Urban Meyer Talks Ohio St. Football at the Big Ten Media Days Conference

Urban Meyer is 24-2 since taking over the Ohio St. football program, and 2014 looks to be a continuation of the same. Taking advantage of a weak conference and even weaker non-conference schedule, the Buckeyes are expected to contend for the National Title this year. Ohio State’s offense won’t as elite as it was last year, and the defense still has some question marks, but they are the most talented team in the conference. Meyer discusses the season in this year’s Media Days press conference:

COACH MEYER: It’s an honor to represent Ohio State as we start our 2014 journey. It was a very good summer because we were able to spend time with our players.
It’s the first time we’ve been allowed to– I think we had six or eight sessions with our players, and they were also helped in the transition of our high school guys when they showed up in June.
So it’s been a very good summer. Our quarterback– I know we’ll get asked that question — is ready to go. He’s full speed, in the best shape of his life. We have a bunch of good, young players that we’re anxious to see what they can do.
The two areas that concern the offensive line is, number one, a little disappointed what happened in spring. We just didn’t see the growth that we would like to see. However, I really admire our coach, Coach Warinner, and I know we have good players. So they’ve had a very good summer.
The second area is pass defense. We completely have blown up and started from scratch, an area that we were not very strong in, pass defense. And Chris Ash has done an admirable job of installing a brand-new pass defense that we’re going to test and see how it goes during training camp. Went very well during spring.
Very good group of young people that I’m looking forward to work with. They come in on Sunday for good and we start practice on Monday.

Q. Can you talk more about the offensive line? You mentioned it’s a concern. Do you think Chad Lindsay will be your starting center? And just talk about the offensive line as a whole, if you would.
COACH MEYER: Jacoby Boren is right in the middle of that, and so is Chad Lindsay. And there’s a kid named Billy Price that we redshirted a year ago. Three guys that are talented. Chad is — all I know of what I’ve seen, he’s a tough guy, he’s a hard worker, and he has a lot of experience. That’s why we took him. Normally we don’t get involved in those type of things, but we needed some maturity in the center of that offensive line.
So it remains to be seen. I kind of like the work ethic. I think they’re hungry. And the fact that spring didn’t — I wanted to see a little more growth. And so it’s easy to coach hard, and we’ve coached them real hard all the way through.
So anxious to see what they’ll do. We’ll know more obviously in a couple of weeks.

Q. How stacked is the East Division, and what are your thoughts on getting through that division?
COACH MEYER: East Division is very strong. As we get close to the season, start looking at the schedule, there’s a tough run. We have three very tough road games. But the East is strong. And I have learned a long time ago you control what you can. Scheduling is certainly not who is in the East and who is on the other side.
But very strong conference. You can tell by the recruiting, too, on that side, some very good recruiting that’s been going on. So that’s going to be a challenge.

Q. Urban, you’ve long lamented the production and depth at linebacker. What have you seen out of that group so far this summer?
COACH MEYER: One of our stronger groups. We operate under the unit principle, and it’s the power of the unit, nine units. And the last two years they weren’t what we expect. Actually, two years ago, not bad, but anytime, in DivisionI, upper-level football, to move a fullback to middle linebacker, you’ve got a problem. And we had a problem.
Zach Boren did a very good job, but you don’t– I’m used to hearing about (indiscernible) and A.J. Hawks and those guys, and we weren’t at that level. Ryan Shazier played excellent last year.
However, it’s the best the group’s been right now. And that’s just as far as chemistry, as far as trust, as far as operating as a unit. So I’m anxious to see them play.
We took three freshmen there. Dante Booker, Raekwon McMillian, and Kyle Berger. And Sam Hubbard, we might move him back to tight end or linebacker. Then we have some– Josh Perry’s done a great job at leadership and so has Curtis Grant.
So it’s about time we played linebacker ball, linebacker play the way Ohio State is used to. I think you’re going to see it this year.

Q. New president, Michael Drake, took office on June30th. Have you talked to him much, and how does that presidential change affect your job as a football coach?
COACH MEYER: We’ve spoke briefly on several occasions. I invited President Drake to come visit with our team. I’m looking forward to him doing that. I’ve looked on his background and had many conversations with some administrators at our university.
It doesn’t really impact how I do my job, I don’t think, as long as you just take care of business. But I look forward to spending a lot of time with him.

