After just three spring practices, Ohio State football was forced to cease in-person operations due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
With the loss of valuable time to develop players in a hands-on setting, the Buckeye coaching staff has had to adapt its strategy when it comes to player development and team building. While the coaches cannot physically interact with the players, they are finding other ways to make sure they remain on track for the upcoming season, if it proceeds as originally scheduled.
Wide receivers coach Brian Hartline said Wednesday in a teleconference the biggest loss from spring practice cancellations was the ability to form bonds among players and coaches.
“I feel that we’ll be OK on the football side of things,” Hartline said. “But the culture, the brotherhood and molding of that room will be the biggest thing lost.”
Defensive line coach Larry Johnson said he has had conversations with his players on Zoom in order to build camaraderie in the defensive line room.
“We do more than just talk football. We try to do motivational videos and stuff that extends to our players and really touches their hearts,” Johnson said. “We’re not only talking football, but we are also feeding their souls and giving them opportunities to grow into young men.”
Johnson said he has had great dialogue with his players and has seen them grow as leaders during these sessions.
Running backs coach Tony Alford said he has relied on redshirt sophomore running back Master Teague’s leadership to reach the younger players.
“Master is the only [running back] who’s played extensive football,” Alford said. “He’s done a really outstanding job of reaching out and engaging the younger guys.”
Hartline has looked to the next level for motivation, bringing in NFL players to speak with the wide receivers, he said.
“I like to get guys that I played with or NFL guys to talk to our guys,” Hartline said. “We’ve gotten creative with it.”
The coaches said they are also struggling to keep tabs on the players’ diets in the same way they normally would. Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said dietary habits are just as important as working out.
“We are in constant communication with them,” Studrawa said. “They know what their goal weights are. They know what they need to eat because we give them meal plans.”
Once the players are allowed to return to campus for practice, it will still be a long road ahead before they are in playing condition.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said it should take players two to four weeks of conditioning to get them back into running shape, and six to eight weeks with contact before they are in playing shape.
“It’s going to need a few weeks of conditioning to get them back into running shape and build up their legs and stamina back up to speed,” Wilson said. “We have to hit enough to make sure that they are contact safe and know how to hit. I think we’re looking at a six-week scenario of three weeks of conditioning and three weeks of practice.”
Despite the difficulties faced by the team, the Buckeye coaching staff remains optimistic it will be prepared for the season’s start.
“The good news is these are mature kids,” defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said. “They want to be great so they are working really hard.”