Ohio State football held its first day of preseason camp on Thursday in front of about 500 fans. There were no pads — and therefore there was no tackling — but there were still plenty of interesting things to see for a Buckeyes team trying to get back to College Football Playoff and return to the top of the Big Ten.
Here are a few takeaways from the first day of camp:
How did the QBs perform?
Ohio State split fields, so Devin Brown was often on one field with Kyle McCord on the other.
Though he largely played well, there was a throw Brown is going to want back. He threw the first interception of the preseason to freshman safety Malik Hartford, after releasing the ball on the run. It was the only interception of the day, and I thought Brown looked good overall. He was otherwise accurate, including on an incomplete deep ball to Marvin Harrison Jr. that went right through the All-American’s hands as he attempted an over-the-shoulder catch. A rare drop for Harrison, but not something to worry about.
McCord had the better day, though. He looked comfortable, which you’d expect when nobody has pads on, and even made some nice plays with his legs.
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We’re only one day into camp, so there’s no need to put much stock into performances before pads even come on. Things seemed pretty relaxed. But this is going to be the most-watched battle of camp, so it’s at least worth noting that McCord had the slight edge on Day 1.
Beyond the two starting contenders, freshman Lincoln Kienholz had a positive first day of camp. He missed a few throws and still has to work on timing, but you expect that in his first practice. He has a little bit of a sidearm release, probably from his baseball days, and didn’t look lost or overwhelmed.
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A position switch to watch
Kourt Williams II has moved to linebacker.
The former safety is coming off shoulder surgery last year and asked the coaching staff if he could make a switch. He’s impressed coaches so far.
“Kourt is a guy we always felt would be better closer to the line of scrimmage. We debated that move for a while, we just thought it was the right time to move him down fully,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. “He’s a first-class young man.”
We’ll have to temper expectations for Williams, a graduate entering his fourth year in the program, but he has the frame to play linebacker at 6 feet 1 and 228 pounds and the safety background for coverage. If he can learn his run gaps, he’ll be a nice depth addition to the unit.
Don’t expect him to jump Cody Simon or C.J. Hicks at inside linebacker anytime soon, though.
Speaking of Hicks, Knowles reiterated that the former five-star recruit will be splitting time between will linebacker and the jack hybrid position Knowles is known for.
Knowles, who said he’s not working Jack Sawyer at jack anymore after he tried to learn two positions last year, said he doesn’t have that worry with Hicks.
“They’re different players,” Knowles said. “C.J. has that short-space quickness and burst. Jack is more powerful, so I think C.J. fits the mold better.”
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First look at starting safeties
The preseason introduction to the safeties was a little bit different than the spring.
Lathan Ransom was there at bandit, as expected, but the two players joining him were Sonny Styles and Ja’Had Carter. That was a little bit of a surprise.
Carter missed half of the spring after a knee injury, but the Syracuse transfer has impressed safeties coach Perry Eliano and Knowles enough to earn the first-team reps at the adjuster position on the first day.
“Being a transfer, Ja’Had has been a very coachable player,” Knowles said. “He’s one of those guys who you can say something to and he corrects it on the field. That’s rare.”
One of the biggest storylines this offseason was how would Ohio State use Styles, who is entering his second year after reclassifying and enrolling at Ohio State a year early. Knowles was adamant that they wouldn’t pigeonhole the versatile Styles at one position.
“Don’t assume anything with Sonny,” Knowles said. “He’s extremely talented and can do it all.”
It was interesting to see Styles playing nickel on Thursday in place of Cameron Martinez. He’s a talented and versatile player who Ohio State knows has to be on the field. Coaches are finding room for him right now. The nickel spot makes sense because Styles has the size at 6-4 and 228 pounds to essentially be an extra linebacker, but he can also cover well. I don’t think Ohio State wants him covering 5-foot-9 receivers who run a 4.3 40-yard dash, but that’s where having depth to match personnel comes into play.
It was a good sign to see all three of them together. I think that’s Ohio State’s best safety group, with Martinez, who should still have a strong season, plus Josh Proctor and other options in a rotation.
It’s also worth noting that Knowles said his starting corners are Denzel Burke and Jordan Hancock right now.
“Both he and Denzel have had great springs and great summers,” Knowles said. “The next step for both of them is to be dominant. They both can do it.”
Davison Igbinosun and Jyaire Brown are taking the second-team reps.
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Pryor is back on the field
It was really good seeing running back Evan Pryor getting reps on Thursday, nearly a year after he tore his patellar tendon.
Again, there were no pads and tackling, but he caught a few passes in team periods and showed off some explosiveness. On one occasion, he caught a pass on the sideline, made a few people miss and accelerated upfield.
Ohio State has a deep running back room led by TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, so it remains to be seen if Pryor will get significant playing time. But he has the talent to earn a role in the offense.
Defensive tackle Tyleik Williams went down in the first period and was being looked at by athletic trainers, though it didn’t seem serious. He returned to practice.
The defensive line rotation looked about what you would expect with J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer starting at end and Caden Curry and Kenyatta Jackson coming in as the second string. Michael Hall Jr. and Ty Hamilton were the starters at defensive tackle.
(Photo of Kyle McCord: Ben Jackson / Getty Images)