Q. What did your team learn last year from kind of being the hunted? And, granted, that’s something that you go to Ohio State to play for. And is that something that you specifically address in training camp?
COACH MEYER: Well, probably. You play at Ohio State, they’re the hunted because they’re at Ohio State. Ohio State has traditionally been a very strong program. We won a nice run last year. But we don’t spend much time on that.
There’s some great story lines about this and that, but it’s all about execution, getting our team ready to go. We spent an inordinate amount of time on leadership building, and we call it brotherhood of trust. That’s where the focus is, and it was excellent, the two sessions we put our players through.
So that’s our focus.

Q. Urban, I know you said that Braxton is in the best shape of his career, but he was hurt in the beginning of the season, at the end of the season. How concerning is it that the offensive line isn’t where you would like it to be after spring? And how focused will August– how much time will you spend in August making sure you get a group together that can protect the franchise there?
COACH MEYER: Concern number one. I mean, that’s it. There’s a bunch of concerns you always have. It’s A through F, A through Z, A through X, whatever it is. But the number one on the list is development of that offensive line for the reasons you just said, among many other.
You want to win that game, but protecting our quarterback is paramount. So that’s– I don’t want to say that’s all our focus– but that’s where a lot of our focus is right now.

Q. Is there any update on the Tracy Sprinkle situation? And overall with your team, how did you think they handled themselves off the field since you guys last played in the Orange Bowl?
COACH MEYER: Pretty good. Tracy Sprinkle is no longer with the program, and I will readdress it if there’s some changes. That’s all I know. That’s the way we handle our situations.
If something happens, especially if you hear something serious, just remove from the program and evaluate at the appropriate time.
So at this time he’s no longer part of the program.

Q. Without Carlos Hyde, are you looking to– can you afford to look to try to cut back Braxton’s rushing attempts, or is that something you’re going to monitor?
COACH MEYER: I think we’re going to try to– not think. We have to be much more balanced than we’ve been. Everyone’s looking for a 50/50 ratio. We’ve been close a few times. When Alex Smith was our quarterback, we were pretty close to 50/50. With Chris Leak, I want to say we were pretty close. With Tim we were pretty close to I think 60-40, 65.
Braxton, last couple of years, especially last year, Carlos was so good. The offensive line was so good, and we were still trying to develop that receiving corps to be on par with the rest of the team, and I think we have.
I’ll be disappointed if the receivers aren’t now ready to carry their own weight. The first year they weren’t. We just weren’t very good. Second year got much better. Philly Brown had an excellent year. Evan Spencer really developed. Evan Smith keeps coming on. I really like our two tight ends, Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett, so we’re trying to improve the surrounding cast around Braxton.
So I’m hoping– not hoping. We have to be. That’s where we’re going to pick up those yards are getting in the hands of Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall and the outside receivers as well.

Q. Despite the fact what you’re doing on the offensive line, rebuilding the guys you’re replacing on defense, most projections around the country, I think Cleveland.com had a poll the other day that said you guys are favored to win the Big Ten. Some people think you’ll get that playoff. What has to happen between now and November for you guys, and are you comfortable with those projections?
COACH MEYER: Well, there’s many variables. The injury, obviously injury is number one. Chemistry and– I shouldn’t say that. Chemistry and trust and development of young players is by far number one. And that’s– I can’t think of putting more time and effort into, number one, development of our coaching staff that we did.
We had some leadership training for our coaches for about five weeks, and then we carried it right over to our players, about an eight-week session that we had with our players. So the amount of time on the most important element of any team is the trust within the team, a trust with the leaders of the team, which is the coaching staff.
Then number two is going to be injuries. If we can stay healthy, I think we’re very good, if we develop the offensive line.
So, Tim, I think you know me very well. There’s zero conversation about tomorrow or November. We’re just trying to get the training camp healthy, in the right frame of mind, and then have the best training camp we’ve ever had.

Q. How big of an improvement has Dontre Wilson made from the Bowl game to this point right now? And how big of a role and how important is he going to be in your offense this offseason?
COACH MEYER: Great question. He’s an impact guy. Last year he was a hybrid guy that really wasn’t great at anything. He had potential, but very little, couldn’t block at the level we expected him to. Was not quite strong enough to run inside like you need that hybrid guy to do. Was simply an outside running player.
He’s gained the weight. He’s much stronger. He’s much more prepared for this level of football. He’s always had the talent and he’s always had the effort, so he will be– he’s an impact guy for us in a lot of ways.

