With the first full-contact scrimmage on the horizon, the Bobcats dialed back the contact on Friday morning during an early morning practice inside Peden Stadium.
It was a helmet-only practice — no shoulder pads or leg pads — and the emphasis was less on installing and more on individual group techniques.
It was the eighth consecutive day of camp, and we’ve yet to see a major blowup during practice. The closest any of the Bobcats have come to losing their cool was on Friday when DE Amos Ogun-Semore wasn’t happy about a series of post-practice sprints. There was some yelling, but not much else.
Perhaps the flare-ups will come on Saturday when ball-carriers will be ‘live’ for the defense and the competitive back-and-forth between the two side (offense and defense) will be highlighted by more chatter.
To this point, it’s been a fairly workman-like camp in many regards. The pace has been crisp, the energy level hasn’t dipped noticeably day-to-day, and the injuries have been manageable with nothing yet approaching a season-ender.
Head coach Frank Solich asked my opinion on things prior to Friday’s practice and I told him I felt things were a “solid B” to this point. The players are engaged, coaches are on task, and there’s been a sense of purpose from all involved.
There’s a general feeling a job to do, and a determination to see it through.
What I haven’t seen is a breakthrough star yet. Whether it’s a first or second-year guy pop off with big plays in team segments, or a returner who took a massive leap forward during the off-season.
There’s been a ton of players who have improved, don’t get me wrong, but it’s all been sort of what you expect. The three returning tight ends all added weight and look ready to compete. Cornerbacks that came on at the end of last season have appeared to turn a corner and are showing well right now. The offensive line — particularly the starting five — have been cohesive and operating well together. And QB Nathan Rourke has, in general, been everything you want a senior QB to be.
But there hasn’t been a WR that jumped off the page. No RB has — and this is in part due to the nature of practices so far — wowed with a dynamic run. Turnovers in team segments have been few and far between.
That might change with Saturday’s scrimmage. Typically, the defense holds the upper hand in the first scrimmage of camp and I think that trend will continue. There’s more experience on that side of the ball and they’ve been chomping at the bit to cut loose a little bit.
I’ll try to follow up and break down everything from Saturday, but first a few more thoughts from Friday.
— Three more NFL scouts were in camp on Friday, as reps from the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers were on hand.
— Solich again left with just two periods left in practice in order to do his part on Ohio’s Athletic Director Search committee. The committee conducted four on-campus interviews this week, and I expect an announcement on Jim Schaus’ replacement in the next 10 days or so.
— CBs Ilyaas Motley and Kel Davis were held out on Friday. Davis was shaken up in practice on Thursday, and it looked like a ‘rest’ day for Motley. Justin Birchette, after a short stint with a walking boot earlier this week, appeared to be full go on Friday.
— On the DL, DE Amir Miller (wrist) was absent for a second day in a row. DT Brian Arp was a non-participant for a second straight day.
— At RB, Jake Neatherton was again held out of team portions of practice. However, Julian Ross did more on Friday than he had in practice all week and seems poised to return to full status soon.
— The WR numbers are still thin. Tyler Tupa (knee) missed another day of practice, and Shane Hooks — although doing more in practice — is still not taking part in team drills. In addition, at least three walk-ons at the position are banged up and behind held out.
— No movement on the freshmen front. Gates and Daxon are still not in camp, while Wilbon and OL Joe Oakes are still watching from the side. Oakes, it should be noted, is expected to redshirt this season after elbow surgery earlier this year.
— DE Will Evans was absent the first couple days of camp — he was on a previous scheduled cruise — but has seamlessly blended in on his return. He’s the leader of his position group, an on-field captain, and managed to get what would’ve been a clean sack on Rourke during a team segment on Friday.
— Ohio continues to alternate reps at backup QB between Joe Mischler and Kurtis Rourke. I have the younger Rourke slightly ahead in that race but Saturday figures to be a key point in the competition for the QB2 role.
— OC Tim Albin mentioned on Wednesday that one of the things the offense hoped to do in 2019 was to make better use of the tight ends and running backs. It’s held up through the first week in camp as the emphasis on check downs has been prevalent in 7-on-7s, and during red-zone drills where concepts setting up the TE have been prioritized. On Friday, for example, Alec Burton hauled in a score at the left pylon on a bootleg/rollout.
— I am feeling better about Ohio’s depth at DT. Despite Arp missing a couple days, the presence inside has been pretty good. Zach Burks — a junior college transfers who couldn’t crack the rotation last year — and the sophomore tandem of Kaieem Caesar and Marcus Coleman have been showing well in my opinion. Add in steady senior Cole Baker, and Arp when he returns, and I think Ohio could have a five-player rotation there.
— My favorite sequence of the morning came during individual position drills when DT assistant coach Tremayne Scott worked against his own guys in a drill. Despite giving up a few years, Scott more than held his own. It energized the group, livened up things during the middle of practice, and reminded those that didn’t know already that Scott was a pretty good player back in the day.