There were more than 99,000 people at Ohio Stadium to watch the Buckeyes’ annual Spring Game, but they didn’t see a national-championship caliber team on the field.
At least not in the eyes of Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
“That was not a good team out there,” Meyer said Saturday after the intrasquad scrimmage.
The three-time national champion coach said the Buckeyes didn’t improve as a team this spring, despite coming off a victory in the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship in January. Meyer said that regression was partially because of health issues and added that there were still bright areas to lean on.
“As a team, that’s much worse than what you saw in January, obviously,” Meyer said. “But we did individually get better.”
Meyer named redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Billy Price, redshirt-junior running back Bri’onte Dunn, redshirt-freshman defensive lineman Sam Hubbard, redshirt-sophomore linebacker Chris Worley, sophomore wide receiver Noah Brown, redshirt-sophomore cornerback Gareon Conley and senior defensive lineman Tommy Schutt as individuals who stood out this spring.
He even named Conley a starter, and added that redshirt-senior offensive lineman Chase Farris has locked down the right tackle position.
But even with a flurry of strong individual performances, the Buckeyes didn’t get an overall grade of A or B from their coach. They didn’t get a C, D or F, either.
Instead, Meyer gave OSU an overall grade of “eh.”
“What’s eh? Eh. I’d rather go individually,” Meyer said when prompted to give his team a total grade for the spring.
Meyer stressed that health issues, as well as limited reps for some more experienced players, dented the Buckeyes’ development during the 15-practice spring slate. But regardless of the reasons, he said OSU now has a dilemma to sort through.
“How do we get better as a team after we get them out here for a couple weeks? This is a critical offseason for us because, like I said, we did not improve,” Meyer said. “It’s no one’s fault. How do you get better as a team when half your team is not playing?”
While questions remain, not everything is up in the air for OSU as the end of the school year approaches. Aside from a three-way quarterback competition, the offensive lineup is all but set for the Buckeyes.
Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner said there’s plenty of reason to look forward to the fall, especially with players like junior running back Ezekiel Elliott, redshirt-junior wide receiver Michael Thomas and redshirt-sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall coming back.
“You can start with the offensive line and say you’ve got four returning starters and a fifth-year senior coming back, and that excites you,” Warinner said Saturday. “You can go to a backfield with Ezekiel Elliott returning and that excites you. You can go to a receiver corps with Mike Thomas and all these other pieces we have out there, Jalin Marshall and so forth, and say, ‘Boy, that’s exciting, there’s a lot of pieces there.’
“Couldn’t be more excited about this team, this offensive unit and where we could be in the fall.”
But before the Buckeyes can make it to the fall, they’ll have to get through the summer, which means limited exposure to the coaching staff, redshirt-junior quarterback Cardale Jones said.
Jones started all three of OSU’s postseason games after now-redshirt-sophomore J.T. Barrett fractured his ankle against Michigan. Barrett himself was only in the lineup after now-redshirt-senior Braxton Miller tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder last fall.
After a full spring of starter’s reps, Jones said he simply needs to “continue to get better” individually, but also take on a leadership role through the summer months.
“Our coaches really can’t be around too much,” he said. “Carrying this leadership over to the weight room and the summer conditioning, things like that.”
Even if Meyer won’t have much direct contact with his players, he he’ll be keeping a watchful eye. And before OSU takes the field against Virginia Tech on Sept. 7 in Blacksburg, Va., to open the regular season, the fourth-year Buckeye coach said he wants to see the team develop as a whole.
“That’s going to be interesting to watch for the Buckeyes this summer and how they handle themselves, how they behave, how they train and how they come together as a team,” Meyer said. “Because that team has got to get better.”