August 8, 2011

Thoughts on Fall Practice No. 1

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Luke Fickell admitted he had trouble sleeping last night in anticipation of his first full day of practice as Ohio State's new head coach.

Spending more time dealing with off-the-field issues in his time after Jim Tressel's resignation, Fickell finally got a chance to smell the grass and concentrate solely on football Monday morning.

"Every first day of camp you're so excited about getting to football," Fickell said. "Obviously a little bit more this year just with some changes and some different things, but I think it's therapeutic for a lot of us, as much for the coaches as it is the players."

Though Tressel is gone, Fickell ran practice just like his predecessor did. It was very efficient, with timed-periods and a full-throttle tempo. The Buckeyes are now just weeks away from their season opener, but first I provide my feelings from the first day of fall camp:

  • Braxton Miller is STILL going to have to earn it - There's no questioning who the fan-favorite is to win the quarterback battle, but that isn't going to earn Miller extra points with the coaching staff. In the first day of fall, Miller continued to rep with the fourth team - the same spot he was when spring practice finished.

    Now there's a long way to go before fall camp ends and Miller could be on his way up the depth chart, but it's clear the coaching staff wants him to get a better grasp for the playbook. Miller looked like one of the most talent offensive players, but playing quarterback is about much more than just being able to escape pressure. We'll get an indication of what the staff's plans for Miller is in the coming week, but he has a lot to prove before being thrown out there as the team's first option at quarterback.

  • Taylor Graham looks solid, other options not so much - Perhaps people are so excited about Miller because some of the other older options aren't quite getting it done. When it comes to Joe Bauserman and Kenny Guiton, neither did anything on Monday to set themselves a part as a clear leader on this team despite having more experience. In order to hold off Graham and Miller, that's going to need to change. I understand that it's the first day of fall camp and a lot can change, but there is no such thing as tomorrow in a position battle of this magnitude.

    When it comes to Graham, it is possible that he has the strongest arm on the team. But the thing that kills him the most is that he seems hesitant to go with his gut instinct when he is in the pocket. That leads to hesitation, which in turn leads to sacks - and third-and-long situations aren't necessarily ideal for a young offense. Graham seems to have the tools - he holds the ball high, has a nice release, and understands the playbook - but he needs to be quicker on the decision-making.

  • Suspended players not a priority for now - That's probably the case because those suspended for their involvement in the tattoo scandal are seniors that have been around the block for a few times. DeVier Posey and Mike Adams both worked with the second team for the most part and that will likely be the case until practice for the fifth or sixth week of the season. Fickell made it a point to say those guys will have to earn their spots back, so don't anticipate any of them rejoining the first team for months. Because Ohio State has to prepare for the opener just weeks away, it can't afford sparing reps for the ones who are expected to play week one.

  • Etienne Sabino, watch out? - Today the starting linebackers were Andrew Sweat (Will), Storm Klein (Mike), and Sabino (Sam). For those who follow Ohio State's defense closely, it plays in its nickel package for most of the time. In the nickel, the SAM linebacker comes off the field. Sabino spent the majority of his time as the starting middle linebacker in the spring while Klein was out with injuries, but the move to the strong side spot could be indicative of his role being diminished. He did stay out on defense at times with the nickel package, but Sabino hasn't quite won the starting spot just yet. He needs to watch out for Klein.

    BONUS: Speaking of people who need to watch out for their position, don't forget about Orhian Johnson. Though Johnson was on the field the entire practice as one of the starters, Christian Bryant is quietly behind him with the second team. Don't forget about how much the staff liked Bryant in his freshman season, so Johnson can't afford to get complacent with his spot during fall.

    Odds & Ends

  • The first team offensive line was the following: LT-Andrew Norwell, LG-Jack Mewhort, C-Michael Brewster, RG- Marcus Hall and RT-J.B. Shugarts. Remember, Corey Linsley is suspended for the firs two games of the season, but my gut feeling is that Hall is going to win that spot. You have to like that line until Mike Adams comes back.

  • The starting cornerbacks were Travis Howard and Dominic Clarke. Bradley Roby was alternating series on the other side with Clarke and Dionte Allen got time there, too.

  • Mike Vrabel wasn't shy in his first practice as Ohio State's linebackers coach. He could often be heard during practice intensely coaching his players and he seems to fit right in with the staff.

  • T.Y. Williams still seems to suffer from the drops. He bobbles most passes thrown to him - though he held on he won't when he is getting popped in the chest by a safety. He looks good - added a lot of muscle to his tall frame - but he needs to work on holding onto the ball.

  • Verlon Reed is a fun player to watch. I am not saying that he is the best player, but I kind of found that he's doing really well with the position change. He has really gotten bigger since he left spring and he has sure-thing hands. Both he and Corey Brown were the starting two wide receivers.

  • Jordan Hall had more catches than carries. That makes sense since I really didn't see him carry the ball much today. Jaamal Berry is the most explosive back out of the bunch, but we still have more Rod Smith to see.

    Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for He can be reached at


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