Thanks to a perceived breach in practice reporting protocol, Ohio head coach Tim Albin altered practice accessibility to media (photography, periods watched, etc.) this week and — conceivably — moving forward.
It meant, for the most part, reporting media were left out of viewing the majority of the Bobcats’ second live-action scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday at Peden Stadium. By the time I entered, for instance, all the live reps for the first and second teamers were already completed. So in terms of getting looks at lineups, breakthroughs, or new scheme changes, the exhibition was a futile one for generating notes about who looked good, who performed well, and who struggled among those expected to get the majority of Ohio’s reps this season.
It’s not that Albin, or any other head coach, doesn’t have practical reasons for wanting more limits on who can watch and view practice. With two weeks to the season opener against Syracuse, the Bobcats are about to transition from general team preparation into opponent-specific preparation. Information is a variable and a resource; the more you can keep out of the ‘enemy’s’ hands, the better.
So, on Saturday, Albin and the Bobcats could run game-specific scenarios, try out gimmicky personnel packages, or install trick plays — if they did any of that at all, I’m just spitballing here — without concerns that any sensitive information could leak out to where the Orange (or other opponents) could find it on the internet. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t noteworthy or interesting things going on inside the venerable stadium.
A couple of hundred fans, family, and friends ended up in attendance to view the ending sliver of practice, take a tour through the Ohio athletic department equipment garage sale, and engage in ‘Peden Palooza,’ which included games (giant Connect 4, cornhole, big Jenga) they could play with players.
But with the games that the players care most about beginning in less than 14 days, here’s a sampler platter of what I found most important and interesting.
Of Delta and Vaccines
Since being named head coach, Albin has stressed the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccine to people who are a part of the Ohio football program. As news of the spread and impact of the Delta variant has intensified and worsened throughout August, that drive has only increased.
At this point, Ohio has done a good job of instituting vaccine coverage for the bulk of the program. All staff members (more than 60), with the exception of three recently added student volunteer assistants, have been vaccinated, Albin said Saturday. As for the players, the vax rate has been good but not perfect.
“Today, as we stand, 102 (players) out of 118 have been vaccinated (completely) or (have received at least) one shot,” Albin said. “I’m very happy with that number. We have guys who are still going to get shots in the coming days, I’m not counting those yet.”
In addition to the 86% vaccination rate, Ohio has masks, assigned seating, and social distancing guidelines in place for all interior meetings. If OU players are in a football setting, inside a building, Albin believes in the rules in place to prevent a massive loss of players due to contact tracing following any positive tests. It was contact tracing that caused OU to cancel half of its scheduled six games in 2020.
But with campus opening up this year and ‘Welcome Weekend’ activities in full effect, Albin knows his players will face tests that were off the table last season.
“If they’re here (at football) we’re going to be good,” the coach said. “If an unvaccinated guy goes to Kroger, or goes to Planet Fitness, or goes to a girlfriend’s house, I can’t control that.
“The guys who are unvaccinated know what’s at stake.”
As schools across the state of Ohio open up their doors, a rise in active COVID cases (due to Delta) is expected. With unvaccinated members on his roster, Albin realizes Ohio is exposed to more potential infections than if the squad was at 100 percent vaccination. Would he prefer if everyone had the vaccine? Yes, but that’s not the reality of the situation at the moment.
“It’s a personal choice and we respect it,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to keep the unvaccinated as safe as we can for as long as we can.”
The Mid-American Conference, like most conferences, has already said that if a team can’t play in a given week due to low roster numbers as a result of COVID issues, then it will forfeit that game. Positive cases and contact tracing can now result in wins and losses, and it’s become a part of every coach’s game plan.
Ohio will be no different, Albin said. If cases spike, there won’t be allowances made for those who remain unvaccinated. Given OU’s contact tracing methods, as displayed in 2020, it’s possible that segment of the team might be shelved.
“The difference between now and last year is there’s a choice,” Albin said. “If it goes off how they’re saying, and I think it’s going to take off, we’ll shut it down. If I have to leave an unvaccinated guy at home, if we have to do that then I’m going to do it. That’s the right thing to do.
“All I can do is stick behind my desk and make decisions based on what the procedures are here and then keep the team moving forward because, as you guys know, it’s a forfeit now.
“And the Bobcats, we are not forfeiting a game. So we are going to play.”
The 10 plays the media witnessed on Saturday included mostly third stringers or young players. Walk-on freshman RB Nolan McCormick got the bulk of the offensive touches (4 carries, 28 yards), while QB C.J. Harris and walk-on QB Kadin Beler split up the 10-play segment evenly. The most noteworthy play was Harris connecting on a 53-yard touchdown pass on a deep post to flanker Aramoni Rhone on third-and-13.
Linebacker Shay Taylor ran down Harris to keep him in the pocket on a scramble, defensive linemen Vonnie Watkins and Bralen Henderson combined for a tackle for loss, and a group sack on Beler, in standout defensive plays. Freshman RB Sieh Bangura reeled off a 10-yard run in his only carry of the segment.
The offense did have four penalties in the segment, including three pre-snap flags.
Afterward, Albin said Ohio logged 77 plays from scrimmage; It’s a number he called the highest he’s seen in a second fall scrimmage with the Bobcats. Overall, he feels the team is “ahead of schedule” in terms of installation.
“Too many tackles-for-loss from the offensive standpoint, but defensively that’s what you’re after,” the coach said. “We were in second-and-long today, and we were still able to move the chains. Pleased with both sides of that.”
As for the quarterback decision, Albin said more clarity regarding Kurtis Rourke and Armani Rogers could be coming next week. He said both did what they needed to in the scrimmage, including taking care of the ball and creating plays with their legs.
“I want to watch the film. That’s looming. That’s going to come up, I would think early next week,” he said. “Those guys are going to play, we know that. And I’m really happy with where CJ’s at.”
Freshman WR Miles Cross earned more positive reviews, but the WR group competed without a few regulars. Albin said the defensive line depth improved from a week ago, however.
Ohio was scheduled to take both Sunday and Monday off from practice activities. The Bobcats haven’t been in class, in person, since the spring 2020 semester. That will change this week.
“It’s been a year. They don’t know where the bookstore is. They don’t know where buildings are because they’ve been online this whole time,” Albin said. “We’re taking Monday and just letting them find that stuff.”
Bobcat bits — Two top of the rotational defensive players may be unavailable for the start of the season; LB Keye Thompson (knee) and DE Bryce Stai (illness) haven’t been available for either scrimmage. …Offensive regulars RB Julian Ross (injury) and WR Isiah Cox (off-the-field) were held out for a second consecutive scrimmage as well.