Urban Meyer sounded upbeat as he entered the interview room at his first preseason media day as the Ohio State head coach.
Urban Meyer on media day
“I will answer any questions for you on a beautiful Columbus day in Ohio,” Meyer said.
For over 20 minutes, Meyer did just that as he reflected on what was accomplished in the first week of preseason camp and what lies ahead – including a grueling second week with three two-a-day practice days set.
“This will be the hardest week of training camp,” Meyer said. “They are about to hit the two-a-day schedule this week … this will make or break us this week.”
(Click here for video of Meyer’s comments on Sunday.)
Meyer was asked about comparing the task of taking over the Ohio State program to what he found when he moved from Utah to Florida back in 2005.
“That’s hard because it was so long ago,” Meyer said. “They are two very similar type teams in terms of talent. At Florida, I took over for a guy named Ron Zook who was a very good recruiter and a very good football coach. I was able to keep a couple guys from their staff.
“Here, I took over from a very good football coach … coaches. I think it’s very similar.”
Meyer was asked if he could share the name of one player who has “jumped out at him” after one week. The coach responded with three names initially and, throughout the rest of the press conference, periodically added more names to that list.
“I think (tailback) Carlos Hyde is a guy,” Meyer said. “I have a term called ‘Wednesday practice.’ He had a practice in the spring that was like a Wednesday practice (of a game week). Unfortunately, he didn’t have a Monday, Friday, Saturday to follow up the Wednesday practice. We are eight or nine practices into it and he’s the guy who has been really solid on offense.
“On defense, the guy who has caught me is a guy named Hale, Joel Hale. I can’t say he’s an All-Big Ten player yet, but from where he was in the spring to where he is now, I have to give him credit. He came out and worked. The other guy is Christian Bryant. I know he played here, but I didn’t see as much as I’m seeing now. He got real busy as well.”
As the session continued, Meyer shared more players who have improved their stock so far.
“Andrew Norwell is in a most improved category with Carlos Hyde (on offense),” he said. “He and Marcus Hall are much improved and that’s coming from our line coach (Ed Warinner). But I see it as well.
“The other name is Nick Vannett. He is one of the most improved players. Nick is a guy who will be right in the middle of this thing. I didn’t see that in the spring and I didn’t even bring his name up because he was not a very functional guy.
The Buckeyes held their first intrasquad scrimmage of preseason camp on Saturday. It was closed to the public and the media. Meyer was asked what he saw or liked during the scrimmage.
“I like our quarterbacks,” Meyer said. “On purpose, they are caged tigers right now. They get quick whistles and they’re wearing black shirts and can’t be touched. Obviously, in our style of play, that changes the whole whole game. We will open that cage on Sept. 1. Up until that time, they will not be touched. We aren’t calling a game with the single-wing runs and the things we like to do.
“But our two quarterbacks are kind of doing what we ask them to do. The great quarterbacks and the ones I want, make something out of nothing. These guys do that.
“I think we’re right on schedule. One of the challenges I had for Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton was for them to throw the ball a little bit and they have. But we’re not near where we need to be throwing the ball. It is much different than what you saw in the spring. I’ve seen a team that has gone out and worked.”
“He’s earned the consideration, but he has not earned the playing time yet,” Meyer said. “That’s still in process. I wouldn’t mind coming up with a little package where they’re on the field at the same time. Braxton doesn’t know it yet and neither does Kenny, but I have it on a piece of paper. We’ll have that chat pretty soon.
“If they are in our best 11, it’s our job to find a way to get them on the field.”
The one sticking point for the offense seems to be the wide receiver position.
“They’re not Ohio State caliber yet,” Meyer said. “The effort is much better. Devin Smith is much better than he was in the spring. Philly Brown got dinged up a little bit in the spring, but he is playing at a higher level. Jake Stoneburner, it’s official that we moved him out to the receivers.
“Verlon Reed is still coming (back). He’s a little gimpy from his injury, but he’s coming on. Evan Spencer, we were scared one day he got carted off. But it turned out to be just two knees hitting. He should be back tomorrow or the next day.
“Michael Thomas has picked up from where he was in the spring. We have numbers, but we are still improving in terms of quality. I am more optimistic about them than I was in the spring.”
