Ohio State and coach Urban Meyer are less than 48 hours from kicking off the 2017 season in Bloomington, Indiana, against the Hoosiers. Meyer and Indiana coach Tom Allen addressed the game and their respective teams’ standing Tuesday during the season’s first 2017 Big Ten coaches teleconference.
Who will start, Smith or Fuller?
The Buckeyes released their depth chart Monday, which included several position battles that are undecided, most notably at the safety position opposite Damon Webb.
Erick Smith and Jordan Fuller have been battling for the position left vacant by current Indianapolis Colts safety Malik Hooker since the spring. Meyer said during the teleconference that each of them will see playing time Thursday.
“You’d have to ask [defensive coordinator and safeties coach] Greg [Schiano] … I think they’re both going to play because to answer your question, there’s been not, in my mind, that much separation between the two,” he said.
Smith has battled injuries his entire career at Ohio State, tearing his ACL in the sixth game of 2015, which held him out most of 2016 fall camp. He has played 33 games since he arrived in Columbus, but hasn’t started on defense yet.
Fuller, a 6-foot-2, 207-pound New Jersey native, saw time on special teams with Smith last year, and played sparingly in 2016 when games were out of hand. It still remains to be seen how much Meyer will use the two of them and if the lack of separation in competition is a sign that both have been performing well, or haven’t met the benchmark.
Inexperience is a concern
A coach can never truly predict how players will translate from the practice field to the main stage, which is precisely the reason Meyer is worried about the defensive backfield and the wide receiver position.
Freshman safety Isaiah Pryor and freshmen cornerbacks Jeffrey Okudah and Shaun Wade are listed on the team’s two-deep depth chart. Those players are just an injury away from seeing playing time immediately.
At wide receiver, Meyer has repeatedly shown excitement concerning the talent at the position, but the lack of experience still makes him anxious.
“And as I probably share with most other coaches, the unknown — the fact that we’re going to be playing some guys at the back end of our defense that haven’t played much or at all,” Meyer said. “And our receiving corps, although I really love where they’re at, they’re unproven. So those are the biggest concerns.”
He added the defensive line and offensive line are two positions he is most confident in.
Could Haskins see playing time Thursday?
Following Joe Burrow’s injury last week, Dwayne Haskins is the backup to starter J.T. Barrett at quarterback. When asked whether Haskins would see playing time in order to just get some experience or if it would come once the game is out of hand, Meyer didn’t really say yes or no to either. The game on Thursday is “all hands on deck” in Meyer’s eyes.
“Those are the kind of things you discuss when you’re maybe playing an inferior opponent, and no, there is zero conversation about that,” he said. “All hands on deck to go win a game against a good team.”
Indiana coach Tom Allen preparing for biggest opener in program history
Allen called the opener against Ohio State the “biggest opener in the history of Indiana football” at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago in July. Now just two days from that date with the Buckeyes, Allen is sticking with his claim.
“The fact that it’s Ohio State and where they position themselves in recent years has been impressive,” Allen said. “They do a great job and they’ve got a great football team. And then with [co-offensive coordinator Kevin] Wilson there. It’s just kind of a lot of things that just came together at one time to create a very unique opening game for us. With that, there’s been a lot of excitement and anticipation.”
In his first full season as head coach of the Hoosiers, Allen is preparing to face an offense similar to the one he competed against in practice last season as the team’s defensive coordinator, with Kevin Wilson now at Ohio State as co-offensive coordinator. Allen said he actually has been watching film of Indiana’s offense last year to prepare for the game, as well as some high school tape of some inexperienced Ohio State players.
“It definitely makes it more challenging when you don’t have collegiate film while we have them playing a game,” he said. “It’s the first game of the season, both sides have got to experience that to some degree in both areas.”
The Hoosiers and Buckeyes will kick off at 8 p.m. Thursday in Bloomington.