There was a strange sight at Ohio State’s first spring practice of the year last week: redshirt freshman quarterback Devin Brown was sporting a new jersey number.
New numbers aren’t strange in and of themselves, but some numbers just look out of place, and that was the case for Brown as he donned a jersey with the number 33 on it.
It’s a number normally reserved for a running back, or guys like three-time Ohio State All-American linebacker James Laurinaitis, but here was Brown eschewing the standard quarterback numbers of 1 through 19 in lieu of a family’s admiration for Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Slingin’ Sammy Baugh.
Baugh wore the No. 33 as the first quarterback inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but it was a different Hall of Famer that OSU head coach Ryan Day thought of when he saw the number.
“I thought Larry Bird. I don’t know why, but I thought of Larry Bird,” said Day, the New England native.
How did the number change come to be?
“He came in and asked,” Day explained on Tuesday. “He said that was something that he’s done for a while. It was something that was important to him and I said ‘okay, you’re going to stick out a little bit, you’re alright with that?’ He said yeah, and I said ‘as long as you guys are good with it, I’m good with it.’ So he’s gonna take take a run at 33.”
Is there something to be said for a quarterback who is currently in the midst of one of the more important quarterback battles in the country unconcerned about having even more eyeballs on him because of a jersey number?
“I don’t know. I know that he’s never shied away from competition,” Day said. “Never shied away from grabbing onto something. And this is something that he feels strongly about and he wants to blaze his own path for that number, and that’s good for him. So you think about in his recruiting and everything that kind of went on, this is not a guy who shies away from things, so I’ve got no problem with it.”
One Man’s Opinion
As Devin Brown and Kyle McCord compete to be the Ohio State starting quarterback this spring, everything that they do will be measured. Ryan Day, offensive coordinator Brian Hartline, and quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis will be charting every snap, rep, throw, and read between the two quarterbacks.
Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles will also be watching them, but from the perspective of the guy trying to stop them. While it’s still early and the pads are still locked in the equipment room, Knowles has some thoughts he’s willing to share.
And some thoughts he won’t.
“Devin can run around. Kyle manages the game really well,” Knowles said when asked about the QBs. “They both have their strengths, and in terms of reading defenses, I know this is gonna be a big spring for them, but I don’t have that much to say about them except I think they’re both very talented and I look forward to seeing how it goes in the spring.”
All of that is well and good, but what the people really want to know is who should be the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback.
When asked that very question, Knowles declined to name names.
“Next question!” he gruffly — and jokingly — answered.
A Draft In The Room
While Jim Knowles may not want to speak too much on the quarterbacks, one player he is more than happy to talk about is junior cornerback Denzel Burke.
Burke is the Buckeyes’ lone returning starter at cornerback this year. After a strong season as a freshman starter in 2021, expectations were high for Burke in 2022. The season began in a fairly rough manner for Burke before he started to turn things around and get back to the player that folks were expecting.
Heading into year three, the expectations are a bit cloudy for those on the outside. On the inside, however, there don’t seem to be any doubts about what to expect from Burke this season.
“I think Denzel this offseason just stood out, man,” Knowles said. “I mean, it’s just his physical development. The way he competed. We were talking yesterday as a defensive staff — I have the defensive staff go through a draft. I’m not giving out any of their results, but I have them go through a draft. We kind of draft our team to kind of see what our thoughts are on each player.
“You can see where maybe somebody drafted them high and somebody drafted them low, but Denzel came out great in that. And I think everybody has seen the offseason. And then today, he got his hands on more balls than maybe all last spring and camp together. So he just seems to be on point.”
X Marks The Spot
While some players maybe didn’t live up to expectations last year, others exceeded them. One of those players who performed beyond what many were expecting was fifth-year senior receiver Xavier Johnson.
Johnson was a utility player last year for an Ohio State offense that needed it. When the Buckeyes lost Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Johnson moved up the depth chart and made big plays in big games. When the Buckeyes were depleted at running back, Johnson was in the backfield taking hand-offs without any issues.
Johnson met with reporters on Thursday and spoke for what is believed to be a record 40 minutes for a player during a regular interview session.
Whether it’s talking, playing, or just being around, offensive coordinator and receivers coach Brian Hartline couldn’t be happier to have Johnson back for a sixth year.
“Xavier is awesome. The growth he’s had over the last 12-18 months has been awesome,” Hartline said. “A true offensive weapon. I mean his ability to be an elite receiver and also go in the backfield and carry the football, pick up protections, I mean there’s so many things that young man brings to the table, let alone special teams.
“To me, he’s gonna play football for a long time, barring health. That’s in the white lines. Outside those white lines, he is a great young man. I mean, Kam Babb-ish. Big man of faith, great leader with the young guys, willing to speak up. The future’s bright for Xavier in my opinion.”