Tim Albin’s first season as coach will officially begin Friday with the start of Ohio’s fall camp. The retirement of Frank Solich raised queries about Ohio’s potential to make a run for a Mid-American Conference Championship this season.
In the 2021 MAC Football Media Preseason Poll, Ohio was selected to finish second in the MAC East and received only two first place votes. Albin said at MAC media day that the conference is “the strongest it’s ever been.” Once fall camp begins however, Albin wants the Bobcats to have their noses to the grindstone.
“We want to get back to Detroit, we have a special thing going right now toward getting back to Detroit,” Albin said at media day. “But we've just got to go, ‘hey, this is our focus right now,.’ The guys are bought in, and it should be a lot of fun.”
Ohio will dive into camp Friday and attempt to answer key questions ahead of its first season with a new coach in sixteen seasons.
1. Is the defensive line ready to grow?
The front seven have struggled to form a solid run defense for the past two years. Last season, Ohio allowed an average of 4.8 yards per carry over three games. That won’t fly against teams like Louisiana that had excellent rushing offenses last season.
Ohio has struggled to put a definitive stop to opposing offenses over the past four seasons.
Although the Bobcats lost star defensive end Austin Conrad to graduation, its depth has grown. Redshirt juniors Bryce Dugan and Michael Taylor are both up and coming on the defensive line.
Taylor was sidelined last season after transferring from Villanova but still has two years of eligibility and is among the more promising contenders for Conrad’s spot. In 2019 at Villanova, Taylor totaled eight tackles, one-and-a-half tackles for loss and half a sack.
Dugan played in all three games last season and totaled eight tackles. He’s grown in his first three games on the field as a solid defender with further room to progress.
2. Who will fill in after Shane Hooks’ departure?
Hooks’ transfer to Jackson State will sting the Bobcats early in the season. Hooks was a consistent deep threat on offense, averaging 18.7 yards per reception in his last two seasons.
Ohio isn’t lacking in receivers, however. Isiah Cox is among the top receivers in the MAC and the return of Cam Odom ensures the receiving core will be brimming with experience. Jerome Buckner and Tyler Walton will also pick up some of the slack without Hooks.
Neither Buckner nor Walton caught many passes last season, with just five receptions for 19 yards between the pair. Now that Hooks is gone, that might change. Buckner caught for 326 yards and Walton averaged 11 yards per reception in 2019. Now that Ohio has a full schedule again and a spot has opened up, the two might rebound from a lackluster 2020.
3. How will reps be split between Rourke and Rogers?
The competition for time on the field between quarterbacks Kurtis Rourke and Armani Rogers has bled into this season. The two offer opposing offensive approaches for Ohio to work with, and both still have another season to take the reins.
Albin said at media day that the competition will do them both good, but the hope is still to split time between both. Rogers has adapted well to Ohio’s system since his transfer from the University of Nevada Las Vegas last July. Ohio’s run game has benefited from Rogers’ knack for rushing the ball, and his limited passing last season may improve given proper time.
Rourke has spent significant time in the weight room during the offseason and Albin may want to flex those muscles during fall camp. If Rourke can ward off an injury like the one he sustained against Bowling Green last season, his strong passing game may evolve further.
4. Are things as par for the course as they appear?
A coaching change, no matter how close to the previous coach, is always a cause for concern. Although Albin has been a key figure in Ohio’s system since he was brought on as offensive coordinator in 2005, there’s still questions to be raised on how prepared he is for the coaching job.
Albin hasn’t been at the helm of a team since he coached Northwestern Oklahoma State from 1997-99. How well coaching a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics will translate to an NCAA Division I school is still up in the air, but Albin and his players have shown they are confident the season won’t be a far cry from the Solich era.
5. Which newcomers to look out for?
Virginia Tech transfer T.J. Jackson is a strong addition to Ohio’s already talented offensive line. At 6-feet-7-inches and 375 pounds, Jackson is the biggest lineman on Ohio’s roster, as well as the most experienced. Jackson played in 24 games for Virginia Tech and started twice at right guard.
Jackson is a big man, and he’s just what Ohio needs.
Albin said after National Signing Day in February that Jackson will bring extra depth to the offensive line and that he is excited to see how the lineman elevates Ohio’s performance.
“That’s going to be a need at tackle. I think that’s where he’ll start,“ Albin said of Jackson. “It’ll be tough to get around him, so we’re looking forward to getting him here and getting him started.”
On defense, freshman cornerback Shakari Denson might see significant time this season. Denson, a four-star recruit according to ESPN, is Ohio’s highest-rated ESPN recruit ever. He totaled 17 career interceptions at Claxton High School in Georgia, and he will fit in well with the likes of Justin Birchette and Jamal Hudson.