Q. A lot of the other coaches in the east have been talking about the toughness and the physicality of that division. Can you just touch on that? And how do you think that characteristic in your division is going to either help you guys or whatever it may be this season?
COACH MEYER: I think it’s one of the toughest divisions in college football. Once again, you just have to look at the recruiting that takes place at the schools and then the style of defense and offense. It’s a rugged conference.
So all those comments that you said the other coaches were making, I see it. And we’re going to do our best to be prepared for it.

Q. You have one of the most talented defensive lines in the country, most people say. How big was the hire of Larry Johnson to replace Mike Grable, and how big has he been throughout the spring and coming into the fall?
COACH MEYER: We lost a home run. I love Mike Grable. Did a great job for us, was a great Buckeye. Hated to see him go. I understood, you know, his NFL background and great family and a very good recruiter for us. So when he left– it’s like a player. If you lose a great player and you don’t replace him with a great player, it’s just going to happen, you’re not going to be as good.
We replaced Mike with a top-shelf coach, a guy that has great respect, very good recruiter, a very good coach, the players love him already. There’s an incredible trust and esprit de corps in the D-line room right now. He walked into a good situation. He’s got a bunch of good young– a good mix of young and old players in that room.

Q. You just got done saying Braxton’s in the best shape of his life. He’s had some durability issues during his career. A, do you guys have to take any steps to make sure that you ensure that he stays healthy, any special steps? And what are some reasonable expectations in your mind for his senior season?
COACH MEYER: Well, I’ve had some players that have had the durability issues, and John Simon had a little durability issue. It’s because he went a lot of times above and beyond what his body was telling him to do.
So I look at it, sometimes you do, and I’ll be the first to tell you, someone just isn’t meant to play or they’re just maybe not tough or so on.
But Braxton Miller, his issues are he goes sometimes above and beyond what his body is going to allow him to do.
So he’s got an incredible, some of the guys with durability issues, the ones I just mentioned, Tebow, John Simon, Braxton Miller, Christian Bryant, those are guys that have the competitive spirit at the highest possible level, and that’s all they do is know how to go.
So do we try to slow Braxton down? Absolutely not. We try to protect him, surround him and maybe come up with a good scheme to get the ball out of his hands maybe a little quicker. Those are all the things that we address.
But the durability issue isn’t because his body wasn’t meant to play college football. It’s because of how hard he plays.
And you can look around the country, and there’s guys– you know who they are. Every program’s got a couple of those guys that play just so darned hard that sometimes things happen.

Big 10 Media Days: Bo Pelini Discusses the 2014 Nebraska Cornhuskers

The Nebraska Cornhuskers have some holes to fill if they hope to make an impact in the Big Ten in 2014. Nebraska will lose quarterbacks Taylor Martinez and Ron Kellogg, leaving Tommy Armstrong as the man in charge, at least for now. They lost their top five offensive linemen, however, as well as three of their top four defensive linemen, so the defense will be young but talented. Here is Coach Bo Pelini discussing the Cornhuskers at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago:

Coach Pelini: Good to be back. I’m here for the next couple of days. Brought with me Ameer Abdullah, obviously a tremendous running back and a great example for really college players across the country in how to conduct yourself both on and off the field; Kenny Bell, who has played a lot of football for us at the wide receiver position; and Corey Cooper,  a native Chicagoan who is here, looking forward to coming home, and has really played good football for us.
So those three young men are with me here over the next couple of days.

We’re looking forward to the season that’s coming up. We’ve had a good offseason. I would be remiss if I didn’t welcome Maryland and Rutgers into the conference, I found myself in that position here a couple of years ago, understanding what they’re going through and the challenges that are out in front of those two programs.
But I know that we’re excited about what they bring to the conference, how it extends us even further East. All those things are a benefit not only for them, for their institutions, what they bring to the table academically, but also what they’re going to be able to do for us for the conference. And I think it’s a good fit, and I think everybody associated with the conference is excited to have those two institutions as part of our great conference.

And I think everybody, you get to this time of year, you’re looking forward to the upcoming season. The challenges that lay ahead, I think there’s going to be great competition with the first year of there being 14 teams, and the new divisions, all the things that come into play as far as that’s concerned.
I think it’s going to be an exciting year in the Big Ten. An exciting year for us at Nebraska. I think it’s going to be a great challenge for us, but one where we’re looking forward to the opportunity to be the best football team we can be.

We have some key returners coming back. I think we have depth in areas that is really going to help us be a good football team, and also we saw a lot of young guys last year kind of come of age as the season went on, and I’m looking forward to seeing those young men continue to develop into the type of players we feel can win championships at our school.
That’s what we’re after. We’re looking for a championship. I think we have the pieces. We have a lot of potential on our football team, but there’s going to be a lot of hard work that needs to be done for that to make that become a reality.

