Four downs: Practice No. 3 observations

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The last workout before leaving for spring break couldn't have received higher praise.

Ohio State didn't get quite as warm of a welcome from Urban Meyer after returning from a week away from the practice field.

Meyer understood why his team might have looked a little sluggish at times on Tuesday afternoon at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, and he even shouldered some of the blame for the way the schedule worked out ahead of the first full-contact practice of camp. But he doesn't figure to be as accommodating if a few miscues aren't addressed in meetings and cleaned up when the pads come on again.

"I told them, I helped them with the excuses," Meyer said. "We just got back from spring break, first day in pads -- we have to deal with excuses tomorrow.

"It just didn’t feel like a top-five practice. We’ve just got to get back and have one Thursday. The Thursday before we left was maybe the best practice we’ve had since we’ve been here."

That doesn't mean the Buckeyes didn't have some encouraging individual performances or some interesting schematic develops to evaluate in the return to action, starting with these four.

First down: Rod Smith

The stable is starting to get loaded up again in the backfield, and the competition for carries behind Carlos Hyde figures to drag on throughout training camp in August.

If Rod Smith could duplicate the kind of long, athletic run he broke off during a live drill in the middle of the open workout, the race might be over. But the way the junior finished that scamper caused a bit of an issue for running backs coach Stan Drayton, since a player trying to improve his ball security doesn't need to be flipping it carelessly out of his hands at the end of the play.

"The first part was dynamic, it really was," Drayton said. "I could not stand the end."

Smith has all the tools to give the Buckeyes an explosive option alongside Hyde and H-back Jordan Hall, who was limited after suffering a slight hamstring injury during the first week of camp.

But Smith will have every detail watched closely when he has the football in his hands. And with improved depth thanks to the return of a healthy Warren Ball and the continued emergence of Bri'onte Dunn as a potential game-breaking rusher, the margin for error is shrinking regardless of how much he flashes his immense physical upside.

Second down: Braxton Miller

The Ohio State quarterback didn't have many chances to show off the work he's done fundamentally as a passer during the closing scrimmage periods due to some protection issues. But even Miller's response to those problems showed some maturity, as he actively worked to help get them corrected, another positive step heading into his third season as the starter.

"I saw a kid playing quarterback," Meyer said. "That means staying positive, trying to fix issues as opposed to maybe getting down and throwing the ball on the ground and just acting like an athlete back there playing quarterback instead of a quarterback that can run pretty good."

Miller also threw it around pretty well during earlier drills, notably hitting a deep strike to Evan Spencer down the seam and again showing off his chemistry with Devin Smith on long timing patterns down the sideline.

Third down: Secondary matters

The majority of the experience and leadership is in the secondary, and Ohio State might even have too much of it to get on the field in a traditional defensive look. So the coaching staff might get a little creative at times to play to its strength.

The Buckeyes showed off a personnel group with six defensive backs, two linebackers and three linemen during some live scrimmaging, which continued a similar secondary-heavy approach from the first practice of camp, when they spent the overwhelming majority of the time in nickel.

Tyvis Powell and Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown have both received some positive reviews from the coaches and looked physically ready to deliver, and their play combined with some opposing offenses that could spread the field early in the fall have given them plenty of reps.

Fourth down: Super sophomores

Both Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence appear to have maximized their effort in the offseason conditioning program, and they helped create some of those aforementioned protection issues for the offensive line with an impressive first day in pads.

At 292 pounds, Washington is only listed three pounds heavier than he was last fall, but he is carrying that weight well and hasn't sacrificed any quickness. Spence seems to have added some bulk to his upper body, and with Michael Bennett playing between those two in the three-man front, the Buckeyes looked more than capable of wreaking some havoc up front.