Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
The Ohio State football team is another day – and another practice – closer to its first game under new coach Urban Meyer.
After back-to-back practices Monday and Tuesday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, it seems that the Buckeyes picked up where they left off after Meyer’s first fall-camp practice in Columbus on Friday.
While Monday’s session was what Meyer called the first full-team practice of the fall, Tuesday saw the team in shoulder pads and helmets for the first time since April. The Buckeyes are yet to begin actually tackling each other in practice, and players and coaches said this fall camp is unlike any other in recent memory.
Season Expectations: Playing For the Seniors
In at least one way, Meyer’s 2012 campaign begins in an entirely unique circumstance.
“We’ve never not played for a championship in November,” said Meyer, who won two national championships at Florida. “Ten years as a head coach, every November we were playing for a championship.”
After NCAA sanctions banned the Buckeyes from participating in the Big Ten Championship Game and any potential bowl game, Meyer said he hopes he’ll have an “angry team that wants to go win every game they play.”
Junior center Corey Linsley said the bowl ban has shaped the team’s focus for the rest of the season.
“(Winning) as many games as possible for the seniors is what we always talk about,” he said. “We want to put these guys out on the right note.”
Sophomore defensive tackle Michael Bennett said it’s something the team has harped on “every practice, every play” after the seniors got what he called a “hard bargain.”
“We’re trying to give them everything we can,” Bennett said.
Stoneburner, Mewhort, Dunn statuses
All three OSU players that had run-ins with the law (and stayed on the team) during the summer have been in action for both practices so far this week.
Meyer said that, as of Monday evening, senior tight end Jake Stoneburner and junior offensive tackle Jack Mewhort are expected to regain their athletic scholarships once school starts later this August.
The two players were arrested at about 2:30 a.m. on June 2 and charged with obstructing official business after urinating in public and subsequently running away from police.
A day later, Meyer suspended the two from the team and, on July 15, released the two from their scholarships for the summer until terms between the players and coach were successfully met. It appears the conditions have either been reached or are in the process of being completed.
“We’re going to do the best we can to help them be less stupid,” Meyer said regarding Stoneburner’s and Mewhort’s actions.
Meyer wouldn’t call either player a “bad guy” and, if that were the case, he said, “they wouldn’t be playing here.”
Similarly, freshman running back Bri’onte Dunn remains in his coach’s good graces after Meyer said he passed a series of tests.
“I don’t know if I’m allowed to give you everything, but everything came back that he was honest with me,” he said.
Dunn, who was originally cited for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia after being pulled over July 28 in Alliance, Ohio, will only be charged for disorderly conduct and not wearing his seatbelt.
Meyer said he is aware that Dunn will plead not guilty to the charges leveled against him and said if “some charge that sticks then there will be penalty.”
The same offense that Meyer referred to as a “clown show” at one point during Ohio State’s spring football received praise from the coach at a Monday evening press conference.
After it seemed that the Buckeyes’ offense made strides of improvement during the month of April, Meyer said he saw what he hoped for – an offense that had capitalized on earlier momentum to carry them into the fall.
Meyer said he credited the efforts of his players during the last couple of months.
“I can tell you this, they did something this summer,” he said.
Specifically, Meyer said he’s noticed a difference in sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller.
While Meyer said it was too early to evaluate Miller’s capacity as a leader yet, he said he likes what he has seen so far out of the quarterback.
“Braxton had a really good day, and he feels good about it,” he said.
Meyer said the sophomore told him he’s getting the hang of things.
“He made the comment to me that he knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t know yet there’s still a lot more to go,” Meyer said.
“I winked at him and said ‘Yeah right pal.'”
Meyer also gushed over sophomore wide receiver Devin Smith, who may be best known for hauling Miller’s desperate heave-turned-game-winning touchdown against Wisconsin last season.
“My gosh do we need a guy like that to do something,” he said.
Changing the Tempo
Meyer’s new offense hasn’t just changed things schematically – it’s changed the way the Buckeyes execute on the offensive side of the ball.
It’s something that Linsley called a huge advantage.
“The up-tempo is a huge deal,” he said. “We never really used to do that. I’d say the two biggest things are, number one, just learning new assignments and being in shape doing it because once you get into like the eighth play you’re going to forget.”
Linsley said that the adjustment has helped create what’s been a “crisp” series of practices so far for him and the offensive line-a unit that Meyer publicly took shots at since arriving in Columbus.
It’s not so much a situation where players are figuring out where to go, he said. Rather, the junior said the focus has been more so on “how we’re doing it.”
Similarly, players on the defensive side of the ball are adjusting to the new tempo of practice in their own way.
Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said acclimating to increased hustle in between plays isn’t as hard as some might think to acclimate to considering “the offense always sets the tempo,” no matter what speed that might be.
“That’s probably one of things (you notice) when you’re really going live…the offense is always going to set the tempo,” he said. “And when they’re an up-tempo team, it really creates a more tempo defensively.”
Fickell, though, said when things are happening fast, “it’s almost like these guys are used to that.”
“Everything is instant nowadays so I think they enjoy the up-tempo practice, the up-tempo offense,” he said.
Sophomore defensive tackle Michael Bennett said the team is buying into Meyer’s fast style of both practice and play.
“Coach Meyer has that motto ‘Practice hard so the games are easy.’ And he’s doing that,” Bennett said. “Everything’s really fast, you don’t get a rest so that when the game comes, the eight seconds in between each play you’re just loving it.
Department of Defense
Ideally, Meyer said he wants to keep defensive linemen John Simon and Nathan Williams on the field at the same time and that reason is two-fold.
For starters, Meyer said having the two veterans side-by-side would make for a “really good defense.”
Perhaps equally as important though, Meyer said Simon and Williams on the field allows the younger players on the team to follow their lead.
That leadership, however, is something Fickell wants to see out of his linebackers this year.
Not being able to “get someone to get the thing set in the middle” was what Fickell attributed as likely the defense’s biggest problem last season.
“It’s really tough for (the defensive line and defensive backs) to do what they have to do because (the leadership) really has to come from the core of your defense,” he said.
That kind of leadership, Fickell said, prevents gashing plays up the middle.
“We need that leadership, that ability to have some confidence there to do what we need to do,” he said.
Injuries Update: Jordan Hall and Nathan Williams
Meyer said both senior running back Jordan Hall and senior defensive lineman Nathan Williams are “right on schedule, if not ahead of schedule” in their timetables to return to action for the Buckeyes.
“Both attitudes are fantastic,” Meyer said.
Hall, who is still recovering from foot surgery after stepping on a piece of glass on June 29, is expected to possibly miss OSU’s opener against Miami (Ohio).
Meyer, though, said he couldn’t predict exactly when the senior will return.
“I don’t want to give you that because I’m not a doctor,” he said. “It’s around the beginning of the season. I just can’t give you that.”
For Williams, the battle back for injury has been a much longer road as the senior has been sidelined since early last season with a knee injury.
“Your heart bleeds for a guy like Nathan Williams and I’m starting to really know that guy,” Meyer said. “To take football away from him is like taking-you know-that kid lives for it. It’s been hard. It’s not been an easy road not playing, not practicing, not doing anything.”
Meyer said the team is being very cautious in handling Williams as he said they can’t have afford any sort of setback when it comes to the defensive lineman’s knee.