Ohio State football: Three defensive players to return for extra year, other takeaways from coach Ryan Day

Ohio State football coach Ryan Day met with the media Monday for the first time since the Buckeyes beat Utah in the Rose Bowl, and he had plenty to talk about with a revamped staff in place and eyes already on the 2022 season.

Here are five takeaways from the press conference:

1. He identified a trio of veterans who will be using extra years.

Defensive lineman Jerron Cage and linebackers Teradja Mitchell and Palaie Gaoteote will be back this year. All are seniors and technically out of eligibility, but they are using the free year granted by the NCAA because of the pandemic season of 2020.

Mitchell was a captain last year but was in and out of the lineup while Cage was a key part of the rotation at nose tackle. Gaoteote had a hard time finding a niche as a transfer from USC, at least in part because of injuries.

Meanwhile, senior cornerback Sevyn Banks will not be back as a fifth-year.

2. Day is looking for a fresh start for the defense.

Jim Knowles will take over the defense after four seasons at Oklahoma State.

While it has been coordinated collectively in the past, it sounds like it will be Knowles’ show and his alone.

“I considered a lot of things,” Day said. “I thought long and hard on it. It weighed heavy on me, but I felt like a fresh start was the right thing to do. I felt like that’s kind of what we have been doing the last couple of years is tweaking it and bringing in a guy or moving a piece over here. I really wanted to start fresh and have a system in place so that when something goes wrong, there’s an answer to the system and everybody believes in the system. And I just felt that was the right thing to do.”

3. Day had to make some business decisions as far as the coaching staff.

The head coach said he considered a variety of coaches to fill the two spots in the secondary — including members of last year’s staff — but ultimately settled on Perry Eliano and Tim Walton from the outside.

That meant there was no room for former defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs or Al Washington (who coached linebackers, a spot Knowles will handle now), which led to some hard decisions and conversations for the head coach, who also replaced offensive line coach Greg Studrawa with Justin Frye.

“We’re at a level of college football where the competition is really high, and there is a level of expectation that comes with that,” Day said. “I say all the time I have a great job, but I have a hard job, and that’s one of the hardest parts — going through and making the hard decisions. But at the end of the day, this is more than that. It’s about Ohio State football and there are a lot of people who are counting on us to be right.”

4. They have begun a key seven weeks in the journey to get back to the Big Ten Championship Game and the College Football Playoff.

Ohio State fell short of its annual goals last season, but it did have an extremely young starting lineup. That could pay dividends, especially with a normal offseason underway following two years disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways.

“Everything we do in the offseason is so important, and it’s a seven-week window into spring ball, but we do have a talented team,” Day said. “We have a talented team coming back a lot of times, but we do have some veteran players in different spots, and I think all the stuff that we did last year playing young players will hopefully pay off next year. That’s the idea.”

5. He’s happy for the Bengals to be representing the Buckeye State in Super Bowl VLIII.

That’s especially true with Sam Hubbard, Isaiah Prince, Eli Apple and Vonn Bell representing Ohio State along with Joe Burrow, the Bengals quarterback who began his college career at Ohio State before transferring to LSU.

“Well, I think it’s exciting for the whole state of Ohio just to have the Bengals in the Super Bowl,” said Day, who was the quarterbacks coach when Burrow was still a Buckeye.

“So excited for that whole organization, certainly all the guys who have played (here). In particular Joe and everything he’s been through, the injury last year and just his whole journey has been tremendous. He’s someone to watch and enjoy cheering him on.

“Certainly the next couple of weeks will be will be great preparation, and I think they have a chance to win that game. You know, they’ve been underdogs the whole way and I guess at some point, I guess they won’t be underdogs.”

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