Given the responsibility that comes along with preparing the Buckeyes to move forward after the tumultuous summer the program endured, it's understandable the coach felt the way he did.
"I felt a little bit older than I think I am," quipped Fickell, who likely was just fine letting his birthday celebration take a back seat to football.
Thursday morning Ohio State's practice was open the media and things seem to be coming together for the Buckeyes. Buckeye Sports Bulletin was on hand to take in all the sights and following is a list of offensive practice observations:
Joe Bauserman seems to be making a statement — Though Bauserman has typically been the first quarterback out on the field for the Buckeyes dating back to spring practice, the 26-year-old senior seemed to have a different hop in his step Thursday. Maybe its because for the first time in his long Ohio State career, he has a legitimate chance of starting. And with a potential starting position hanging in the balance, it seems as if we are starting to see what Bauserman may be capable of.
Though in a public forum Bauserman hasn't quite gained the popularity of the other candidate — we'll get to the hotshot freshman in a minute — it seems as if the senior is starting to put it together. Enjoying perhaps the best practice of the spring Thursday, Bauserman was on point on a range of different throws and still has some elusiveness to escape pressure when he's feeling heat. However, Bauserman stuck in the pocket, remained patient, and found check-downs when the primary option wasn't there. He had an interception-free practice and showed off a strong arm that can be incredibly accurate when he's feeling it.
The main knock on Bauserman has always been the same — can he remain consistent? Though he got off to a fantastic start to practice, there was a span during red zone drills where he missed an array of passes that could have been on point. Consistency is Bauserman's biggest challenge at this point, because missing marks in games could lead to losses. As we all know in the game of football, one overthrown pass turned into an interception could chance everything. Bauserman had a great day, but it would be unfair to leave out some of his consistency issues.
Miller got a ton of reps, struggled at times — There's no question that Miller made big strides this week in jumping over Taylor Graham and Kenny Guiton on the depth chart. His athleticism and pure speed — which he put on display multiple times Thursday — is enough to make him a viable option for an Ohio State squad that is going to love moving the chains when plays break down. With just that ability alone, he's always going to be in the conversation.
But just like with Bauserman, there's a kicker — he struggled passing on Thursday. Despite the fact that he continued to make plays running around the backfield and avoiding pressure, Miller was off the mark on a lot of his passes. Now he made a few very nice throws, so the ability is clearly there, but like with Bauserman, consistency is going to be desired at this level. However, unlike Bauserman, those types of mistakes are more easily forgiven of Miller, as he's clearly on pace to gaining the tools needed to be successful.
The biggest knock on Miller at this point is his understanding of the playbook. Now that's not something that is Miller's fault, lets remember he is in his first fall camp at Ohio State. However, it is going to take time before he has a complete understanding of defenses, finding check downs, and comprehending situational football. But if there's one thing going for Miller its that he understands how to make the simple plays and finds guys on the short-to-intermediate routes, which will have Ohio State moving the football if he can play mistake-free football within the limited playbook he knows. That understanding will continue to grow, but until he has it Bauserman is always going to be right there, too.
How does the battle shake up? — With Guiton and Graham combining for less than 20 percent of the reps, there is no question this race is about Bauserman and Miller. Both bring individual skillsets that are incredibly unique, so it isn't out of the realm of possibility that Ohio State would want to use both during the season. In fact, if the battle continues to be this close, it is possible Ohio State will follow the Todd Boeckman-Terrelle Pryor model and let Bauserman trot out on the field first against Akron with a mix of Miller. As the season progresses and Miller gets better, that could change, but I anticipate the battle carrying over into the season.
Hyde shows up again, Hall will make plays — With Jaamal Berry out of action Thursday with an injury, Hyde took the most reps with the second team offense and continued to run in the way that had people talking about him earlier in the week. Hyde has a great newfound combination of power and speed and Thursday he used the power to break the line and speed to get to the second level.
However, it was Jordan Hall that worked primarily with the first team at running back and he had a lot of carries. But if both guys continue to play at this level, it is going to be tough to not have both on the field at the same time, particularly because Hall can be versatile in the way he makes plays. When Hall was on the field this morning, it was clear the coaches wanted him to have the ball in space. That can be achieved in a variety of different ways while allowing Hyde to take the full brunt of carries off tackle.
Verlon Reed coming on strong — There hasn't been a report just yet where Reed hasn't had a positive day, so let's get the negative out of the way up front: Reed had a few drops in Thursday's practice on passes we've become accustomed to seeing him haul in. Other than that, it was another impressive performance to the converted wide receiver that now sports the body you'd expect from someone solid at the position. Sporting great instincts once the ball is in his hands — likely because of his background as a quarterback in high school — Reed has really improved the crispness of his route running and is about as reliable as can be once the ball is in the air. Thus far in fall, it is clear Reed has asserted himself as someone who will be on the field.
When it comes to the other first teamer in Corey Brown — otherwise known as Philly — he has the speed and ability to separate from defenders but still needs to find a way to go up and bring passes down when they're in his realm. As a freshman he suffered with that some, particularly on a few passes in the Iowa game, so if he can work on creating separation and isolating the defender from the ball while holding on, he'll also be someone who can make plays.
Lastly, T.Y. Williams caught a great pass in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown from Bauserman. However, holding on to tough passes when in coverage has continued to haunt the big redshirt freshman. There's no excuse with his body size for not being able to use strong hands to rip passes out of the air. That's something Williams is clearly working on.