Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Four downs: Practice No. 9 observations
By Austin Ward
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The stakes are high, even if somebody doesn't have pads on during the scrimmage.
In case the physical, hard-hitting action didn't clarify how seriously Ohio State takes its live work even during spring practice, the group that had to line up for sprints after coming up on the losing end left little doubt.
Braxton Miller showed a fiery side in practice Tuesday that wasn't seen much last season.
Anybody involved with the defensive effort closed the practice on Tuesday afternoon running from one sideline to the other as punishment after Kenny Guiton ended a two-minute drill with a touchdown pass to Nick Vannett -- including the coaching staff and hobbling coordinator Luke Fickell.
"Academic people, coaches, everybody," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. "It was good to see some competition.
"I’m not sure we have any answers yet, other than Kenny did a nice job leading that second group on a nice touchdown drive. Good day."
There was plenty for Meyer to like even before that final play, a deft pass from Guiton to the right-corner of the end zone where Vannett fought through a hold to haul in the score.
Guiton continued to provide reliability as the backup option at quarterback. Both lines had encouraging performances and largely played to a draw. A handful of receivers made eye-catching grabs, and the defense had success at times with a more blitz-happy approach than it showed a year ago.
And among those performances, these four also stood out as the Buckeyes start heading into the final workouts before the spring game on April 13.
The hit that drew the largest reaction wasn't the most violent, and it also probably shouldn't have happened. But the response to it gave Meyer another glimpse at the makeup of his quarterback.
Moving to his left on an option, Braxton Miller wound up getting laid out by a defensive lineman despite wearing a black, non-contact jersey and spent about a minute recovering from the shot while getting some attention from the training staff. After getting up and checking out just fine, he strolled over to the defensive sideline to make his displeasure known and had to be restrained by a few offensive teammates -- a fiery side of Miller that wasn't often seen last season.
"I like quarterbacks that want to go get in a street fight and get after it," Meyer said. "That’s not probably the time to do it, but he’s a competitor.
"So you ask what kind of reaction do I want out of a quarterback? I didn’t really see what happened, but Braxton is a competitor, and I guess that’s better than the opposite -- lay on the ground, curl up and [say], ‘Why did he hit me?’ He’s a tough kid."
He's still not working with the first-team offense much, but Michael Thomas appears to be trending in the right direction with every difficult snag he pulls down when his number is called.
The rising sophomore had big expectations a year ago after a splashy finish to spring practice, but he wasn't quite ready to live up to them physically before making limited contributions late in the season as he acclimated to the speed at the Big Ten level. Now a bit more polished and clearly stronger, Thomas made a habit of coming down with everything thrown his way Tuesday afternoon, no matter how tough the catch or tight the coverage.
At various times in different drills, Thomas showed toughness when challenged one-on-one, was crisp in his intermediate routes and also turned in a highlight-reel snag on a deep ball down the sideline that required him to adjust to the ball while fighting off a cornerback. Starters Philly Brown and Devin Smith both have improved as well, but Thomas should at least add to the rotation.
Third down: Something borrowed and new
There's one easy solution to the heated battle in the Ohio State backfield -- put all the rushers in the game at once.
The Buckeyes showed off a new full-house formation with three tailbacks flanking Miller in a diamond, Pistol formation that was picked up during some offseason studying of the San Francisco 49ers. Counting Miller, it gives Ohio State at least four different weapons on the ground, with Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith and Warren Ball filling the other slots while Jordan Hall continues recovering from a hamstring injury.
"We did that with some of the NFL stuff, some teams are doing some really good things," Meyer said. "The 49ers are one that we’ve studied, but we studied some NFL stuff and two other college teams that are between us and those colleges, and that’s what February is for."
The Buckeyes seemingly could use all hands on deck to sort through their situation at linebacker. But they shipped Jamal Marcus off to help on the defensive line instead, and it appears to be the right move for the rising sophomore.
Marcus isn't on the same level as classmates Noah Spence or Adolphus Washington on the edge at this point, but he's got a high-end motor, the ability to deliver some punishment and a chance to possibly contribute as a pass-rusher if he continues developing.
He showed a brief glimpse at what he's capable of providing on the line when he sliced into the backfield during one team period, beating a block up front and blowing up a running back who tried to pick up his blitz and completely disrupting the play. Marcus still has plenty of work to do, but he seems to have the tools to be a factor at a new position.