Jeremiah Smith

Ohio State Football Notebook: ‘You guys have seen the talent’

Some Iron Is Sharper Than Others

The Ohio State defense is expected to be one of the best in the nation this year, and they will get there thanks in part to the kind of work that goes on in practice against the Buckeye offense.

Over the offseason, head coach Ryan Day brought in former UCLA head coach Chip Kelly to help make what has annually been one of the best offenses even better.

A defense that returns over a dozen players with starting experience will match up against an offense that can say the same. Together, both entities will make each other better. This isn’t just limited to the players, however, because the coaches will have to be on point as well.

“Yeah, it’s an elite challenge and task,” new OSU safeties coach Matt Guerrieri said of the upcoming battles with Day and Kelly in practice.

This isn’t a new experience for Guerrieri, however, since he spent a year at OSU when defensive coordinator Jim Knowles arrived from Oklahoma State in 2022.

“I thought that from the first time coming here,” Guerrieri said. “Like that first spring ball, to line up across and here’s CJ Stroud and Marvin Harrison, right? Jaxon [Smith-Njigba] in the slot and, okay, you better get good fast, right? If not, you’re gonna get embarrassed on the practice field.

“And I think that’s one of the things that coach Knowles talks about a lot is the development from a mentality standpoint of the defense of competing every single day. It doesn’t matter who’s across from you, and I think that helped us take great strides on defense.”

Jeremiah Smith Fitting Right In

Blue-chip wide receivers are nothing new at Ohio State. As the Buckeyes’ receivers coach, Brian Hartline has created a pipeline of the nation’s best pass-catching prospects from all parts of the country.

True freshmen Jeremiah Smith and Mylan Graham are the two latest. Both are former five-star prospects who could have gone anywhere to play college football. Graham will enroll this summer, but Smith (6-3 200) was an early enrollee.

Arriving early is generally a process that starts out difficult but gets a bit easier when things stop being brand new. Every little bit of experience helps, which is why enrolling early is generally impactful when it comes to seeing playing time once the season rolls around.

For Smith — who was ranked the top receiver in the nation as a high school senior — the expectations are as high as they’ve ever been for a true freshman pass catcher. And to this point, he hasn’t been disappointing.

“Yeah, he’s jumped right in,” Ryan Day said earlier in the month. “You guys have seen the talent; the talent’s there. I think the thing that’s been most impressive to me so far is his discipline that he has already built in his life. And then the skill of playing the position at such a young age as well. And [Hartline] and everybody will continue to build on that and grow on that, but he has had a great approach so far. So certainly expecting big things from him.”

Finding Your Voice

New Ohio State linebackers coach James Laurinaitis spent his first year on Ryan Day’s coaching staff last year as a graduate assistant. Despite the title, he was the de facto linebackers coach a year ago as well. Now, however, the title is his completely. The position is his alone, and so is the new office.

With the title comes more responsibility, but also more comfort in speaking out about the defense. Now as a full-time coach, Laurinaitis feels like he has more of a voice on the defense.

“Yeah, I do. And I think early on. When I came back here, I was very aware of that. Being a former player here, I’ll put it this way, I wanted to work for everything, if that makes sense. I didn’t want to come back and — I think sometimes there’s a stigma with former players because sometimes I think some of them have been that way where they just expect things handed to them. I don’t want that to be the case. I wanted to work for everything.”

Being a three-time All-American at Ohio State, Laurinaitis could have let his reputation precede him, but having been in coaching for just two years last season, he tried to soak as much in as he could.

And while he will continue to do that, he also has more freedom to speak up when it comes to his players, the scheme, and the game plan.

“A lot of times I would just absorb a lot of information. As the season went on, I felt a little more comfortable expressing stuff,” Laurinaitis said. “But now that the title is what it is, I think you’ve got to speak up when you see things a certain way, whether that’s scheme wise or technique, whatever it is. And look, I think a lot of times last year, I agreed with a lot of what we were doing. Obviously we had a lot of success on defense.”

Getting Will Howard Up To Speed

When Ohio State opens spring practice on Tuesday March 5, they will be doing so without a starting quarterback. The Buckeyes will still have five scholarship quarterbacks, but 2023 starter Kyle McCord entered the transfer portal following the regular season.

Redshirt sophomore Devin Brown got the start in the bowl game, but missed most of it due to an ankle injury. He is now healthy and will participate fully once practice begins. His biggest competition for the starting job will likely come from Kansas State transfer Will Howard, who started 27 games for the Wildcats, spread out over the course of four seasons.

It has been said by past Buckeye quarterbacks that it takes a year to learn Ryan Day’s offense. It can be done quicker than that, as evidenced by Justin Fields in 2019. Howard is a veteran player who is also a quick study. There is already a plan in place to get him up to speed, though that plan will seemingly change on a daily basis.

“Well, what we need to do is figure out how many reps do you really need to get at the end of the spring to be ready to move into the summer,” Day said recently. “So whatever that is, it’s not a percentage. It’s just like, ‘Alright, here’s what we need per practice.’ And then we’ll make sure that we get those reps.”

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