with his wideouts in the offseason and that’s paid dividends here as we’ve started camp."
On the move: Corey "Philly" Brown might be the leading available candidate to fill the hybrid pivot position in Meyer's version of the spread offense.
But if the junior receiver is going to do it in the absence of Jordan Hall, apparently nobody has told Brown about it yet.
"Hopefully, I would love to do that," Brown said. "You know, obviously having Jordan out is bad, but hopefully I can step in and fill in for him.
"I did play running back in high school, but if the coaches want me to do it, I’ll do it. It doesn’t really matter to me."
The position requires versatility as both a rusher and a receiver, skills that Brown could bring to the table for the Buckeyes until Hall returns from the cut tendon in his right foot that is expected to keep him out for at least two games.
Brown flashed his speed and elusiveness while lined up at receiver on Tuesday, taking one short crossing pattern and turning it up field for a decent gain before being touched. He's also been working to establish himself as a reliable target for Miller by hanging on to the football, and where he lines up doesn't really make any difference there.
"I’m just trying to learn everything," Brown said. "Coach Meyer wants me to learn all the wideout spots, there’s no set position right now. Everybody is just working to become a starter, and it’s pretty much even for everybody."
Ultimately the goal is to find a rotation of six guys.For now, Luke Fickell is just making sure he's got half of that.The Ohio State defensive coordinator has a depth chart to work with and seemingly enough bodies to fill it out at linebacker.