Shaun Wade looked on from the sidelines while Kerry Coombs dug into his defensive backs for the first time on the field Monday. Jonathon Cooper was helmetless, trotting across the turf as Larry Johnson and the Buckeye defensive line drilled technique. Chris Olave stood to the side, stretching while the new stable of Ohio State receivers was turned loose.
“It’s really for the younger guys,” head coach Ryan Day said of spring practice, and some of them didn’t waste time making indelible impressions on the first day.
Freshman quarterbacks C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller are two players seeking reps and a leg up in the battle to be junior Justin Fields’ backup.
Day grinned and nodded when asked if more is asked of new quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis because he occupies Day’s old post. But with Dennis handling a competition for the future of the position in his first season, it will be more than just Day’s eye fixated on him and the Buckeye passers.
“He’s got his hands full there with some young guys with inexperience,” Day said.
However, both players likely gave Dennis cause for excitement with bright moments Monday, including one from Stroud that saw a smiling Dennis zipping downfield to greet his new pupil.
Although clad in a noncontact jersey, a quarterback keeper from Stroud infiltrated the secondary during 11-on-11 drills, which garnered a smile from the California native and a giddy reaction from Dennis, who ran to give the freshman props.
Stroud showcased his arm, as well. In a red zone drill that concluded practice, Stroud placed a ball into the arms of redshirt senior wide receiver Demario McCall –– newly moved from running back –– in the right corner of the end zone from 20-plus yards out.
This time, it was Stroud streaking down the field after the play, meeting McCall for a celebratory mid-air embrace.
Jack Miller threw a standout dime of his own earlier on, threading the needle over the right shoulder of freshman wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba for a tiptoe catch down the left sideline.
It wasn’t Smith-Njigba’s lone highlight, as he pulled down a similar ball with a defender draped over him on the opposite sideline minutes later.
Smith-Njigba is one of Ohio State’s four top 16 receivers –– headlined by Julian Fleming –– in this recruiting cycle, and Day said he was impressed by each of their performances Monday.
“I think all four of them really have a chance to play and be successful,” Day said. “Now they have a long way to go, but for Day One, better than expected.”
But the newcomers didn’t steal all the shine from returning members of the receiving corps.
Sophomore Garrett Wilson was a scarlet blur, flashing to the end zone on several occasions, regardless of who was passing him the ball when matched up with defensive backs in one-on-one drills.
Junior cornerback Sevyn Banks intercepted two passes for a depleted Buckeye secondary while junior cornerbacks Wade and Cameron Brown were limited and junior safety Josh Proctor was unavailable.
“He’s got to step up. It’s only two months since we played our last game, and we’ll see once we get through the spring if he’s willing to take that next step,” Day said, referring to Banks.
Sophomore offensive lineman Harry Miller entered as a five-star prospect at center this past season, but with redshirt junior Josh Myers returning after a second team All-Big Ten campaign at the position, Harry Miller lined up at guard in practice.
Day said the move was about getting the best five players on the field, and said he expects “big things” from Harry Miller heading into this season.
“The ability for him to now go from guard to center is really good, so I think he’s going to be the next really good one in terms of the Elfleins and the Corey Linsleys and the Billy Prices,” Day said.
Day said 2019 standouts junior cornerback Jeff Okudah and junior running back J.K. Dobbins were “younger players” during the spring practice period a season ago, but springboarded into leadership roles as a result of stellar play.
There will be nearly six weeks of work for this season’s Buckeyes to do the same thing ahead of the Spring Game April 11.