We’ve tried to turn over every stone in the offseason, look at everything we can do to make ourselves a better football team. I guess you could say a little bit loco as far as not getting too far outside of the box but trying to turn over every stone and trying to look at everything we can do as a football team to make ourselves the type of program we want to have.
And I think we’ve done that. We’re going to make?? institute some changes, some things, different things about how we practice, when we practice. It’s a long season. Do everything we can to make sure that we give our players the best opportunity to have success on the field.
Like I said, I think the pieces are there. I think the potential is there. But probably talk to any coach that’s here this weekend ?? or this Monday here, and they’ll tell you the same thing. It’s going to be the intangibles, all the little things that come into play as far as allowing you to have success and putting all those pieces together and making you gel as a football team and become a true team.

Those are the people that win championships, when everybody comes together, checks their egos at the door and does everything on a daily basis to allow yourself to have success.
That’s what we’re trying to do in our program, that’s what we’re going to do this year, that’s what we’re looking forward to, and we’re excited for the challenges that lie ahead.
So I’d like to open it up for any questions.

Q. What do you think can be done to stop some of the recruit flipping epidemic that’s happening in college football?
Coach Pelini: Well, I said what was it about a month ago,  I said publicly I believe it would be a great idea if we would look at maybe getting rid of Signing Day. That’s something that I think would make a lot of sense.
As far as, hey, you come to an agreement, somebody commits to your school, you’ve made a commitment to a young man to come play in your program, why do we have to wait to any certain day? Why don’t we just go ahead and let’s sign on the dotted line, let’s get it over with and move forward.
And obviously that’s different than the way things have been for a long time. I think it makes a lot of sense. I think it would change things in a lot of ways. I think it would slow down some of the early offers. I think it would slow down some of the ridiculous things that go on on both ends, on the institution’s side of things and as far as the recruits.
And there’s a lot of things that go on that I believe in our program what we try to do is teach kids to do things the right way.
And really I think that goes throughout the Big Ten conference. I think this conference does things the right way. It’s about integrity. You’re teaching kids to live up to their word of what it means to be a teammate.
It’s not about any individual; it’s about a team. There’s a bigger picture involved. And I think sometimes the way the recruiting process works is that contradictory to what we’re trying to teach these kids and how we’re trying to develop these kids in the long run to be successful, not only as football players and as athletes, but beyond, as husbands, as fathers, and their professions, and sometimes we always talk about having to de-recruit kids and some of that has made up of kind of the way the process is set up.
And I think there’s some things that could be done, and I think that would be a big step in the right direction.

Q. First off, I hope that your cat is doing well. I wanted to ask if you brought the cat with you to Chicago. But, seriously, my real question is about Randy Gregory. He’s getting a lot of hype, and I want to know what makes him such a special player.
Coach Pelini: First of all, my cat is enjoying a nap up in the room. So he is here in Chicago and enjoying the Windy City.
So Randy Gregory is a tremendous talent. He has great instincts. He has great get-off, a guy who can really rush the passer. I think he’s only scratched the surface of what he’s going to be down the line.
As he continues to grow, he has really good length and athleticism. Very good instincts for the game, good feel for not only in the passing game but in the running game and how kind of the game should be played.
I think the sky’s the limit for him for him down the road. I think he’s still young. Obviously this is really the first time he’s gone through an offseason with us. So I’m looking forward to big things with Randy.
And I always tell him: Don’t get caught up. It’s not about stats and statistics; it’s about developing yourself, playing fundamentally sound, doing the things that you need to be successful on a down end, every down basis.
And I think he understands that. He’s more physically developed than he was when we first got him. And he’s continuing to grow, get bigger, and put some more meat on his frame. And as that happens, I think you’re going to see a guy who becomes an even more well balanced player.

