Scout Team Pride Runs High

Kato Mitchell

From one week to another, the Ohio State scout team is like a chameleon, changing its look to mimic what opposing teams will throw at the Buckeyes each game. The unit has done it so well this year that it has repeatedly earned praise from head coach Urban Meyer, so we went inside the unit to see what makes it tick.

In his normal life, Russell Doup is a junior safety on the Ohio State football team who walked on to the squad in 2010 as a kicker.

But when he stepped on the practice field this week in his gray jersey with a blue No. 12, Doup was no longer himself.

He was Dezmen Southward.

The two on the surface have little in common – Southward hails from near Miami, while Doup is from Mount Vernon, Ohio – but as far as the Ohio State football team was concerned, Doup was the Badgers' strong safety this week in practice.

That's because Southward was Doup's assignment on the scout team, the band of reserve players whose pivotal role in practice is to give the starting offense and defense a sneak peak at what the opposition will be doing come Saturdays.

"We put ourselves into the player that we're supposed to be for that week to try to give the offense the best look," Doup told BuckeyeSports.com, "so by the time the game comes around, they've already seen the defense play Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday when we practice.

"That way, once we go into the game, they know what's going on and nothing is a surprise to them. Hopefully we make it so the game was easier than practice for them."

A third of the way through the 2013 season, Doup and his fellow members of the scout team have been doing their job. For two weeks in a row on his weekly radio show, head coach Urban Meyer has praised the unit, noting yesterday that the scout team is as good as any he has been around.

Come most Saturdays – last week's 76-0 blowout of overmatched Florida A&M the exception, not the rule – players like Braxton Miller, Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby are the ones getting the adoration of the 100,000-plus fans in Ohio Stadium, not to mention the lion's share of the press attention.

But as anyone who has coached football can tell you, what happens during the week when the Buckeyes hit the practice field is just as important.

"It's invaluable," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, OSU's head coach in 2011, said this week. "The unique thing is, these guys will have to be in here and do a really good a good job of figuring out who they are because (Wisconsin doesn't) zone block the same way we zone block. They don't pass set the same way we pass set, and what we expect those guys to be able to do is to do exactly what the other team does, and they have to take pride in it."

Right now, that pride is not hard to find.

"They look for someone to go, just give all you got," walk-on wide receiver Kato Mitchell said. "We go really hard, so we just try to give the offense and defense and special teams the look they need for the next game. We follow (Meyer's) plan, just go for four-to-six seconds, go all you got and give them the best look we can."

The teams are mostly filled with walk-ons, but that's not to say there aren't scholarship players that take part. Players like Mike Mitchell and Eli Apple – those seem ticketed for likely redshirts – have chipped in this year defensively, and Meyer praised Carlos Hyde for his work with the offensive scout team during the three weeks he was suspended from active play.

This week, true freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett trotted off practice field Wednesday in the cardinal No. 2 jersey of Wisconsin QB Joel Stave, while Frank Epitropoulos traded his usual No. 33 for the No. 4 of wideout Jared Abbrederis.

A few years ago, head coach Jim Tressel compared the play of then-freshman Chris Fields on scout team to Santonio Holmes. In other words, the chance to play on scout team can be the first ticket to earning notice from the coaching staff.

"As a scout team player, especially at a university like this and a program like this, there's no feeling sorry for yourself," Ohio State center Corey Linsley, who played on scout team as a redshirting freshman, told BuckeyeSports.com. "You are part of the team. You're making the defense better. You're going up against some of the best defensive players in the country.

"I remember when I was on the scout team, it was Doug Worthington, Cameron Heyward, Ross Homan, those kinds of guys. It was exciting to go against those guys to not only make them better but you were getting better. You were going up against the best competition in the country."

That message goes down the chain to the walk-ons on the squad. Doup said moonlighting as Southward this week has allowed the converted kicker to add to his game.

"I'd say I've done some things that I think I'll end up using when I'm playing that have helped me out," Doup said. "When I'm playing man, I feel like (Southward is) a little slower with his backpedal, being a little more patient, and that's something that I definitely feel like I have to work on."

The day-to-day operations of the scout team are run by graduate assistants like Drew Mehringer and Parker Fleming. After assignments come down at the beginning of each week, meetings are often held throughout the week at the same time the offense and defense are meeting. Doup said he watches film on the player he's mimicking both at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and during his downtime each week.

The work leading up to Tuesday – the first full-pads practice each week – is detail-oriented, as the scout team players must pick up the quirks, habits and eccentricities of the player they will represent during the week.

"We have tailbacks that have to come in and have to study the steps, the way that their tailbacks take steps," Fickell said. "They don't do them the same way we do. And when they come out on Tuesday, if they don't take the steps the way that we expect them to take the steps, just like Wisconsin will this week, we'll be up their rear every bit as much as we are up our guys' rear. And sometimes they take pride in that, and that's where when they really truly have good groups like that."

On top of that, there are unique schemes that must be learned and often vary from week to week. This week, that means lining up like a Wisconsin team that doesn't look a whole lot like the last few opponents the Buckeyes have faced. The Badgers are a two-tight end, run-based team on offense – which stands in stark contrast to the spread units OSU has faced the past two games – while running a 3-4 scheme on defense.

By the time what Meyer has dubbed "Bloody Tuesday" comes around, roles must be down pat because the lights, in essence, are on for the scout teamers.

"Tuesday is like our game day for sure," junior scout-team defensive lineman John Holman said. "We're in full pads and we can show what we have to the first team and the second team. That's our opportunity, that's our game day as we say because it's the beginning of the week, it's the first day in full pads in the week, and that's our opportunity to do what we've seen on film."

The purpose of the encounters between the scout team and the starters is to brief those who are expected to play major roles on Saturdays on what they can expect to see. In that vein, the scout team is not expected to roll over and let the ones run roughshod, and sometimes the scout team comes out on top in practice, providing a strategic benefit.

"There are times when we stop (the No. 1 offense)," Doup said. "The good thing about that is it might help them figure something out in their game plan that they didn't realize at first to help correct it so by the time the game comes around, it's picture perfect."

One of the best rewards comes when the members of the scout team are recognized by their peers and coaches, something that happens on a weekly basis.

But in the end, if the scout team does its job, the reward becomes more tangible – like the ring that each member of the undefeated 12-0 team now owns.

"If the team wins, we win," Holman said. "If the offense has the big play, we feel that we played some part in helping the team set up the blocking scheme or something like that. I was on scout team last year and we went 12-0, so I feel like we played a part."

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