Ohio attended the Mid-American Conference’s annual media day at Ford Field in Detroit Tuesday, where coach Tim Albin and several players were made available to the media.
The talk varied from Ohio’s recent coaching change to the question of which quarterback will take the reins this season. Here are the five most important takeaways as Ohio inches closer to fall camp and its season opener.
1. Experience might breed progress
Seventeen starters will be returning to Ohio this season. While it lost cornerstones like defensive end Austin Conrad and linebacker Jared Dorsa, 14 players opted to return thanks to the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the coronavirus pandemic.
That extra year is a godsend to Ohio. Despite only playing three games in 2020, Ohio has vital experience under its belt. That experience can pay dividends if Ohio utilizes it correctly. It might even bear a MAC title run.
2. It hasn’t felt like a coaching change
When De’Montre Tuggle learned Albin had become the new coach of the Bobcats following Frank Solich’s retirement, he figured the core values Ohio had were going to remain intact.
In fact, few of the Bobcats expect anything other than business as usual. Albin has been an integral part of the system Solich developed at Ohio for 16 seasons. The culture is being preserved, and the end goal is the same as last year.
“It's kind of hard to replace (Solich), but you know Coach Albin is the best guy for the job,“ Tuggle said. “He's got a good feel for the game and we're not expecting things to change as far as culture.”
3. Rourke and Rogers are still sharing time
Solich was keen on splitting time between Kurtis Rourke and Armani Rogers in 2020. Both were competent on the field but stood out in opposing ways. Rogers is quick on his feet and excels at rushing the ball. Rourke, on the other hand, commands a strong passing offense while lacking consistent rushing ability.
Albin, however, still trusts the dual-quarterback system can work. He believes the competition will benefit them both. Rourke made strides during spring practices following a collarbone injury he sustained against Bowling Green last season and has stuck close to strength coach Jake Miller during the offseason. Rogers is eligible for another year due to COVID-19 and has adjusted well to Ohio’s offense during his time in Athens.
“I want to see how the competition plays out,“ Albin said. “They both can lead this team, and I want to see them coming off of an offseason with coach (Jake) Miller, and how they have added to their skill set coming out of spring practice.”
For now, Rourke and Rogers will have to share snaps.
4. The defense is asking ‘Why?’
Kai Caesar knows that the defense has struggled to stop conference opponents in critical moments. Since 2017, all nine of Ohio’s conference losses were determined by one possession.
Eight of those losses were by three points or less.
That’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s what the defense needs. A ‘bend but don’t break’ mentality will not cut it this season. Caesar, a redshirt senior, has been drilling the young players to want to break that mentality.
“I mean, three points? It hurts,“ Caesar said. “It brings a fire to everything, and the older guys are teaching the younger guys to be become better players, which forms a bond with us. That will show, and I think that is what we need to get over that hump.”
5. Special Teams might shed its growing pains
Ohio’s specialists are young, and 2020 showed there was a desperate need for improvement. Tristian Vandenberg made only two of his six field goal attempts and seemed nervous when on the field. This season will be Vandenberg’s second as the starting kicker, and the pressure has set in for him to shape up.
Albin noted that Vandenberg had been working closely with special teams coordinator Nate Faanes during spring practice to work on his approach and line of sight. Vandenberg is a tall kicker at 6-feet-4-inches, and Albin believes this can give him an edge if he plays it to his advantage.
“He has got a powerful leg, and he's long,” Albin said. “I mean he is a long, long guy and he's got great length ... It's like how golfers with smaller hands have an advantage. There's more room for error.”