Ohio State fall camp opens up in just a few days as the Buckeyes are slated to kick practice off on Tuesday, August 3. (Update Friday, July 30 4:45 pm: Ohio State announced on Friday that camp will now open on the morning of Wednesday, August 4.)
A Big Ten title will be defended this year and head coach Ryan Day will be looking to take his team to the College Football Playoffs for the third time in as many attempts.
But before the games get started, first there is a month of practicing.
Each year the rules get tweaked by the NCAA to make the game safer, and this year is no different.
Following a five-year study that found concussions and head injuries occur more often in preseason practice than in actual games, the NCAA has reduced the number of contact practices from 21 to 18 — which includes just nine practices in full pads.
“So we’re going to start August 3. And we’re going to have two days of helmets, a couple days of shells, take Sunday off and come back with shells,” Day said. “The rules this year allow us to have nine in pads, nine in shells, and then seven helmet practices. That’s a little bit different. So we just had to kind of put that together. I think the big stretch for us is going to be those two weeks from I think it’s August 9 to like the 21st. Those are two real big weeks for us.
The new rules have eliminated some drills that featured head-on collisions. They have also limited programs to just two consecutive days of full-contact practices. And in those full-contact practices, there can be no more than 75 minutes of contact in a practice. Also, the number of scrimmages permitted in camp has been reduced to just two. Lastly, the acclimatization period has gone from five to seven days.
All of it has been done with the purpose of limiting the amount of preseason contact a student-athlete will experience.
“No, I think we’re okay,” Day said when asked if the new rules were going to hamper his program. “I just think that — at this point it doesn’t really matter — but I think the padded practices and the shell practices, to me, what’s the difference between putting on your helmet, shoulder pads, and then having your pads on the lower extremities? It’s just safer. So I think it would make a little bit more sense if we had 18 in pads and then seven in helmets. But it is what it is and then we’ll we’ll make it work.”
Everybody is in the same boat, so it will once again come down to which programs make the most of the time they have.
But it’s not like programs have been standing pat while they wait for camp to begin. The quest for the playoffs begins about 11-and-a-half-months after the previous playoffs end. It begins in the winter with conditioning and weight training with strength coach Mickey Marotti. Players also work individually in their groups. Quarterbacks will work with receivers. The process is ongoing.
It continues into the spring for 15 practices. Then comes the summer, which is an essential bridge between spring camp and fall camp. Those who make the most of it will be much more prepared for what’s to come.
“It’s been very, very important. I mean, really, really important,” Day said of the summer. “Our guys had never been through all that before. I mean, when you raise the hand on how many guys had been through a summer workout with Mick Marotti, there wasn’t that many guys. So a lot of their bodies have changed, you’ve probably seen some of that on social media. Some of them have put on a bunch of weight, they’ve been working really hard. So physically, that’s been big.
“But more importantly, is the leadership and accountability and finding ways to create conflict and show leadership, because the first time that happens in a game, when we go down a score or something adverse happens, we need guys to step up in a leadership role and that can’t be the first time. And so Mick does a great job of kind of creating those types of situations. We’ll do that in preseason. Because in the end, that’s what wins championships, is that leadership. And so there’s nobody better in the business than Mick.”
The offseason never stops. Information is always being gathered. But the same is true for the regular season itself. Teams are living, breathing entities, and Day and his staff are simply trying to figure out the best way to get them as far as they can go.
“I think that’s the beauty about college football, is trying to find what this team looks like and finding the right pieces to put in place,” Day said. “Putting the best players on the field to be successful, and then finding the guys that you think are going to develop as the season goes on.”
Throughout each step, more is revealed about a team. Ryan Day believes he has a good idea of what this team is going to look like this fall, but he’ll have an even better idea midway through camp. All of that information will then be put to use in trying to get the Buckeyes back to the playoffs once again.
And perhaps this time things will end just the way Ohio State wants them to.