Ohio State could be missing two or three starters in the Orange Bowl against Clemson Friday night.
Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook after another week on the Ohio State football beat.
Ohio State’s head football coach started out by stating his appreciation for the environment at Penn State. The students treated them well, and everyone was classy. The Buckeye players respected that and responded well overall to the whole deal.
They got their best team win at State College. The defense has shown much improvement by maintaining leverage and tackling better. They also blitzed more than they have all year and played a lot of man coverage.
Zach Boren played well at linebacker but did not grade out as a champion, so Meyer wishes he would get even better. The coach has great respect for him.
Someone asked if the increase in pressure defense and man coverage came from Meyer, and he said he wasn’t sure that was the case even though he had been pushing for it. Getting C.J. Barnett back helps, too, because that is one more guy who can get in there and man up. They have always had confidence in the corners to play man, but everyone has to do it, including safeties and linebackers.
Asked about having a heart-to-heart with Jake Stoneburner a few weeks ago, Meyer said there is nothing worse than false confidence that comes from people telling you how good you are. People talked a lot about how great he was even though he had never really done a lot. Stoneburner wasn’t playing well or as involved as he wanted to be, and Meyer told him not to make excuses but to take ownership in the situation. He moved to wide receiver and had to learn how to contribute there. He is a smart kid, and he has gotten it turned around. Now Meyer sees potential for Stoneburner to play in the NFL. That is a goal of the staff, to get him there.
Someone asked if this team has the potential to be special, and he said yes. They are dealing with a lot of adversity, and there are a lot of intangibles in the locker room now. Guys are fighting for each other and refusing to lose. There is a blue collar attitude and a desire to get better.
He has no concerns about facing a friend in Illinois head coach Tim Beckman. He loves him and his dad, though.
Asked if he has a problem with Braxton Miller being too competitive at times, perhaps trying to make too much happen, Meyer said no. It is harder to teach a tiger to bite. He prefers to teach them when to bite.
Miller’s progression as a quarterback so far has been “ok.” He is a better thrower, but they are struggling to find time to work on his fundamentals to increase his improvement even more.
Talking again about the Ohio State defense, Meyer said he always had respect for the Silver Bullets even when he was watching from afar while coaching elsewhere. He feels much better about their fundamentals now. They have been working on fundamentals for 10 minutes or so a day and that seems to have had a positive effect.
Momentum is everything in college football, and that goes for not only wins but also recruiting and roster development. They aren’t looking at next year as they work on this one. They are just trying to win as many games as possible. That momentum shows up in recruiting because it makes them that much more enthusiastic about making calls to kids when they are talking about another great win.
Revisiting the Stoneburner issue, someone asked if the player had to come to grips with a new role. Meyer replied yes, and that was the problem. He should have just gotten to it, not thought about it. NFL teams tell guys what to do and move on if they don’t. Stoneburner is a really smart guy, and he might have overthought this one initially.
Miller was more confident in the second half at Penn State. It is hard to stay settled down in that atmosphere. His footwork was bad, and he was pulling away from the center too fast and panicking on his throws.
Illinois has players, but it has not played well at times this year. Meyer pointed out Illinois has had more high draft picks in recent years than Ohio State (this is true, at least if you’re just counting the first two rounds in the past three years – 7-2).
He loves seeing players develop in his program. For example, Chase Farris is “on fire” right now. He is going to be heard from at some point for Ohio State on the offensive line after converting from defense.
Regarding special teams struggles, he pointed out they have had seven different lineups for the punt team. In replacing Etienne Sabino and Zach Domicone, they have put in some guys who weren’t aware of what they needed to do their first time in there.
Upon being prodded about Miller being a candidate for the Heisman, Meyer acknowledged he does have the look of one. The quarterback still needs to play a lot better, but he must be a candidate with his production for a team that is 9-0.
Meyer has always been a huge Notre Dame fan since he grew up in a Catholic family It is great for college football when they are good. He’s seen them on some crossover film (presumably from Purdue and Michigan State) and they look very good. It is a polarizing place. When you walk into a high school wearing Notre Dame gear, people either love you or throw stuff at you.
Someone asked if he will ever manipulate the clips of the opposing team they show to the players in order to make them look better or worse than they might really be, and he said yes. He didn’t do that this week, though. (I think the gist was that he acknowledged sometimes you just include the clips of a team doing things well so your players don’t overlook them and other times you might even show mistakes to humanize the opponent and make sure they don’t seem invincible.)
