Sunday, August 14, 2011

A FEW OBSERVATIONS FROM WEEK ONE OF OHIO STATE FALL CAMP

TBT/Joe Stueve
COLUMBUS — The first week of fall football camp is now in the books at the Ohio State University and there certainly isn't a shortage of news-worthy observations.

Sure, I could begin by writing that there's a different feel to camp this year without Jim Tressel roaming the turf at the Harmon Family Football Park, but to be quite honest, I haven't noticed much change in environment under new head coach Luke Fickell.

The tempo of practice is still upbeat, the sessions — although fast and furious — are just as well-organized under Fickell, and assistant coaches Taver Johnson and Nick Siciliano are still screaming at everything they see.

The only difference this year — from a coaching standpoint — is that the Buckeyes have two assistants, Stan Drayton (wide receivers) and Mike Vrabel (linebackers), who are new on the staff ... and screaming at everything they see.

Now, I won't "scream" about everything I've seen, but I will politely offer a few of my observations from week one of Camp Fickell ...

QUARTERBACKS QUESTIONS ...  Each of the candidates — fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman, red-shirt sophomore Ken Guiton, red-shirt freshman Taylor Graham and true freshman Braxton Miller — have gotten a fairly equal share of reps early on in camp, with Bauserman and Miller perhaps getting a little more run than the others with the first-team offense.

However, it's been difficult to determine whether there's any kind of depth chart established because the coaches have been running them in order from oldest to youngest.

Guiton has been the most consistent by my observations. He seems comfortable running the offense, confident throwing the football and has displayed very good awareness in the pocket. He's also displayed more than adequate running ability.

Bauserman and Graham have had moments where they look the part, as well, showing decent arm strength and accuracy — but usually when they are not facing pressure. However, when they do face a pass rush, each have been very inconsistent with their throws and decision-making, and most of that can be attributed to their lack of mobility.

Miller, who is by far the most athletically gifted of the group, has also been inconsistent at times. Of course, his head is spinning a little from all of the information being thrust upon him, so he's playing a little tentative, instead of instinctual — something which has been proven in high school to be his greatest asset.

It also hurts matters that they haven't been live in practice during the first week. Miller's a gamer, and may show more consistency when the pads actually start popping. Just look at the spring game for example, where he performed head and shoulders above the rest of the group.

"It's hard to even see his strengths and some of his best qualities when you can't tackle, and you aren't in pads, and he isn't live," Fickell said of Miller.

SMITH IS SPECIAL ... Usually a freshman or two stand out during the first week of fall camp each season, and this year is no exception.

Devin Smith — a 6-foot-3, 190-pound wide receiver from Massillon — has certainly impressed. The true freshman has exhibited all the attributes you look for in a receiver: big, fast, great hands, play-maker. He's also shown the poise of a three-year vet and could be pushing for playing time sooner, rather than later.

"Our goal is to put the best 11 on the football field," OSU receivers coach Stan Drayton said. "We don't care if you're two years old or 18, 19 or 20 years old. We want the best 11 out there and if Devin can prove that he's deserving of that, he's going to be out on that football field helping us win some ball games."

So far, he's proven deserving.

BARNETT LOOKS SOLID, READY TO EMERGE ... Last season as a red-shirt freshman, C.J. Barnett surprised many by earning the starting job at strong safety. He looked fantastic in the Buckeyes first two games of the season against Marshall and Miami, Fla., flying around the field and laying the wood to the opposition.

However, during the prime-time tilt against Miami in week two, Barnett suffered an injury to his right knee forcing him to have season-ending surgery.

Barnett doesn't appear to be suffering any ill-effects during the first week of camp. In fact, he's playing at a higher level than a year ago, anticipating what the offense is going to do and making plays. He's already recorded one interception (on Graham) for a touchdown in practice.

Co-defensive coordinator Paul Haynes attributes Barnett's progress to his work in the film room.

"He's a student of the game," Haynes said of Barnett. "C.J. had a great role model in Kurt Coleman, you know, being from the same high school. Kurt was that way, so it's easy for him to sit there and do all those things

"Two of the best guys I've ever had here was Kurt and Donte Whitner as far as being students of the game, making sure that you take notes instead of just going in and watching film. That's what (Barnett) did, he started seeing the importance of it ...  Now, we've got to turn the page and make sure he becomes a play-maker and is productive."

So far, so good.

DOMICONE IS DOING WORK ... It seems every time junior safety Zach Domicone is on the field he's making a big play.

The 6-foot-3, 211-pounder from Beavercreek, who has been running mostly with the second-team defense, has made the most of his opportunities this past week. Whether it's coming up and making a big hit in run support or playing the pass, he's doing everything at a very high level.

Earlier in the week, Domicone diagnosed a pass coming from Guiton, stepped in front of it and raced about 35 yards for a score. A couple days later, the opportunistic defender dislodged the football from tailback Carlos Hyde's arms, resulting in a recovery by Christian Bryant, who took the ball the other way to paydirt.

Primarily a special teams player in 2010, Domicone could see a major increase in playing time in the Buckeyes secondary this season.

MR. EVERYTHING ... Junior tailback Jordan Hall has been the most impressive player on the offensive side of the ball thus far.

The 5-foot-9, 190-pound native of western Pennsylvania has lined up at tailback and slot receiver this week, and has been stellar doing both. He looks bigger, stronger and faster than he did a season ago, and could be instrumental in the offensive success, with so many play-makers graduating or being suspended.

Whether he's doing it in the backfield or in the slot, or returning punts or kicks, look for the ball to be in Hall's hands quite often this season.

Drayton said Hall could become one of the most multi-talented players in the nation.

"Hall is being cross-trained to do a lot for us, including special teams, returns and all that stuff," Drayton said. "If he continues at the rate he's going right now, I believe he can be one of the most versatile players in college football."