The Ohio State Buckeyes passed a significant milestone of the offseason: Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. Ryan Day had his 15 minutes at the podium, and the trio of K.J. Hill, Jonathon Cooper and Jordan Fuller had their time at the media roundtables.
Day gave us a glimpse as to what this Buckeye squad is shaping up to be—and there are some questions that got answered. From the offensive line situation to what’s happening at linebacker, Day covered the gambit in his short time in front of the press.
Let’s unpack five of the answers Day gave at Media Days, and see what could come about them by the time Week 1 rolls around.
1. “Tuf Borland played a lot for us last year and he’s being pushed. He’s being pushed by Teradja Mitchell. You’re going to see Baron Browning, Malik Harrison, Pete Werner. You’re going to see a lot of these guys playing next year.”
At times last season, the linebacking was picked apart by the opposition. It was an uncharacteristic sight to be seen: the likes of Purdue, Nebraska, Minnesota were Big Ten foes that made contests against the Buckeyes due to sloppy play behind the defensive line. And even in the Rose Bowl, the Washington Huskies nearly pulled off the comeback thanks to the OSU defense enabling chunk plays through the middle of the field.
Tuf Borland was one of the linebackers on that Buckeye defense last season, and it appears that he’s got stiff competition for a spot on the starting lineup this time around. In Day’s response to a question about what’s happening at middle linebacker, he said that Teradja Mitchell is pushing Borland.
I think the answer can be interpreted in two ways. The first is that Mitchell is pushing Borland to be better at the position. The brotherhood is a big thing that was talked about by Urban Meyer, and throughout the media days, Day talked about the closeness of the team. The second way this can be interpreted is that Mitchell is making improvements to the point where we’ll see him on the field, and maybe even in a starting role before season’s end.
And the LB name drops didn’t end there. Baron Browning, Malik Harrison and Pete Werner all got their name said at the podium too. A rotating LB unit might be an ace decision by Day. It keeps guys fresh, and keeps opposing offenses guessing at who’s going to be on the field any given week. Getting too predictable was what caused the mind numbing losses OSU collected over the past few years. A fresh approach (and squad) at linebacker could be what differentiates an 8-win Buckeye team and a 12-win Buckeye team.
2. “All of those guys could play. For the most part they had good springs. They’ve had a good off-season, but the battle is really going to happen in August.”
This answer is about the offensive line—and that’s a very good thing.
A good offensive line can do wonders. On the ground, the line paves the way for the running back; and in pass protection, a good line gives the quarterback time to make his reads. Last season, the Buckeyes had plenty of both. J.K. Dobbins had another 1,000-yard season as running back, and and Dwayne Haskins set record after record with his aerial assault.
Figuring out who’ll be on the offensive line this fall got answered—to a degree—by Day. Thayer Munford at left tackle and Wyatt Davis at right tackle were said, and Josh Myers was mentioned as someone with experience playing center. But the other two positions up front (the guard spots) are up in the air amongst four others. Brandon Bowen, Josh Alabi and Nicolas Petit-Frere are three Buckeyes who were present on last year’s team, but the addition of graduate transfer Jonah Jackson makes things interesting.
While the hopes look high for the O-line, this will be the position battle(s) to watch throughout camp.
3. “What you can do is just be yourself, and I think that’s what I’m doing, and focusing on what we call tough love, tough is being tough, being tough on the field, and with our strength and conditioning program being the backbone of our program, they have to be tough.”
Focusing on Day himself, we got a glimpse as to how he’s running the program. Following in the footsteps of a legend like Urban Meyer is both a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing: The pieces are in place for a championship-level run. There’s no shortage of talent at any of the positions. The bad? Day is following a legend, and that’s a tough act to follow.
I think it’s real easy to box yourself in as to how you should manage a team/organization. Especially if you’re looking at how the previous administration followed through on tasks. When the predecessor had the kind of results that are reminiscent of a national title dynasty season from an NCAA Football video game, there may be some sacrifice of self in order to be like the old. At Ohio State, results matter. And it’s hard to try and do something uniquely (with unknown results) when the old ways brought in a national title and an 83-9 record.
Hearing Day shed off that belief is a relief. Instead of trying to be Urban, or a Jim Tressel, or a Woody Hayes, he’s going to be Ryan Day.
Paying attention to the strength and conditioning looks to be a key focus for Day. By not only having tough players who are at their peak performance, who’s cultivating a true brotherhood.
4. “And that talks to that room and what Brian Hartline has done in terms of building unselfishness in that room. There’s a lot of receivers that want the ball. They want their catches. They want their numbers. But these guys didn’t care, and we have to keep that mentality going in that room.”
Since being named wide receivers coach, Brian Hartline has put in some serious work—and has earned some off the chart results.
He’s shown the ability to connect with recruits, and in turn, has had some huge commitments come through this summer. Five-star wide receiver Julian Fleming is just one of the numerous high-profile recruits that will descend upon Columbus at the conclusion of their prep careers.
And even with the current players, Hartline is making an impact. Wide receiver is a position Hartline knows very well. He played that position at OSU, as well as in the NFL. He knows what it takes to be a great wide out, and he’s teaching the WR room how to accomplish that: by being unselfish.
By leading the charge in unselfishness, the receivers are learning to work as one cohesive unit. I think that’ll play an incredibly important role both on and off the field. Off the field, you’ll have guys who won’t get upset and shutdown if they don’t get passes in practice. On the field, I think this will lead to guys doing whatever it takes for their fellow catcher to succeed. And a big reason for successful catches is blocking.
We saw this at times last season, especially against Penn State, where a short yardage completion ballooned into a chunk yardage play because wide outs turned into blockers. Unselfishness is one way you get that kind of response.
5. “I’ve talked to our guys about the expectations at Ohio State couldn’t be any higher year in and year out. We know that. But if we focus on all that, we can get ourselves distracted because it really doesn’t matter.”
This is a good quote on Day’s philosophy of focusing his team. In numerous magazines and websites, the Buckeyes aren’t picked as a favorite to win the Big Ten. And in many instances, it’s the Michigan Wolverines that the pundits have chosen as the Big Ten winner this season.
I think it’s very easy to fall victim to the noise around you. Whether you’re on a winning streak or in the middle of terrible slump, looking around at what others are saying is a one way ticket to ruin. I’m willing to bet one reason for teams having late-season collapses are because they stop focusing on what got them in that position, and end of focusing on the praise that’s being said about them.
Instead of looking all around themselves, Day will have his team look into the mirror—comparing only themselves. If this strategy holds, I can see the Buckeyes staying focused wire-to-wire, and being a team that is very much in the hunt for a Big Ten East and Big Ten Championship crown.