- David Jablonski Staff Writer
The video board overlooking the indoor field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center displayed a simple message Tuesday as members of the Ohio State Buckeyes talked to the media after practice.
“Improve today,” it read.
The Buckeyes see inspiring messages wherever they walk at the Woody, and many of the players themselves have inspiring stories. For every J.K. Dobbins who stars from the moment he walks on the field, there are half a dozen players who don’t play major roles until they are juniors or seniors.
Senior safety Erick Smith, a graduate of Glenville High School in Cleveland, appeared in 33 games in his first three seasons. Stuck behind the likes of Vonn Bell and Malik Hooker in previous seasons, he didn’t earn his first career start until Saturday against Army. Smith called it a blessing to get his chance in his final season.
“I can’t really describe the feeling,” Smith said. “Just being out there, playing in front of all those fans, it’s a wonderful feeling.”
Smith made the most of his first start. With Ohio State leading 14-0 in the second quarter, he dove with arms outstretched to break up a pass intended for Kell Walker in the end zone. In the third quarter, after a 52-yard touchdown run by Dobbins gave Ohio State a 24-7 lead, Smith tackled Walker after a 43-yard kickoff return, preventing a touchdown.
Smith had a simple explanation for both plays.
“I was simply doing my job,” he said.
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The Buckeyes started three safeties in the 38-7 victory. Damon Webb and Jordan Fuller also started. Smith played more of a linebacker role against Army, which attempted eight passes.
In three games, Smith has 17 tackles. That’s already a career high. He had 13 as a true freshman in 2014, six in 2015, when he was sidelined after six games by a season-ending ACL tear, and 16 last season.
In previous games, Smith rotated with Fuller. It’s a role he enjoys.
“We have four or five legit safeties,” Smith said. “Us being in a rotation, it’s not problematic at all. We know whichever guy’s out there can play. When I’m on the sideline, I know Jordan and Damon are doing the same thing. You’re acting like you’re in the game. You’re taking mental reps.”
Notes: Quarterback Joe Burrow returned to practice last week and has been cleared to play, coach Urban Meyer said. He has not decided who will be the No. 2 quarterback for the noon Saturday game against UNLV: Burrow or Dwayne Haskins. “It’s still very close,” Meyer said. “I think both quarterbacks give us an opportunity to move the ball.” … Wide receiver Johnnie Dixon missed the Army game with a hamstring injury. Meyer doesn’t think it will be a long-term problem. … Dobbins’ 13.2 yards-per-carry average against Army was the second-best average in school history for a player with a minimum of 10 attempts. Ron Springs averaged 15.1 on 10 attempts in 1977 against Purdue.