Ohio State has no football game to play Saturday, but the Buckeyes are still working this week.
Though the coaching staff has no opponent to prepare for, it has decisions to make, first and foremost deciding who will get the most work and how much.
“It’s a fine line,” head coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday night. “There are some guys who have played 800 snaps and others who have played zero.”
The challenge is to keep his front-line players sharp and in shape without working them too hard while also getting experience for some youngsters who will be counted on down the road.
The Buckeyes returned to the practice field Tuesday, and Meyer liked what he saw in the first two days back in pads that included linebacker Etienne Sabino working with the No. 1 defense.
A senior from Miami, Sabino has missed four games while recovering from surgery to repair a broken leg.
“He’s had two good days,” Meyer said. “He’s still got a little bit of a gimp, but he’s practicing.”
Sabino was coming off two of his best games as a Buckeye when he was injured Oct. 6 against Nebraska, and in the mean time classmate Zach Boren moved over to linebacker from fullback and solidified the middle of the defense in his absence.
That means Sabino’s return along with the continued standout play of sophomore Ryan Shazier could give the coaching staff a problem it hasn’t faced all year – too many linebackers deserving of playing time.
Of course, facing Wisconsin – the Buckeyes’ next opponent in a game set for Nov. 17 – alleviates that because the Badgers’ power running game will necessitate extensive use of the base 4-3 defense instead of the two-linebacker nickel look it uses the majority of the time against spread offenses.
“That’s our plan,” he said. “If it’s base, those are our three top guys right now. Storm (Klein) is suffering a back/disc injury. He’s very limited in how much contact he can have. Those three, the next two games we’ll need all three of those guys.”
Meyer also sounded optimistic about the recovery of two first-teamers – right tackle Reid Fragel and nickel back Orhian Johnson – who had to leave the 52-22 win over Illinois last Saturday with injuries.
“Orhian hasn’t practiced yet, but he’s getting better, and Reid’s real close,” Meyer said. “I think he’s going to go tomorrow.”
The coaching staff continues to work, adding some extra recruiting duties to make up for time not needed to game plan.
Meyer said all 10 coaches on his staff – including himself – have been on the road this week as they take advantage of a new rule allowing that.
With the Buckeyes 10-0 in his first season, Meyer continues to get a good response to players he is trying to agree to don scarlet and gray in the future.
“It’s all positive,” he said. “They kind of like the style. Kids nowadays want to see points and those types of things. I think they also know that we have some holes we have to fill and our numbers are down. It’s going pretty good right now.”
Speaking for the players, quarterback Braxton Miller said not much changes during the week as far as practice goes, but he is taking advantage of some extra time in the evenings.
“A lot of guys are beat up, so it’s a good time to get some rest before these last two games,” Miller said. “It’s a lot of refreshment for the legs and the body, get all the bruises out.”