He is concerned about how many punts they have had blocked, and other teams probably sense blood in the water now. They put in a different type of punt last week just to change things up. He didn’t want the punter to be just a sitting duck. He hasn’t been getting great hang time. Buchanan can do the roll kick, but they still have to protect it. They put Devin Smith on the punt coverage team because he is the fastest guy on the team. The ultimate goal is to get guys down the field to force a fair catch every time, but it isn’t happening right now.
Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said the staff decided that a few weeks ago Penn State decided not to be a game-plan offense. They identified things they do well and stuck with them every week so they could get good at them.
Freshman Noah Spence is coming on now and he understands getting onto the field is a process. He has to do stuff to earn the trust of the staff. Everybody is fast and athletic in college, so young guys have to learn techniques and whatnot.
They are excited to have Zach Boren on defense. He gets better with every rep, and he is an inspiration to the other guys. One time in particular stuck out on the film when he ran past a blocker and made a hit on the wide screen pass.
Nathan Williams has a great attitude. He is dedicated to learning and studying. Nobody plays harder. He throws his body around. There are still things he is working on in terms of technique.
They need Mike Bennett to play better. That allows them to deploy various packages based on matchups and situation. Bennett is a guy with good speed and power for his size.
The defensive staff continues the process of developing what it wants to do and what the players are capable of doing. Some carry over from past weeks has helped the scheme evolve.
Like Spence, Adolphus Washington is a young guy who has to go through the process of learning how to play at this level. He is a big, athletic guy who needs to learn to play physical and relentless. Everything was easy for him in high school. He is making progress and earning more time in various situations. Vrabel isn’t sure what will be Washington’s ultimate position, tackle or end.
Williams is trying to make the NFL, and the staff supports that. He has dedicated himself to the team, to working hard and flying around and leading.
They are approaching everything week to week and finding ways to win. Guys are believing in themselves. Last week the defense started to realize the offense will win them the game if they just get the ball back for them.
This year is important because it is much easier to get the players to believe in the process when they see results.
Wide receivers coach Zach Smith said Stoneburner was always an athletic receiving tight end, but he had to get used to dealing with better athletes when he moved to receiver. He had to run better routes to beat quicker guys, basically. He couldn’t just run around them. Smith and Meyer addressed that with him and he keeps getting better ever since. Because of his progress, they work harder to get him opportunities to contribute.
Evan Spencer, who caught three passes last week, has built up more of the coaches’ confidence, so they are more apt to go to him, too. His best attribute is his commitment and his passion for the game. You can tell he is a coach’s son. He has upped his film study and is hard on himself and wants to get better. His parents raised him to be a great young man, and he understands what he needs to improve as a football player.
The team is 9-0 through the guys coming together when they’ve had to because of chemistry. They don’t want to let each other down.
Regarding the fake punt by Penn State that failed, Smith said they always practice for the base stuff a team does with its punt then watch for tips if they might do something tricky. Penn State lined up differently, so the staff alerted the players.
The wide receivers are getting better as a whole and the staff is developing confidence in more of them, so they are more comfortable with more of them playing. For example, Smith felt comfortable with Chris Fields going into the Purdue game when Philly Brown got hurt because Fields had been doing well recently in practice. Playing more guys also helps morale overall when guys actually feel like they contributed to the win rather than just being there and singing the fight song.
Devin Smith has embraced the role of gunner on the punt team, and Zach Smith would be disappointed if it were any other way.
They moved Stoneburner to wide receiver because they wanted to get him on the field and they had depth at tight end. As a consequence, he had to learn how to use his skills in a different spot on the field.
The receivers like to play with Miller because he will get the ball out quickly when he needs to and hit them with catchable passes. They also raise their play because they know even if they are running a control route (like going deep to pull coverage way from someone else) they could still end up getting the ball if Miller scrambles.
Miller has improved with his progressions. He is getting more productive each week on third downs, although Smith doesn’t grade that specifically.
Quarterback Braxton Miller said he thinks about sliding now more, unless he is close to a first down.
Asked about being a Heisman Trophy candidate, he said it’s an honor to have his name mentioned but he just tries to work hard every week and then you never know what will happen. He conceded that the style of offense Ohio State is playing will produce big plays and stats that lead to awards.
He knows he has to keep working to progress as a passer. It isn’t easy.
In regards to slow starts, they just need to stay with the game plan and get guys going.
He didn’t have any theories about why they haven’t played as well against weaker teams on the schedule, but the team does not feel any pressure being 9-0.
Cornerback Bradley Roby said every time he sees Vanderbilt highlights on ESPN he thinks about what it would be like if he had stuck with his verbal commitment to go there as a wide receiver instead of taking Ohio State’s offer to play cornerback. He doesn’t think about it long, but it is there.
He’s noticed Illinois’ receivers are struggling to get established without Jenkins (who he made some headlines about last season when he said he was nothing special). The group does look talented even though it is young.
