Through two weeks of fall camp, observers have seen Nathan Rourke throw the ball accurately and on time, be sharp in his reads and decisions, and even take command of a post-practice huddle to rally his teammates.
But Wednesday saw Rourke — the senior quarterback — try to do something new: take a step back.
Rourke didn’t throw a single ball during the morning practice inside Peden Stadium, and he didn’t take one rep with the first team offense during any of the team segments.
No, it wasn’t a question of physical health. Ohio quarterbacks coach Scott Isphording said Ohio’s QB was merely taking a day off to rejuvenate an arm that had — by far — the lion’s share of throws during fall camp.
“He’s been grinding, working hard, and he’s made a lot of throws,” Isphording said. “This is just a little break.”
Rourke was still at practice, and obviously engaged mentally based on the number of times he offered input or suggestions to redshirt freshman Joe Mischler or freshman Kurtis Rourke as the pair handled all of the quarterback duties.
There was good news for Rourke on Wednesday as well. Pro Football Focus, or specifically it’s arm that covers college football, named Rourke as one of the 20 best starting quarterbacks in the country.
In a piece ranking all 130 projected starting quarterbacks in the country, PFF listed Rourke as No. 19 nationally. He was the highest rated QB from the MAC and cited his ability to run the football as a reason why he should be considered one of the best five dual-threat QBs in the country.
But Wednesday’s practice — which had limited contact and wasn’t fully padded — featured the two understudies instead. The Ohio coaching staff hasn’t declared a winner in the backup QB battle yet, and another important data point in that race will come on Saturday in the team’s second intra-squad scrimmage of camp.
With just three quarterbacks on the roster — former QB Drew Keszei is now a wide receiver — Isphording isn’t worried about depth there yet.
“With Drew we still feel like we have another guy we could use there if need be,” he said. “I really like where we’re at right now.”
Here are more observations and details from Wednesday’s practice.
— The two position groups dealing with the most attrition at the moment are cornerback and offensive line. At CB, Marlin Brooks, and both Ilyaas and Xavior Motley, were held out of practice for another consecutive day. Jamal Hudson, like Brooks a projected starter, took normal reps but is still wearing a red jersey.
On the OL, starting center Steven Hayes (ankle) and backup left guard Kurt Danneker (ankle) both missed another consecutive day. In addition, backup RT Felipe Fernandez was a non-participant with an undisclosed injury. Junior college transfer Gary Hoover moved up to the second team RT spot on Wednesday as a result.
— DE Amir Miller (wrist), WR Drew Keszei (shoulder), TE Luke Ewald (undisclosed) and RB Jake Neatherton (no team reps) remained held out, absent (Ewald) or held out of team portions consistent with the rest of the week.
— Mischler had a tough practice as he and Kurtis Rourke split reps with the first team offense. Besides a couple picks in 7-on-7 and 1-on-1s, Mischler was forced into four incompletions on fie attempts in the final team segment of the day. Mischler was also picked off by S Jett Elad on an overthrow across the middle during his first team segment.
— Kurtis Rourke didn’t have his best day either. He missed an open Ty Walton on the post, and an open D.L. Knock on a wheel route. Edge pressure was an issue for both QBs, and forced them into quicker decisions than they would have preferred.
— With the depth tested at CB, it was Hudson and redshirt freshman Tariq Drake who took the reps with the first team defense. The next tandem up in team segments featured redshirt freshmen Justin Birchette and John Gregory.
— DE Will Evans is starting to round into camp shape, and it showing a little more burst. He got Marques Grimes at RT for pressure (would-be sack) during 11-on-11. DE Sam McKnight did the same to Hoover in an earlier segment.
— A lot can still change, but I’ve identified a couple freshmen that have a shot to play early in the season. Kurtis Rourke is obviously on the list and could still yet be the backup QB. At TE, it’s been Casey Clanton, not the more heralded Tyler Foster, who has impressed me the most so far. Clanton is bigger, plays physical, and is better suited at this point of both players’ careers to contribute in a blocking capacity in Ohio’s offense. Lastly, DT Jeremiah Burton has been a consistent effort guy up front with some potential for disruption.
— Ohio is expected to up the contact again on Thursday, but will likely have another ‘lighter’ practice on Friday as the team braces for a scrimmage on Saturday morning inside Peden. The scrimmage, like every practice, is open to the public.