COLUMBUS — Ohio State obviously isn’t fully healthy.
The Buckeyes also don’t need to be at 100 percent at this point in spring.
A few key veterans could have used the reps that would have been tabbed for them in camp. That hurts.
A handful of rising young stars are getting more work than might have been anticipated. That helps.
Ohio State never wants to be short-handed, and yet it also knows that April is the ideal time for recovery and rehabilitation before the real heavy lifting starts in August.
Spring football is all a matter of perspective for Ohio State, and these camps tend to be a zero-sum game. There might never be an ideal one thanks to the physical nature of the sport, and for Ryan Day it’s all a matter of making the most of whatever setbacks come the way of the Buckeyes and finding the opportunities that come along with them.
“Itâ€™s a shame, but that is also football,â€ Day said. â€œWhether itâ€™s an injury or COVID, these are types of things you have to work through and everybody has their own journey along the way. You try not to dwell on it. You donâ€™t like it. You hate it, drives you nuts, keeps you up at night. But weâ€™re just going to have to push through it.
â€œThe good news is there are a lot of guys healthy and practicing. The effort has been excellent, the focus on fundamentals and technique has been excellent. In the end, thatâ€™s what itâ€™s going to come down to: Effort, fundamentals and technique. Thatâ€™s the foundation weâ€™re building, and weâ€™ll keep going from there. Itâ€™s a shame some of these guys wonâ€™t be able to do it, but weâ€™ll just try to get them healthy as fast as we can and get them into practice in preseason.”
Coming on the heels of the entire roster missing a full spring due to the COVID outbreak last year, the Buckeyes would be hard-pressed to complain much right now with just more than a week left until the closing scrimmage in the Horseshoe.
The top priority was simply getting in 15 workouts, and the program is on pace to do exactly that.
Certainly the Buckeyes would have preferred to have Dallas Gant establishing himself as a starting middle linebacker. Given the choice, Ohio State would have wanted Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown leading the retooling effort in the secondary after last season’s struggles against the pass. And considering the importance of finding a new starting center, this spring would have been a nice boost for Harry Miller as he slides to the middle to take over the snapping duties.
But when projected starters like those guys or returning All-American Haskell Garrett are out, somebody else has to go in for the Buckeyes. It’s possible those snaps might even be more meaningful for the younger guys anyway, potentially strengthening the depth in a tradeoff for fine-tuning the technique or more experienced players.
So, Luke Wypler gets to make his case on the offensive line. Cody Simon earns a shot to work with the first-string defense at linebacker. After losing a normal freshman year of development, cornerbacks like Ryan Watts or Cameron Martinez are thrust into crash-courses that can catch them back up to speed.
Even without a real game to prepare for in April, finding reps for everybody is never easy thanks to the limited practice time available. That doesn’t mean Ohio State is happy about the current health of the roster, and it certainly wouldn’t have picked those exact positions to be dealing with injuries. But the potential silver linings aren’t hard to find — and the Buckeyes certainly have no plans to change the way they structure practice to try to mitigate the risk.
“I mean, you have to push through it,” Day said. “That’s just the way it is. We haven’t been over the top [physically], we’ve only tackled once. We’re only going to have two padded practices this week. But you have to do it. There’s nothing else that replaces being physical. We have to be tough. We have to be physical. So, we’re going to do that, and [injuries] are the hard part of it. But we think through every single thing we do. Every single minute of every single drill. Looking back on some of the things that have happened this spring, they’ve really been non-contact situations.
“We feel good that we’re putting them in a position to be successful and keeping them safe. But at the same time we’ve got to be able to practice. …Â That’s a great thing for [younger guys] is they don’t have a choice: They’ve got to go. They’re getting just thrown in there, which is great. They’re getting better because of it, because they’re practicing. The more you practice, the better you get. It’s just the way it goes. And they’re practicing, they’re out there every day. Two more weeks of that, if they can stay healthy, they’re going to come out of this spring a lot stronger and hopefully ready to make an impact in the fall.”
There will inevitably be injuries during the season, too.
And the only option for Ohio State both now and then is to try to find a bright side and turn them into chances to get better in the long run.