Scheelhaase is mobile and can be dangerous if they don’t contain him.
The team has talked about not playing so well against lesser teams. It has involved some mental mistakes. They have watched teams like Alabama play at a high level every week and strive to achieve that. He feels Ohio State should dominate teams, but it hasn’t happened much this season.
The defense has been simplified and that’s helping them play more aggressively. There are fewer checks to worry about and more man coverage. It’s easier. They have fast pass rushers in John Simon, Nathan Williams and Steve Miller plus Ryan Shazier at linebacker, so that lets them pressure while the backs cover.
The defense is on the right path, but it is not perfect and needs to keep getting better.
They dominated much of the game at Penn State but let up late. They need to keep pushing through to the end in the future.
He is definitely looking forward to the open week in the schedule. He could use some rest and relaxation. He seemed to wish it had come a little earlier in the season.
Offensive lineman Andrew Norwell said he recalled sitting in the stands rooting for Illinois when the Fighting Illini knocked off the undefeated, top-ranked Buckeyes in 2007. His brother was a starting defensive lineman for that Illinois team and a very good player. Andrew wasn’t thinking about where he would be going to college at that time when he was in high school.
They’ll talk a little trash before the game, but he knows his brother will be rooting for him because blood is thicker than water.
With another week of preparations in the books, I have cleaned out the reporter’s notepad. Check out what Ohio State coaches and players had to say this week before being paid a visit by Purdue.
Ohio State’s head coach is happy his team is 7-0 despite the struggles on defense. The good news: He feels like he has the team’s attention, and the desire to get better is there.
The No. 1 concern on defense is eliminating big plays, of which there were 14 last week. He had a meeting with the entire defensive staff and they talked about three key things: don’t miss tackles, keep leverage on the ball and maintain 4-6 seconds of maximum effort (Note: I can’t think of much else that goes into defense…).
Yelling and screaming about it won’t do the job. That is not his style, although there are times that call for it.
He likened getting this worked out to becoming a better downfield passing team. They just had to practice it until the execution got better.
Regarding the freshman linebackers not being ready for game action, Meyer said Camren Williams and Joshua Perry were hurt last week. David Perkins and Jamal Marcus have excelled on special teams, but they are having a hard time picking up the defense (He said a week or so ago on his radio show that Luke Roberts wasn’t playing fast enough). Inexperience is a legitimate excuse for struggling, but they’ve got to get over it at some point.
In moving Zach Boren to linebacker, experience matters. Playing football is about leadership and taking charge. He can see the instincts in him. Freshmen are just in there trying to survive, so typically it’s older guys who show the way. He’s getting great leadership from guys like John Simon and Nathan Williams, but they really need it from the center of the defense.
They’re putting out an APB for tough guys this week. That’s what they need to make the defense whole.
Carlos Hyde got off to a slow start, but he’s finishing strong now. He is another guy Meyer can have grown-man conversations with now. He will not be going to the bench when Jordan Hall comes back, although Hall is healing slowly from a knee injury that has kept him out the past two weeks.
He acknowledged moving Boren from one side of the ball is unusual and noted it would not have been possible without the improvement of tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett. Both are coming on, and they are young so they’ll be around for a while. He recalled one previous time he had a guy switch sides. That was Mike Pouncey at Florida, who played some defensive tackle for them when they were battling injuries there.
He acknowledged playing at a high tempo means more plays and that can leave the defense out to dry but was not ready to offer that as an explanation for why scoring seems to be up around college football.
His “pro scout,” John Cooper, told him Purdue has several pro guys, including a defensive tackle (guessing he meant Kawann Short). The Boilermakers have a very active, shifting defense. That is a contrast from the last couple of weeks, when the teams have shown them what they’re going to get.
Asked about how involved he can get in the defense, he said he wasn’t sure. He won’t call plays, but he will work on helping to develop leadership and toughness. He can coach the effort part while the defensive assistants work out the scheme.
They’ve talked about potentially putting other guys at new positions, but they don’t have a lot of options.
Noah Spence has been coming on as a defensive end. He was very good last week in the absence of Williams, so they need to figure out how to get him on the field (Perhaps this could mean Williams moves to linebacker, where he played one game last season before getting hurt. The Sam position in the base defense isn’t that different from his normal Leo spot at end. Of course they are likely to be in nickel and dime, where Williams already played a linebacker-like role, anyway this week).
Meyer called Boren’s move to linebacker “temporarily permanent.”