Q. After the fun you had entering the spring game, what kind of feedback did you get from your fans? Do you feel they’ve seen a different side of your personality now?
Coach Pelini: The fans, I think the fans around Nebraska, they kind of see that side of me probably more often than maybe the national people do. But I was just having some fun.
You gotta keep things light. And I thought as much as anything else, the football team, the players enjoy that. And you’ve got to, there’s a lot of pressure in college football now, and  sometimes things can get a little bit crazy at times, especially during the season. And when somebody sees me out there on the sideline or in competition and see me going Veronica on a referee, and you don’t want that to happen, but you’re going out there, getting upset, they think that’s who you are all the time.
That isn’t who I am all the time. And as I grow as a football coach, I understand that that’s an area that I’ve needed to make some growth in. And I continue to. You know, you learn things.
I’m going into my seventh season as a head coach. You learn things along the way. You’ve got to make adjustments and do things to be better.
But my personality is one where I’m not that intense, competitive animal running around all the time. I’m a much different person away from the field. I’m actually pretty laid back off the field and away from my job, when I’m with my family, when I’m with my kids, and really a lot of times when I’m with the football team.
So you just gotta try to do things and look for opportunities to kind of show people that isn’t who you are all the time. And hopefully I can do a better job of showing that side of me even during competitions.

Q. You brought up Maryland before. I’m not sure how much of a chance you’ve had to watch Maryland during the course of the last couple of years or just leading up to the season, but what’s your understanding of them as a team? What do you think of some of the players they have, whether it’s Stefon Diggs or somebody else, and just how competitive do you think they’ll be able to be just based on some of the talent they have going into this first year in the Big Ten?
Coach Pelini: Personnel-wise I’m not familiar with Maryland. They’re not on our schedule. I didn’t really spend a whole heck of a lot of time looking at them. But I do know this about them. I’ve seen them in some crossover films. I know they’re an extremely well-coached football team. We’ve recruited against them some. I know they do a good job on the recruiting front, and I believe that they have a program that is up and coming. It has a very good talent base.
They recruit well. And, like I said, I know a number of their guys on their coaching staff. They do a heck of a job on that as far as how they coach, the detail they coach with, and I think they’re a tremendous addition to our conference.

Q. How would you assess the state of the quarterback competition at this point between Tommy Armstrong and Johnny Stanton?
Coach Pelini: Now that you mentioned Johnny Stanton and you mentioned Tommy Armstrong, there’s also a walk-on young man, Ryker Fyfe, who I think will have a little bit to say about who our starting quarterback is.
And I would say because of his starting experience, I would say Tommy has a little bit of a leg up going in. But Johnny Stanton and Ryker Fyfe are tremendous talents, the kids who did very well in the spring.
I think it’s going to be an open competition. Like I said, I think when we line up day one, it will be Tommy will walk out there take the first snap. Because he has the most experience. He kind of earned that right through the spring. But I think the competition is, gosh, very good. I think it’s going to make all three of those guys better.
And like I tell our guys at every single position, nobody has a guaranteed spot ever, and you gotta put it on film every day. You’ve got to go out there, compete on a daily basis and work hard. And when you have that attitude, that makes everybody around you better. And that’s going to make them better.
I think the key is, though, for every kid, and I tell this to our football team all the time, when you’re competing at a spot and you’re going and trying to win a spot, the worst thing that can happen is you looking at the other guys at your position and comparing yourself to what they’re doing. If every guy has the understanding I’ve just gotta do what I have to do to make myself better, concentrate on what you’re doing instead of looking over your shoulder or worrying about what other guys are doing, then that’s going to allow you to grow the most as a football player.
The guys who make a mistake of worrying about where they are or who they’re repping with how many reps I’m getting or anything like that, a lot of times it leads them to worrying about things other than what they need to control. And that’s control what you can control. Be the best football player you can be and trust your coaches that if you earn it, you’re going to be the one on that spot.
And I think our guys, there’s enough trust in our program between the players and coaches and kind of how we do our business that they understand if you’re putting it on film, you’re going to be out there on the field getting reps.

Q. Considering the strength you advocate on defense and the stable of running backs, should we expect to see a more run-oriented offense this year?
Coach Pelini: No, I wouldn’t say that at all. First of all, you have to establish the running game. It’s always important. To win a championship, I think it’s been shown over a long period of time, you have to be able to run the football. You look at even a lot of the great teams that have played, have come through this conference, back to Coach Alvarez when he turned around Wisconsin, Coach Tressel when he was at Ohio State and really what Michigan State was able to do last year, Ohio State when they’ve gone on their runs, you’ve got to be able to run the football. And that’s always a necessity. You’ve got to be able to do that. You’ve got to stop the run, but you have to have balance.
We always talk about that. We want to have balance. We’ve been about a 60/40 run?pass team, and I believe at the end of the day you’d like to get as close to 50/50 as you possibly can. But I think when it comes down to it, you want to be able to do what you want to do when you want to do it. And that means you’ve got to be able to execute in every phase of the game.