Updated Sun, Apr 14, 2013 4:45 pm
The spring football season came to an end Saturday afternoon for Ohio with many questions left unanswered and a host of inactive players. The Bobcats finished without much of a bang before a rather small crowd on what is normally the annual Green and White spring game.
“We were forced into this corner,” head coach Frank Solich said of the team’s decision to forgo the spring game in favor of a scrimmage. “We didn't have any choice. If we'd have had a choice we would have liked to have had most of our guys healthy and out here, and been able to put on a spring game.”
A month after Ohio started practicing, without numerous key players, the team ended with 30 players sitting out the final scrimmage of the spring. Running backs Ryan Boykin and Daz’ Patterson both missed spring and likely won’t be back until mid-way through the season as they recover from offseason surgeries. Tight ends Derek Roback and Tyler Knight also missed the spring and could possibly miss the entire 2013 season as they try to recover from lingering concussion issues and offseason hip surgery, respectively.
The team already had to replace three longtime starters on the offensive line after last season, but by the end of spring practices Ohio was dealing with an even larger depth issue. Three returning veterans, Jon Lechner, Ryan McGrath and John Prior, all missed the spring and McGrath and Prior could miss time early next season. All in all of the 15 offensive lineman currently on roster, less than half of them were healthy this spring.
“But you know there's always a silver lining and that is that the young guys, the guys that had to get so many reps, should have benefited from those reps,” Solich said of the injuries on offense.
Getting the young players reps was one of the few things that went well for the team this spring. There was plenty of playing time for the young players from both sides of the ball, but especially on defense, where four early enrollees took advantage of the spring practice sessions and made an impact right away.
During the scrimmage Saturday two of those new players, defensive back Dyquan Stewart and defensive lineman Terrell Basham, had solid performances in the limited game simulated action.
Stewart cracked wide receiver Matt Watters after he caught a 33-yard pass from J.D. Sprague forcing a fumble that he scooped up for the only turnover on the day. Basham sacked Sprague for a six-yard loss, his second scrimmage sack of the spring.
Early this spring, defensive back Jarid Brown recorded an interception in a scrimmage, and defensive lineman Watson Tautuiaki also looked solid as the four newcomers learned the team’s defensive schemes.
“We like what we see from those four guys,” said defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow.
“They're so far ahead of what they would be if they were just coming in in the fall that they're already more experienced than the guys that are just (going to be) coming in.”
Defensively things went much smoother for the team injury wise. Fewer players missed spring on that side of the ball but the ‘Cats had much more youth getting playing time by design due to attrition at a number of positions after the 2012 season. All spring, defensive line coach Jesse Williams worked on getting as many of the young players as he could into the rotation. The team is replacing all four starters from last season and will go for a much deeper nine man rotation this season to make up for the lack of experience.
In the defensive backfield, despite not going full contact all spring, the return of seniors Travis Carrie and Jamil Shaw proved valuable for a group of returning young cornerbacks. Both players missed the 2012 season due to injuries and, though they are healthy, avoided contact this spring, focusing instead on perfecting technique and helping mentor the younger corners on the roster.
The defense gained some valuable experience this spring but still has a long way to go if they want to improve on last season’s middle of the pack performance in the defensive Mid-American Conference standings. Saturday’s scrimmage proved that.
“We got (pushed back) in the red zone right away and for some reason we have the tendency to start off some scrimmages or even sometimes games over the years, not great,” said Burrow of the defenses performance. “You saw mistakes that we'll have to iron out but overall trying to be physical and running the football was a positive.”
The squad didn’t give up a touchdown, but it bent early and struggled to limit the offense’s running game. The trio of running backs on the day, returning senior Beau Blankenship, redshirt sophomore Kyle Hammonds and walk-on athlete Paul Wilks, combined for nearly 100 yards on 26 carries.
Redshirt freshman quarterbacks Sprague and Greg Windham also looked good Saturday, combining for 49 yards on 4-of-5 passing attempts. Returning starter, redshirt senior Tyler Tettleton didn’t get any live reps this spring despite being perfectly healthy. It’s something Solich said he wasn’t worried about since he felt getting the younger players reps was more important. The young quarterbacks, along with redshirt sophomore Derrius Vick, looked good all spring, but no single one outshined the other, leaving the team’s quarterback situation exactly where it was heading into the spring.
Another position battle the team hoped to have cleared up by now was at kicker, where Ohio is trying to replace MAC career leading scorer Matt Weller. The team entered spring with a four-way competition and after Saturday’s spring game Solich said he’s still unsure of who he’ll give the job to.
“Each of them have some strong points, we've just got to find the guy that's going to be able to put it all together,” Solich said, adding that the competition will remain open heading into the fall. “Consistency, strong leg, all of those things, composure, all of those things kind of come into the picture.”
During Saturday’s scrimmage all four kickers attempted a 30-yard field goal but only redshirt sophomore Matt Green -- a transfer from Oklahoma State -- and redshirt freshman Matt Amicone were able to convert the kick. It’s just another example of how much the team still needs to accomplish before it takes on Louisville on the road for the season opener on Aug. 31.
“It’s about what I expected,” Solich said of the team’s performance Saturday. “You're only going to look so sharp. It's clear that we have to get a lot better at execution. I think in terms of being a football team that can run and hit, I think we'll have that. Now the rest of it's got to come.”