The Ohio State football team will hold its annual spring game Saturday, booking its latest group of spring practices.
The intrasquad competition will feature current Buckeyes split into two teams with bragging rights on the line as Team Brutus prevailed over Team Buckeye 28-13 last year. This season, new faces within both the coaching staff and roster will headline the biggest storylines surrounding Ohio State.
After recording an 11-2 record following his third season as head coach, Ryan Day said he thinks the spring game will be a great day to display some of the early signs of improvement since ending last season with a 48-45 Rose Bowl victory over then-No. 11 Utah.
“Guys will get out there and they’ll play and they’ll compete. That’ll be a lot of fun for a lot of people and certainly looking for a great crowd there,” Day said. “In terms of understanding where we’re at, we still have a bunch of practices in August and the preseason to figure out where we’re at. But we’re certainly off to a good start.”
The Buckeyes hired four new coaches since the end of last season, three on the defensive staff and one on offense. Ohio State’s secondary coaching was completely revamped with the additions of safeties coach Perry Eliano and secondary and cornerbacks coach Tim Walton, who joined new offensive line coach Justin Frye.
Plenty of attention has been drawn to Ohio State’s new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who took over the position after filling the same role at Oklahoma State since 2018. He’ll also coach the linebackers in addition to bringing a new mind and scheme to the Buckeyes ‘ defense that ranked ninth in the Big Ten in total defense a season ago, and Day said he’s seen a good and unique approach from Knowles.
“I think the thing that I’ve noticed so far with Jim is that it’s not a competition every day of who can win the drill; it’s about teaching, because he has his eyes on that first game in September,” Day said. “There’s going to be a time where we want to go against each other and move the ball and try to be competitive, but I think that’s the veteran coach in him. He understands the big picture. There’s a method to the way he’s installing and the way he’s teaching.”
Knowles helped lead the Cowboys’ defense to the fifth-best total defense a season ago, holding opposing defenses to just 297.9 yards per game.
Day has labeled Knowles as an “intelligent” mind in the defensive meetings and several Buckeyes, including graduate safety Tanner McCalister who followed Knowles as a transfer from Oklahoma State, described him as a “mad scientist” What makes Knowles unique is his ability to present original formations in the defense, and he said the hybrid linebacker “Jack” position has already started initial installations in the Buckeyes’ defense.
Ohio State trotted out almost a brand new cast of starters at linebacker a season ago, featuring graduate and captain Teradja Mitchell and junior Tommy Eichenberg. Knowles said he thinks it’s a good thing to have a “logjam” at linebacker, and he’s working to improve the unit.
“In order to make an assessment, you got to get the guys repetitions, and there’s a lot of talent,” Knowles said. “But none of it is completely proven because you have guys all competing for positions, so that’s where you want to take guys and maybe move them to other positions just to get a chance to look at them.”
In the secondary, the Buckeyes will see how Eliano, who joins the program from Cincinnati, and Walton, arriving after a season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, will improve a unit that allowed 246.2 passing yards last season — third-worst in the conference.
Cornerbacks sophomore Jordan Hancock and redshirt freshman Jakailin Johnson have been highly touted as a pair of defensive backs primed to step up alongside sophomore Denzel Burke. Now working with Walton in the secondary, Burke said Walton has given more than just on-the-field advice to the Buckeyes.
“It’s not always just about football. He’s just teaching life,” Burke said. “He’s teaching life into us, instilling good things into our brain. He wants the best for us. I feel like that’s what he did with Jalen (Ramsey), and that’s what he’s going to do for us.”
Offensively, the Buckeyes will get a chance to mix in their youth at positions that lost key contributors, such as the offensive line and wide receivers.
Now that Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson will depart for the NFL draft, junior wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba is expected to take on a larger role in the passing game as sophomore quarterback CJ Stroud’s primary target. Smith-Njigba said even with the loss of talent in the room, he expects the Buckeyes’ wide receivers are capable of stepping up.
“It’s just a new wave now, a group of receivers of course, and I’m excited. I know they’re excited,” Smith-Njigba said. “It’s just next man up, honestly. I know my guys are up for the challenge and they’re great players. I know they’re ready.”
Day also said the program will likely hold a tribute to former quarterback and the late Dwayne Haskins, who was hit by a truck and killed Saturday. A candlelight vigil was held at the rotunda of Ohio Stadium Tuesday, as hundreds gathered to honor Haskins’ life.
day shared his memories of Haskins Monday and said he wants the program to do things the right way to honor the former Buckeye quarterback.
“In today’s day and age, things happen so fast. We’re just trying to digest it all,” Day said. “I have a list of things that I’ve written down, some probably too big, some maybe not big enough. We’ll just keep talking about it this week.”
The spring game will kick off at noon Saturday from Ohio Stadium. Current Buckeye students will receive free admission with their BuckID.