In terms of Stoneburner, Meyer said, “He now meets with the receivers. He’ll practice at times (at tight end) as we will use him as a surface tight end. But we have two pretty good tight ends with (Jeff) Heuerman and (Nick) Vannett. He will be our (Aaron) Hernandez-type guy who can do some things.”
With Hyde entrenched as the starting tailback – at least until Jordan Hall returns from his foot injury – Meyer said he has a couple of candidates to back him up.
“Brionte Dunn and Rod (Smith) are in a battle for that backup spot,” he said. “I can’t tell you who it is, but they each had a good scrimmage yesterday.”
Removing The Black Stripe
Meyer and his staff have started a new tradition with this camp. They have placed a black stripe on the helmet of each freshman and assigned each of those players an upperclassman mentor. When the mentor and the position coach believe that freshman is ready to “graduate” and become a full-fledged team member, they remove the black stripe in a team ceremony.
Safety Devan Bogard was first to have his stripe removed, while linebacker Noah Spence had his removed on the field after Saturday’s scrimmage.
“It all started because of the hazing,” Meyer said. “That used to be a problem. They used to shave your head or shave your eyebrows or make you drink. I don’t hear much about that in college sports any more, so that’s a good thing that has been eliminated.
“I think every program should have a way that you can graduate into becoming a full-fledged Ohio State Buckeye. We started that back at Bowling Green. You start things and some things take off and some don’t. This one exploded. Our coaches love it and most importantly the players love it. It is a rite of passage for a player to become an Ohio State Buckeye. You have to earn it.
“Having your big brother come up and take your stripe off … it’s interesting with just the human element. The guys who are so committed, they tear up and it’s an emotional thing for them.”
In discussing the linebacker position, Meyer said highly touted freshman David Perkins has shown he can play – even if he has not had his black stripe removed just yet.
“The guy who has taken notice – and he’s not a black stripe guy yet – is David Perkins, the freshman from South Bend, Ind. He had a heck of a scrimmage yesterday. He is a fly-and-hit guy. He will play this year. How much? We’re still working on that.”
* Meyer said sophomore corner Bradley Roby is showing what he is capable of.
“He jumped all over the place the last two days,” Meyer said. “I think he gets bored. I think he is really talented and our (wide receiver) positions aren’t great. We’re getting better so there is a little bit of a challenge. In the spring, he did not get challenged. He answered it.
“He has had a heck of a last two days. The day before the scrimmage and in the scrimmage, he looked like he is supposed to look.”
* Senior defensive end Nate Williams continues to rehab from his knee injury that cost him almost all of last season. Meyer said he feels for Williams “when you see what it means to him and how hard he is working” to get back.
Williams has done some drillwork but has not participated in team, full contact situations.
Tailback Jordan Hall suffered a torn tendon in his right foot during the summer. He was due to return in mid-September but said he hopes to be back before the Week 2 game against Central Florida.
“He is ahead of schedule,” Meyer said of Hall. “He is still in a boot. He is a wonderful young man. I keep bragging about his 3.0 (GPA). He has done everything we have asked of him. He has a big smile on his face and he will be ready to go whenever they give him their approval.”
For now, the Buckeyes are mottling through without Williams and Hall.
“We have a plan on paper for when we anticipate their return,” Meyer said. “We know we have to bite the bullet and do some other things until they can return.”
* On Friday, it was learned that LSU will play the season without star cornerback/kick returner Tyrann Mathieu, who was kicked off the team for a rules violation.
Meyer was asked if he has brought that up to his team or discussed off-the-field conduct in general.
“Probably a thousand times since January,” he said. “It’s not just him. There are a whole slew of players across the country that aren’t playing college football. I probably say something a minimum of three or four times a day. It is a fragile time for 18- and 19-year-old kids.”
* One player who missed media day for a good reason was senior linebacker Etienne Sabino. He was down the street at the Schottenstein Center receiving his bachelor’s degree in family resource management.
“We are proud of him,” Meyer said.
* The team initially convened at Ohio Stadium to take a team photo as well as the usual position photos and head shots. Family members were also on hand. They then bused back to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to meet with the media.
Several players were notable from that session, however, including Stoneburner and LT Jack Mewhort (disciplined this summer after being arrested for obstructing official business), Dunn (cited two weeks ago after a traffic stop in Alliance, Ohio) and the starting quarterback Miller (he did do a brief interview on Friday, however).
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