Ohio’s practice Wednesday was among its most productive in its first week of its fall camp. After six days of practice, Ohio is now able to practice in full pads. Aside from the mandatory day off put in place by the NCAA’s new guidelines for acclimation to full pads, Ohio can now dive into more physical practices.
Here are five observations from Ohio’s sixth practice of fall camp:
Linebackers are working with plenty of talent
The Bobcats are down a man in the wake of Keye Thompson’s knee injury he sustained in the offseason. Although one of their returning starters is out, the Bobcats aren’t hurting. Ohio’s linebacker unit is among its best, and many of its players are beginning to mature.
Linebackers and special teams coordinator Nate Faanes says that many of the linebackers are experiencing substantial growth at the same time.
“All those guys can run,“ Faanes said. “They're all physical. They all have the traits to be special, and that's why there's a ton of competition that we're up to right now because there's six guys back that all can play. They're at the same kind of turning point of competing and elevating their game.”
Kyle Kelly performed well Wednesday, showing exceptional hustle and breaking up a handful of passes during team drills. Kelly has been in the six-man rotation Faanes has kept an eye on, and Wednesday was the redshirt sophomore’s case to be given more time.
Running corps continues to deepen
The three-man wrecking crew of De’Montre Tuggle, O’Shaan Allison and Julian Ross will be a key element of Ohio’s offense this season. But behind them, Jake Neatherton has been rounding himself out into a formidable fourth man.
Neatherton went on two big runs during team drills Wednesday, and is exercising his knack for finding gaps in the line to squeeze through. He’s not as fast as Tuggle or as powerful as Allison, but he performs his job well and emphasizes Ohio as a threat on the ground.
Forcing turnovers is coming easier
Ohio’s secondary ran drills Wednesday focusing on fumble recovery and intercepting passes in traffic. Turnovers have been top priority since day one of camp, and the results are already beginning to show.
In the last three practices open to the media, Ohio’s defense has forced four turnovers. At least one turnover a day is a good start, and those numbers may grow as camp continues. The only turnover Wednesday came from cornerback Pierre Kemeni, who picked off a pass from Armani Rogers during the 7-on-7.
It’s still only the first week of camp, but Ohio’s defense is getting better at forcing turnovers. If the improvement continues over the next two weeks of camp, Ohio will be in good shape.
A much needed break from the heat
The temperature in Peden Stadium hovered in the mid-to-upper 80s for five straight days, and a breeze was non-existent. Frustrations are bound to boil over in the August heat, and the first scuffle of camp occurred just three days into practices. The first day of full pads means harder hits, which also leads to raised tensions. Coach Tim Albin made a point before practice to walk amongst the team to say he wanted “no scuffling today.”
Perhaps he expected tensions to run high. However, the rain solved that for him.
A sprinkling of light rain washed over Peden Stadium Wednesday morning, and a slight breeze continued for another hour. Even a small break from the heat was enough to keep the Bobcats level-headed for the remainder of practice.
Stephen Johnson might be the key for Ohio’s special teams
Stephen Johnson, a transfer from Oklahoma, has done what Ohio asks of him throughout camp— hit his mark. Johnson missed only one field goal during live drills Wednesday, and even then it just barely skimmed the right post. The redshirt senior didn’t miss a single kick in his four games last season. It’s a small sample size, but Johnson is the voice of experience Ohio needs to help further the development of Tristian Vandenberg and Jonah Fortkamp.
“He's an older guy, that always helps to get a veteran guy that's kicked in a game before,“ Faanes said. “He’s got some experience, he’s kicked in a Big 12 (Conference) game before ... and he has brought another leadership voice and everything because he's older and got some experience.”