| By Mike Young |
Fall camp signals a time in which teams make sweeping public declarations. Clichés, such as “I am in the best shape of my life” are uttered and coaches across the nation often brag about how much depth they have, possibly altering their typical game plans.
At Ohio State, this past fall camp was no different. Multiple defensive backs boasted about the overall speed of the secondary and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs relayed conversations he had with his players about how they would split up snaps.
Head coach Urban Meyer was similarly optimistic about the wide receiving corps.
“I’m hoping we keep a 30-play-a-game rotation because, then, you’ll wear people out. You’re fresh and you keep sending in a new wave,” he said, during his call-in show on 97.1 The Fan last Thursday. “Think back to 2012: Devin Smith, Philly Brown, Evan Spencer – that was it. Each guy had to play the whole game. Mike Thomas wasn’t ready yet and we just didn’t have the positional depth.”
The Buckeye staff’s approach in the weeks leading up to Bowling Green seemed idealistic. They have a roster littered with four and five-star recruits, many of which were rated among the top athletes at their positions. So, why not try to rotate in as many fresh bodies as you can when they appear to be similar in talent level?
On game day, it rarely works out that way. Some players excel under the pressure and earn a typical starters share of reps while others fail to impress as much.
In the course of a 77-10 blowout of Bowling Green last Saturday, OSU coaches stuck to what they preached in camp. Obviously, a large chunk of the roster saw the field because of the score, but OSU constantly rotated players in and out of the game – particularly at wide receiver. Ten wideouts saw the field in the first quarter, nine of which caught a pass in the game.
Meyer doesn’t envision limiting the rotation.
“We want to wear people [out]. Notice they had 50-some plays too in the first half. So our objective, obviously need to get first downs to do that, but we want to play fast, play a lot of people and certainly receiver position,” he said at his weekly press conference last Monday. “And you need to count Dontre [Wilson] and Curtis [Samuel] as kind of the hybrid. They’re also our second and third tailbacks. So, yeah, we’re playing 10 but there’s two hybrids in there as well.”
Rotations along both the offensive and defensive lines are more typical than in the secondary or at wide receiver, considering the strategy on a given down or the general wear and tear affecting players up front.
On third-down passing situations, the Buckeye defense again utilized the “rushmen” package. The package features four talented edge rushers along the defensive front – notably used last year when Joey Bosa lined up inside next to Adolphus Washington, with Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis on the end. This season, Jalyn Holmes and Tracy Sprinkle filled those interior spots left by the departed Bosa and Washington.
The “rushmen” didn’t register a sack until the third quarter against the Falcons but it will continue to be a featured look for Ohio State.
Unfortunately, they lost a key member of that package when Tracy Sprinkle ruptured a patellar tendon and was carted off the field towards the end of the first quarter. Meyer believes he’ll be out for the season.
“Everyone’s heart and stomach dropped, just such a terrible thing to see,” Hubbard said after the game, Saturday. “He was the heart and soul of the d-line. Now we have to pick things up and play for him.”
Without the junior lineman, OSU registered a pair of sacks in third-and-long situations. Holmes and Davon Hamilton split credit for the first one, while freshman Nick Bosa picked up his first career sack early in the fourth quarter.
Sprinkle’s injury, combined with some of Saturday’s performances, may result in an even deeper rotation along the defensive line.
“Davon is a guy that played pretty well Saturday. He has a little twitch to him. And [freshman Robert] Landers did pretty good at nose. So he’ll get more playing time.” Meyer said. “[redshirt freshman] Josh Alabi played a little bit, but he’s more of a nose so we’re going to take a look at [freshman] Malik Barrow. Very quick twitch, good hand placement.”