Four downs: Practice No. 6 observations

March, 26, 2013
3/26/13
9:12
PM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer cut down the distance. He apparently dialed up the intensity in the process.

That's typically the formula when the Ohio State coach designates a practice to work on short-yardage situations, but this time it also seemed to come with an attitude bonus.

After taking some criticism for their lack of intensity in the first workout after spring break a week ago, the Buckeyes were clearly energized by the physical challenge thrown at them on Tuesday afternoon at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. And while there were still some things that Meyer isn't all that thrilled about after the sixth full practice, competitiveness wasn't one of them.

"Any time you do short-yardage and goal-line [situations], there’s going to be a lot of collisions," Meyer said. "They start chirping a little bit, and it was a good practice."

Both sides of the ball had reason to make a little noise in a spirited session that stood out not just for the amount of hitting, but also for a larger number of reps for the backups as the Buckeyes start evaluating their depth.

Here's a closer look at four of the developments from the latest practice open to the media.

First down: Stable of running backs

Carlos Hyde didn't exactly have the day off, but Ohio State is already well aware of what its starting running back can do close to the goal line.

So the carries that he routinely turned into points last season went elsewhere, and the reserve options each made convincing cases that they could handle the load as well.

Rod Smith continued his productive camp with a couple hard-nosed carries from inside the 5-yard line for touchdowns, but he needed those scores just to keep pace with an impressive performance from Bri'onte Dunn during an extended live period in the red zone. Redshirt freshman Warren Ball made the most of his touches as well by lowering his shoulder and fighting for extra yards, giving the Buckeyes three rushers it could conceivably count on behind Hyde and H-back Jordan Hall, who is still limited by a sore hamstring in addition to an undisclosed academic responsibility.

The battle for the backup job is still open, and Meyer didn't give a nod either way to Smith or Dunn. But Ohio State appears to have options right now.

[+] EnlargeNoah Spence
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesNoah Spence has been a handful for Ohio State offensive linemen during spring practice.
Second down: Spence turning heads

Whether it's attacking a quarterback or his learning curve, there is no understating the speed of sophomore defensive end Noah Spence.

Spence got the better of Jack Mewhort on a couple occasions during one-on-one drills between the lines, and the dynamic end has consistently flashed the type of athleticism in live work throughout camp that the Buckeyes desperately need as they replace all four starters up front.

Adolphus Washington has been a handful on the other side, and Michael Bennett emerged as both a vocal and physical presence in the middle. But with a lightning-quick first step and a more imposing physique this spring, Spence is making a habit of standing out on the practice field.

Third down: Early enrollees in the secondary

Both Cam Burrows and Eli Apple have a long way to go after just a few weeks of practice with the program, but their early enrollment combined with natural ability and tough love from cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs should pay dividends in the long run.

Each of them had chances to get up close and personal with the fiery Coombs after making freshman mistakes on Tuesday, but they also redeemed themselves in various situations to get back in his good graces and provide glimpses at the future.

Burrows showed a willingness to accept criticism and quickly correct a misstep, at one point shoving the next guy in line behind him back to the sideline during a coverage drill to fix an error Coombs had just identified. And Apple bounced back from some up-and-down moments earlier with a great read on a hitch route from Braxton Miller to Philly Brown, breaking on the ball at exactly the right moment, batting it down and thrilling Coombs when it hit the turf.

Fourth down: Ryan Shazier staying involved

If not for the jersey and the orange, non-contact shirt on top of it, Ryan Shazier might have been confused for an extra coach on the field.

The junior linebacker, recovering from a sports hernia, turned his experience in the Ohio State defense into a way to stamp his leadership on the group without even practicing, offering tips and advice to guys at virtually every position as he tries to stay sharp without taking any live reps.

The Buckeyes are starved for veteran leadership in the front seven with Shazier the only returning starter, but he's clearly embracing his role as the elder statesman and didn't hesitate to offer his thoughts from his unique perspective.

Austin Ward | email

Ohio State/Big Ten reporter

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