Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
The chase is on for the Ohio State football team, and it’s clear the Buckeyes are the hunters, not the prey.
OSU held its first of 15 spring practices Tuesday indoors at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, which houses a full indoor football field.
At the south end of the facility hangs a new banner with two big words adorned on the scarlet background. “The Chase,” it reads.
What exactly is the chase? Coach Urban Meyer said it’s different for everyone.
“We’re all chasing something,” Meyer said. “We’re 15 practices behind every team that played in a bowl game last year, so the chase is on. Some guys are chasing starting positions, some guys are chasing bowl games, some guys are chasing NFL contracts.”
But though Meyer acknowledges every individual’s pursuit has a different path, it seems clear that they all are aiming to intersect at the same place: the top of the college football world.
It’s no secret what Meyer and his staff are chasing. On the team schedule listed in the media room, all the regular season games are listed. Then there’s the Rose Bowl. Then there’s BCS National Championship.
That’s the prey, and everything – even the stretching and calisthenics during the very first spring practice – is designed to track it down.
The expectations for this OSU team could not be higher. Rising junior quarterback Braxton Miller graced the cover of the latest “Sports Illustrated,” most preseason rankings have the Buckeyes somewhere in the top three and with nine returning starters on offense, nothing short of a championship will be viewed as a success.
A perfect 12-0 season during a year with a postseason ban was enough to quench the fans’ thirst during year one of the Meyer era, but with one conquest comes higher goals.
The Buckeyes’ first spring practice was open to the media, and it was clear what type of operation Meyer was running.
Fast. Intense. Efficient.
When he huddled the team briefly before breaking out into position drills, the only audible phrases from the sideline were “as fast as you can, go for four to six seconds” and “relentless.”
There were no lengthy water breaks or team meetings, and there was no time to dwell on a failed rep. Everything was under the microscope.
When a long, blond-haired kicker (who was not listed on the preseason roster) dared to take a swig of water during calisthenics, it was noticed.
“What, do you need water, sunshine?” defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs yelled. “We’re stretching and you’re a kicker.”
He wasn’t alone.
No less than a half dozen assistant coaches were roaming up and down the field yapping at players for not running in a straight line or not going fast enough.
“What are you chasing?” Coombs yelled at no one in particular. “What are you chasing today? Who are you chasing today? Let’s get to work.
“Today’s not a good day, not a great day. It’s toughness Tuesday.”
The transition between drills was a sprint, with the veterans going first, and the newbies waiting their turns so as not to waste time with lengthy drill instructions.
The whole operation was a hyper-organized chaos and that seemed to be precisely how Meyer wanted it.
Meyer praised Miller afterward, who looked about as good as a quarterback with no pads and no pressure can.
“I thought Braxton Miller had a heck of a day,” Meyer said. “Fundamentally, his footwork was not very good last year. I thought it was outstanding today.”
He also singled out rising senior Jordan Hall, who moved to a H-back position after a 2012 season riddled with injuries.
Overall the second-year coach was pleased with what he saw. His team is in much better shape than it was at this point last year, something probably best illustrated by the fact that the third question of Meyer’s press conference was about the punting situation.
But if Day 1 is any indication, there will be no resting on laurels. Meyer is constantly looking toward – chasing – the future.
“Who’s going to be the (former offensive lineman Reid) Fragel?” Meyer said. “We’re going to call that the Fragel award, who was a very below average football player who turned out to be a very good football player for Ohio State University.
“Who’s going to be that guy that’s coming out of nowhere?”
OSU won’t be a team that comes out of nowhere this season. Everyone knows about the Buckeyes and everyone knows where they want to go. Will they get there?
The chase continues.