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.