Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, March 6 newspaper on Page A6.
For the past two seasons, the Bobcats have emerged as one of the most complete, efficient, and overwhelming offensive units in the Mid-American Conference.
On Monday, Ohio started trying to build the pieces to another potent, point-producing attack.
Ohio opened its 2019 spring football season on Monday morning with a two-hour workout inside Walter Fieldhouse. It will be a six-week course in change for the ‘Cats, who have to restock an offensive side that has to replace seven starters and get a defensive unit to gel with three coaching changes.
Ohio head coach Frank Solich said the spring will be about the future for the Bobcats.
“We got a fair number of talented young players in the system that we need to make sure they get reps,” Solich said.
“How far we come, how well we develop, with guys that will either be backups or pressing starters…will help determine how exactly we’re going to be.”
It’ll start in the backfield where Ohio figures to have a months-long competition at running back. There is no clear favorite, or established player. Solich said walk-on Jake Netherton, now a third-year sophomore, has the most experience.
But redshirt freshman O’Shaan Allison and sophomore Julian Ross figure to play a large role in that particular battle. So too will junior college signee De’Montre Tuggle and high school signee Walter Wilbon III when they arrive in the summer. Ross will sit out the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery last fall.
“It’s completely open,” Solich admitted.
“We’re talking about a lot, I think, pretty good young running backs. It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out for those guys,” he added. “It’s going to be a heck of a battle. It’s going to be one of the most contested spots on the field.”
Ohio will also need to replace three starters on the offensive line, but returns four players with starting experience there. The Bobcats will need to refill the receiving ranks as well, but seem well positioned with well-regarded redshirt freshmen in Jerome Buckner, Shane Hooks and Tyler Walton, and sophomore Isiah Cox.
And of course, there’s no doubt who will be at quarterback. Senior Nathan Rourke, fresh off consecutive years on the Second Team All-MAC list, will be the starter. Ohio will be trying to find a new backup, but all the Bobcats know who is QB1.
“We don’t have to kid around with that. He’s got the job,” Solich said.
Rourke, who sat out much of the spring season in 2018, is eager to reload the offense. He believes it can be just as dangerous as a year ago.
“We lost a lot of guys last year on offense that had a lot of experience. I think we’re going to be fine in terms of the guys we have behind them,” Rourke said.
“It’s my job as a guy who’s been here to get them up to speed. Watch film whenever is possible. And make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure they can make an impact this year.
“If we don’t use Shane Hooks (for example) this year, then that’s on me.”
Ohio will have one new coach on staff, and some reshuffling on the defensive side after the retirement of 14-year defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow.
Long-time college football veteran Allen Rudolph, fresh off a three-year stint at Arkansas State, will take over on the offensive line. He’s got 24 years of coaching experience.
On the defense, long-time linebackers coach Ron Collins has assumed the roles Burrow filled — defensive coordinator and safeties coach. Defensive ends coach Pete Germano is now Ohio’s co-defensive coordinator.
Taking Collins’ place with the linebackers will be Nate Faanes, who served as a graduate assistant with the defense over the previous two seasons. A graduate of Winona State (2015), Faanes was an assistant at UW-Eau Claire (2013-15) before coming to Ohio as an offensive intern in 2016.
Ohio will practice three times this week, take the following week off for Spring Break, then resume a schedule that includes three practices a week through the annual Spring Game on April 13.
Solich, about to embark on his 15th season with the Bobcats, enjoyed being on the practice field again. It is, by far, his favorite part of the job.
“Once you’re on the field, you just go.”
Change of pace
The Bobcats will have at least three position changes to watch this spring.
Fourth-year junior Markel Davis, nearly in the WR rotation a year ago, will be playing at corner in 2019.
Redshirt freshman Jeremiah Wood will be moving from safety to outside linebacker.
And walk-on Ryan Grooms, a redshirt senior, will slide from linebacker to tight end.
Ohio lost 26 players from the roster that opened the 2018 fall camp. The vast majority of those players were those that graduated and used up the last of their eligibility.
Among the other departures from that August 2018 roster include: QB Quinton Maxwell, WR Willie Cherry, LB Marcus Brunson, TE Noah Hoffman and walk-ons Austin Croy (WR), Steven David (WR), Bailey Wright (TE) and Mason Bernhardt (TE).
The Bobcats’ most updated roster, released Monday, includes the addition of 12 new names with most being brand-new spring camp tryout entrants.
Two new scholarship players have been added, however, is freshman quarterback Kurtis Rourke and LB Cannon Blauser. Both were members of the 2019 signing class, enrolled early, and will be taking part in spring camp.
Other new names on the Ohio roster, and taking part this spring, include: Tanner Alton (Fr., WR), Shane Bonner (Fr., RB), Jonathan Barna (R-So., RB), Anthony Whitney (Fr., WR), Marcus Frierson (R-Jr., WR), Brayden Underwood (R-Jr., LB/DL), Ethan Beckett (Fr., OL), Max Darrow (Fr., WR), Hunter Fornshell (Fr., WR) and Jalen Spears (R-Jr., TE).
Taking it easy
As is the case per most seasons, the Bobcats will have a number of players either sit out the spring entirely, or be limited because of surgery or rehab from pre-existing injuries.
A partial list from Monday’s initial practice included the following players who appear to be facing a limited practice role over the next six weeks: RB Julian Ross, CB Jamal Hudson, WR Tyler Tupa, DT Kaieem Caesar, DE Sam McKnight, OL Kurt Danneker, OL Samson Jackson, DE Amir Miller, DE Chukwudi Chukwu.
Every season has to start with a preliminary depth chart, and the Bobcats had first team offense and defense set up for the initial spring practice.
As usual, it should be noted this is a starting point. Few spots are guaranteed, and every spot is subject to change based on performance and/or injury.
With that said, here’s top 22 as Ohio opened spring camp in 2019.
QB — Nathan Rourke (Sr.); RB — Jake Netherton (So.); WR — Cameron Odom (Jr.), Isiah Cox (So.), Jerome Buckner (R-Fr.); TE — Ryan Luehrman (Jr.); LT — Felipe Fernandez (Jr.); LG — Brett Kitrell (Jr.); C — Steven Hayes (Sr.); RG — Hagen Merservy (Jr.); RT — Austen Pleasants (Sr.).
DE — Will Evans (Jr.); NT — Brian Arp (Sr.); DT — Cole Baker (Sr.); DE — Amos Ogun-Semore (So.); WLB — Eric Popp (Sr.); MLB — Jared Dorsa (Jr.); SLB — Dylan Conner (Jr.); CB — Ilyaas Motley (Jr.), Marlin Brooks (Jr.); S — Javon Hagan (Sr.), Jarren Hampton (Jr.)