Nicol was going to play a lot no matter what. He was either going to be the starter, or the No. 2 TE behind Frost. But now he is the clear-cut starter and will need to step up with a big season for the Buckeyes.
Ballard was a candidate to redshirt prior to the Frost suspension. But there is no talk about redshirting him now. He will likely be OSU's No. 3 tight end behind Nicol and sophomore Brandon Smith.
"Well, we have two good tight ends in front of me," Ballard said. "Rory Nicol and Brandon Smith are two great tight ends and I just hope I can learn as much stuff from then as I can to make me a better player. And if I get a chance to play, then I get a chance to play."
But Ballard knows there is a very good chance he will play this year.
"Yeah, I think so," he said. "I think the top three tight ends play, so right now I think I'm going to play. It depends on how much harder I work and how the coaches think I'm progressing during camp."
Ballard, a graduate of Springboro High School, comes built for the Big Ten at 6-7, 265 pounds. And other than learning a new playbook, he thinks the transition from high school is going fairly well.
"I think everything has gone really smooth, I just have to learn a whole new offense – that's probably the only problems I've had so far," he said. "Practices aren't too bad and the speed isn't too different for me, so everything is going really good."
Ballard moved to Columbus about a month before camp began and started working out with the team.
"Yeah, probably about a week or two after the North-South game I started lifting up here with the guys," he said. "It was nice to get up here and kind of get settled in."
But he didn't get any tips on the playbook until he reported to preseason camp.
"No, just started last week," he said. "I feel good physically, but right now it's just a matter of getting everything down mentally and doing the right things in this offense."
There was a lot of chatter when Ballard signed with the Buckeyes that he was destined for a move to offensive tackle. But he said all along that he was a tight end and it looks like he was right.
"Ohio State doesn't need to recruit tight ends to play tackle," Ballard said. "As you can see, we have a lot of good tackles on this team who were tackles in high school."
With his first collegiate season less than two weeks away, Ballard was asked what he is looking forward to the most.
"Probably seeing if I get a chance to play," he said. "Showing people what I can do."
In Friday's jersey scrimmage, Ballard had a 31-yard catch.
Nicol's Mindset Hasn't Changed
One might think that a lot changed for Nicol when the Frost news broke. But the native of Beaver, Pa., entered camp with the intention of earning a starting spot and his goal has not changed. He redshirted last year with a foot injury and is itching to show what he can do on Saturdays.
"Yeah, I came into this camp even before what happened, happened, I had a great summer and I felt I got my foot back where I wanted it," Nicol said. "I came here with the mindset that I was going to compete for that job to begin with. So, it didn't really change anything for me with Marcel leaving the program. I'm not going to change the way I work or the way I approach my goals for this season or to help this team or anything like that."
Nicol explained how he injured his foot last season.
"It was really freak, actually," he said. "I jumped up to catch a ball on a fade route in the end zone and it just popped. Didn't get hit, didn't get stepped on, didn't get rolled on nothing. Jumped up in the air literally. It was ligaments. Torn ligaments."
It took Nicol several months to recover from the injury. But he still pushed himself and worked out even when he wasn't close to 100 percent.
"Well, winter conditioning, I did all of it, and that's a ton of stuff," he said. "I really just fought through that. And then I had a little bit of time off before the spring. Then, once I got through the spring and towards the end of the summer, my foot really felt great. So, I felt like I kind of got through the worst of it and now it's 100 percent. I rarely think about it anymore. I don't have anything that makes me think about it."
Could Nicol's injury have been a blessing in disguise? He now has three years of eligibility remaining, instead of just two.
"Well, I like to think of myself as a Christian man, so it's one of those things where I think everything happens for a reason and God has a plan for all of us in my opinion," Nicol said. "That's how I approach it. But it was hard, obviously, because I played as a freshman and I knew what it was like and to have to sit out that second year you kind of find yourself wondering why, but it will all make sense some day."
Nicol thinks the backup tight ends are doing a solid job and he doesn't think depth will be a problem for the Buckeyes.
"Brandon Smith has done a great job," Nicol said. "Brandon has got a ton better. And Jake Ballard, he has shown some flashes of athletic ability and looks good. Andy (Miller) has too. They are big guys that can block. Their heads are spinning right now, but they are going to be fine."