- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A grueling practice had just ended, the pads were off and Ohio State’s defensive backs were ready to have a little fun.
So, naturally, the Buckeyes made a beeline to the weight room, at least one player not even bothering to remove the athletic tape from his hands before stepping up for his turn on what amounts to the team’s version of an arcade.
Against a wall in the spacious facility where Ohio State’s strength and conditioning program does its serious business, the players gathered around an oversized black board covered in dozens of small, square lights that combine to form a sort of Whack-a-Mole for the physically gifted. And while the Buckeyes watch each other swat at the blinking lights during a frantic minute as they compete to see who can hit the most and post the highest score on the new Dynavision machine, it doesn’t seem to register that they’re actually doing a little extra work to sharpen their eyesight and quicken their reactions.
And that’s exactly the point.
“It’s kind of like a video game, so they’re into it,” strength coach Mickey Marotti said. “The object is obviously to decrease reaction time from the time they see a light sensor to the time they hit it. The theory is when you see a ball or just [improve] the awareness of what’s going on around them, they can speed that up a little bit.
“It’s good because it’s competitive, and they’re fighting back in that room to see who can get the high score. They’re charging in here all the time trying to get to it. It’s good -- that’s what we want.”
The new toy has done more than attract a crowd to the weight room after both practices and workouts, though that’s certainly one benefit for the Buckeyes. It has apparently already yielded the kind of results cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs was looking for when he suggested that Marotti look into Dynavision as he tried to find yet another way to develop his players in the secondary.
In particular, Coombs had a theory that the most pressing concern for junior Doran Grant had nothing to do with his physical ability. He had the speed and athleticism to be a shutdown cover guy, and few players on the roster could post a faster time in the 40-yard dash. As he looked at film of both practices and games from last season, Coombs hypothesized that there was simply a breakdown between what Grant saw and what he did on the field.
Not only did Dynavision provide a potential way to fix that issue, it also helped confirm it the first time Grant walked up to the board and posted one of the lowest scores among the skill-position players.
“Coach Coombs came to me and we had a talk at the end of the season about my hand-eye coordination and my reaction,” Grant said. “He got with coach [Marotti] and talked to him. They did what they had to do, brought some guys in here to try some things out, we ended up getting this [Dynavision]. We all like it. We all think it’s competition, and it’s fun.
“The first time I tried it, I liked it.”
The first run wasn’t exactly a success, though, with Grant posting a score that he remembered being a 62. Coombs says the score checked in about 14 points lower than that.
But regardless of the original number, everybody at Ohio State knows what Grant can do on the machine now. His top total of 108 is the standard now for the Buckeyes, a dramatic improvement that mirrors some of the strides he took during spring practice as he solidified a starting spot in a talented, veteran secondary.
“I could freeze the film and show [Grant], in drill work even, where this guy, this guy, this guy sees it and acts,” Coombs said. “You see it and [slowly] act. We’ve got to fix that, and that’s what we’re doing.
“What I’ve told our kids is that we train so hard, train your body physically, train your soul, frankly, with ethical conduct and character. We train your heart with toughness and all those kinds of things. Why not train your eyes and train your mind and close some of those synapses that are going on in your brain? How can that hurt us? ... They’re eating it up, and there’s no downside to kids doing that kind of stuff on their own.”
There will be no shortage of eyes on Grant in the fall watching to see if this offseason work leads to more production. But until the Buckeyes can measure their progress on the field where the lights are on the scoreboard and well out of their reach, they’ll keep slapping the ones in front of them.
“After you do it a few times and get the hang of it, you start reacting quicker,” Grant said. “I mean, that’s the purpose of it, that’s what it does -- and it works.
“It’s helping me on the field. I can see it.”
That, of course, is exactly the point.
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