Practice Has Been Spirited Thus Far

Media is allowed to return to Ohio State practice today for the first time since Thursday, but the expectation is that today's work will have the same edge as the first week. From excitable new coaches to players hustling at all times, the opening week of Luke Fickell's first camp was definitely high-energy.

Football is supposed to be a physical game and football is supposed to be a fun game.

For players like Ohio State fullback Zach Boren, those two things go hand in hand.

In other words, Boren has loved OSU's fall camp so far. The first under new head coach Luke Fickell, this year's camp has seemed to be more upbeat, intense and physical than the ones staged in past years by head coach Jim Tressel – a fact that fits Boren's attitude perfectly.

"It's definitely fun," he said. "Just getting that energy, you can feel it. I'm sure you guys can, too, just around the team. It's not like everyone's going through the motions. Everyone is getting ready, energetic. It's fun out here. It's turning out to be a fun atmosphere and we're all looking forward to that."

Of course, fun is a relative word (and Boren was speaking before the first two-a-day practice of the year), but there were signs coming into camp that things would be a tad bit different in Fickell's first year.

After everything that happened in the offseason, players spoke during the summer about how tough offseason workouts were and how much they wanted to get to camp, and Fickell called the team's return to the field as "therapeutic" at the start of the practice sessions.

Certainly, there has been a fair bit of pent-up aggression coming out since the Buckeyes have returned to the field. On the very first day with the team wearing only helmets, fullback David Durham and safety Jamie Wood exchanged whacks after Durham finished a run by sticking a forearm into Wood's chest.

There have been other assorted bits of jawing in the practices open to the media, so much so that Fickell ran across the field at one point Thursday to escort cornerback Dominic Clarke away from trash talking with the offensive unit after a play while letting him know his dawdling wasn't appreciated.

A premium has also been placed on hustle. Players move quickly from one drill to another. While in the past the defense was required to sprint after every loose ball on the playing field – even an incomplete pass – in past years, this year the offense has been encouraged to do the same.

"Everyone is running around a lot more," Boren said. "Coach Fickell, he's an energetic guy. He brings something to the team that we haven't really had. When there was an interception today, the whole offense was running after the guy with the ball. We haven't had that before. It was kind of nice being able to see that and we get that attitude instilled in the offense."

Things have also been loosened up a bit, at least when it comes to one celebration the first-team offseason put together last Thursday. At the end of a passing timing drill that took place with no defense in place and thus ended with a touchdown each time, the offense got together in the end zone after the last rep and staged an impromptu "grenade" celebration.

"We like to come out here and get the work done and take it serious, but we like to have a good time, too," center Michael Brewster said. "If you're not having fun, then what's the point of being out here? We're serious when we have to be, but we get some laughs along the way."

The high-energy practices aren't much of a surprise given the new blood on the coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock and cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson have always been the types of coaches who can be heard across the Harmon Family Football Practice Park when necessary, but they have been joined this fall by the new hires.

That starts with Fickell, the former linebackers coach whose outward intensity is more noticeable than that of his predecessor.

"He's a fireball, man, but he's got us going," linebacker Storm Klein said.

The same goes for new linebackers coach Mike Vrabel. A former OSU roommate of Fickell and a college defensive lineman like the new head man, Vrabel has wasted little time asserting himself as a force on the practice field.

"He's a high intensity guy, just like Coach Fickell," Klein said.

On the offensive side of the ball, the addition of wideouts coach Stan Drayton has made a difference. Drayton can often be seen sprinting downfield to encourage or excoriate a player after a particular play.

"I try to provide energy," he said. "Every day, I tell them that I'm getting ready to give it up for them, so I expect them to give it up for me. If they see me walking around, if they see me loafing around, I can expect them to do the same. I'm going to go out there and give them the effort I expect them to give me."

That effort has filtered down to the players. For example, running back Dan Herron can be heard encouraging the team's backs after every big play, a fitting job for a senior leader, even one suspended for the first five games.

Enthusiasm can take a team only so far, but the Buckeyes appear to be trying to figure that out this fall.


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