Bobcats Build Depth In Spring Practice

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More than halfway through the spring practice season, things are starting to look better for the Ohio football team. Naturally during the first few practices of the season the team was rusty. Coming off of more than two months off the field it took some time for the players to get back into the motions.

“The first couple of days are always going to be rusty,” said redshirt senior quarterback Tyler Tettleton last week.

Lots of fresh faces are fighting for reps this spring due to graduations, especially on the offensive line. Tettleton thinks the early practices were invaluable to the younger player’s development.

“Pretty much the whole offensive line is brand new, so those guys are getting reps,” he said “But it’s been good to get out here and get everything going again and start seeing the younger guys start getting into the rhythm of everything and get some reps.”

Not only did Ohio lose three starting offensive lineman from last season due to graduation, but three returning offensive lineman with extensive experience have missed most of the spring practices due to injury. John Lechner, Sam Johnson, John Prior and Ryan McGrath are all sitting out due to injuries.

The injury bug that hit the team hard last fall is already causing issues for the teams’ upcoming season. A trio of sophomores are shut down with injuries that will keep them sidelined until at least conference play of next season: defensive lineman Justin Haser, safety Devin Jones and running back Daz’ Patterson are all recovering from offseason surgery. Redshirt senior running back Ryan Boykin is also hurt and has not participated in the on-field action this spring. All in all more than 23 Bobcats are sitting out or missing time this spring due to injury.

That’s allowed plenty of opportunities for the younger players, especially on the offensive line, to get valuable reps this spring before they head into fall camp. It’s paid off too; the offensive line has looked inexperienced but good in two spring intersquad scrimmages so far this season.

There are also a lot of newer guys on the defensive line getting reps this spring. Only three returning players had serious playing time on the defensive line last season as most of the main rotation graduated. That has led to a lot of younger unproven guys getting serious reps on the defensive side of the line as well.

“We’ve been really working to get experience with the guys,” said one of the returning lineman, redshirt senior Ty Branz. Branz thinks that the playing time they younger guys are getting now will be important come fall time. “Experience is key out there when you’re on the field. It’s hard to go out and play that first game with not much field time under your belt and with all of those seniors graduating we’ve got these other young guys and so practice is real important for them.”

Depth was an issue on the defensive line last fall as injuries took a toll on the rotation and many backups had little to no in game experience. That is something the ‘Cats hope to avoid this spring and is part of the reason why they added eight defensive lineman to their 2013 recruiting class in early Feburary along with the large group of underclassmen already on roster. Two of those new players, freshman prep school transfer Tarell Basham and sophomore junior college transfer Watson Tautuiaki, are already on campus and are taking advantage of the reps this spring, competing for rotation spots.

“There’s a lot of ups and downs,” defensive line coach Jesse Williams said about the group’s performance this spring. “We’re young … we have some talent, but learning the execution part of it is key … we’re at that point right now where they can’t get enough reps.”

Williams said the team hopes to go with a deeper line rotation this fall, giving eight to nine guys’ serious playing time this season as opposed to the five or six man rotation from last season.

“We’re trying to make sure that we’re not a liability to this team,” Williams added.

The secondary is also a key point of focus this spring for Ohio, as it finished sixth in the MAC last year in passing defense.

Two early enrollees from the 2013 recruiting class are already making solid impressions on the coaches. Jarid Brown, a cornerback, had the only interception in the teams’ first spring scrimmage. Dyquan Stweart has been making strides at the nickel position this spring as well as they both work on getting the defensive schemes down in these few weeks before the spring game.

The cornerback position was hit hard last season when starters Jamil Shaw and Travis Carrie suffered season ending injuries by week one. Now with a year of experience under their belt, the young guys along with a healthy duo of Shaw and Carrie are looking to use this time to greatly improve their contributions to Ohio’s efforts.

Carrie, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility after getting a medical redshirt last season, still isn’t able to go full contact this spring. But that hasn’t prevented him from getting plenty of action on the field.

“I think the competition as a group … will only make us stronger,” Carrie said. Without being able to hit, Carrie is focusing on nailing down his technical execution as well as learning the new schemes brought in by recently hired corner backs coach James Ward.

Ward recently talked about what he hopes to gain from these spring practice sessions leading up to the April 13 spring game at Peden Stadium.

“My No. 1 goal is (for the players) to get better at techniques, to develop depth. Encourage competition. I've got a lot of guys that had playing experience. I've got two guys coming back (from injuries) … my No. 1 goal, just making sure that they're technically sound. I hope, that should take care of them making plays and that's the ultimate goal is to have a group of playmakers."

Elsewhere in the secondary, redshirt junior safety Nathan Carpenter is making a switch from nickel to safety to help add some depth to the ‘Cats defensive backfield.

“It’s pretty much the same position as nickel,” he said about the switch.

The team has just five practices left before the annual Green and White spring game, which will be held on Saturday April 13 at 2 p.m. in Peden Stadium.