Devin Smith has improved a lot but can’t stop now. He needs to continue on that trajectory. Meyer told receivers coach Zach Smith he must be doing a good job because his guys are coming along. Now they have some confidence, so they can be coached harder. Guys who are struggling need their egos maintained so they don’t crack, but guys doing well can be pushed. He learned that from Lou Holtz. He called Smith’s last touchdown the play of the day as he made a couple guys miss after hauling in a pass then taking it to the end zone.
Meyer likes to see Rod Smith going hard in all he does, something that overshadows mistakes such as his fumble at Indiana.
Meyer went to Wayne High School to talk to Jay Minton so he could get a better idea of how to communicate with Braxton Miller. He said they obviously love Miller at Wayne, where Minton has a great program in place, and the talk helped him know better how to approach Miller.
Even though offenses are making a lot of headlines these days, the Buckeyes have got to get better on defense. The best teams at the top do that, including BCS 1 and 2 Alabama and Florida.
He loves offense, but you win with kicking and defense.
He is on the same page as the defensive staff. It takes time for people to jell. There are new guys, but they are great people. They just need more production from the defense.
Meyer wants the offense to be more balanced, but 300 yards rushing kind of overrules that. Can’t ignore the ability to do that. They didn’t operate at the tempo he wants, but that’s OK because they were moving the ball and the defense was struggling so it needed some time.
They got unbalanced at times with Tim Tebow at quarterback because of how good he was.
Asked about Curtis Grant, he said he is a good person with plenty of ability. He’s only a sophomore, and he doesn’t have much game experience. Some guys take longer than you expect to come along. He still has time to have a fine career.
Usually practicing leverage is saved for the offseason (spring and preseason), but they will have to go back over it this week.
He is proud to see former assistants Dan Mullen and Charlie Strong doing well at Mississippi State and Louisville, respectively.
Running backs coach Stan Drayton said Carlos Hyde has been getting stronger as the games go on. He gets a feel for the blocking, how the safeties are supporting the run and where the pursuit is coming from. He can wear people down with his size, too.
The offensive line is the common denominator with the improvement of the running backs’ production.
He also did not sound terribly concerned about Rod Smith’s fumble at Indiana. He has good confidence now, is in a better place mentally. The coach doesn’t want to hurt that. Smith needs to focus on details. That time he did not get the ball secured after the mesh because his eyes got big because he saw a hole. He got in a rush.
He could see the “pound it offense” (as Meyer described it) coming before the season because it has always been an offense that fits players’ skills. They were running the players with smaller backs and a bigger quarterback at Florida, so this is new for Meyer to see. They have guys in there who can break tackles, and it’s fun to see.
The key to really making the offense go is having guys on the perimeter, which you’re seeing more of now with Philly Brown in the option, but everything is predicated on running physically inside and forcing teams to load the box. Then you can attack on the outside. That’s the essence of the spread running game. The kids grow into it and learn how it works.
He was asked if they will keep the power back aspect, and he said as long as they have a dynamic player on the perimeter, they’re good to go. The basis is inside zone and power plays with an attitude. His running backs can do both, but they are better inside. Getting Brown and Miller on the edge just makes everything else more dangerous.
They have not discussed redshirting Jordan Hall yet, although he would be eligible. They want him to maintain the mindset that he will come back and play this season.
Hyde is in a good place in life now, including staying on top of his classes and hitting the weight room. He has learned accountability. He might have felt he had a raw deal last year when he had some success and then went back to the bench. He had some selfish feelings. They want him to be confident in his abilities, but that can be a double-edged sword. He is good now. He’s as excited about blocking for Miller as he is running the ball, and that’s exciting to see. His new attitude is the real deal.
Devin Smith, who Drayton coached last year as a freshman, is growing up. Drayton said he must have failed and Zach Smith is doing a better job with him this time around, but it is great seeing guys learn and grow from the trials and tribulations they go through.
Wide receiver Jake Stoneburner said Meyer got into him at the stadium after a game recently and they had a heart-to-heart in practice. The message was he was playing tentative, not running his routes as crisply as he should. That appears to be in the past now.
Someone asked about the Big Ten’s representation in the preseason basketball coaches’ poll, and he said maybe that makes them the SEC of basketball. That would be cool.
Turning to football, he didn’t believe the talk about the Big Ten being inferior after Ohio State lost to Florida and LSU in the national championship games, but now it seems like the rest of the league needs to step up.
Asked to compare Braxton Miller and Terrelle Pryor, he said Miller = Mike Vick and Pryor = Vince Young. Miller throws the ball with great velocity and a tight spiral while being the best athlete he has seen running the football in college. Pryor was a big, strong athlete who was getting better at passing as his career progressed.
Stoneburner said Miller could have started every game at running back this season and they would still be undefeated. Pryor’s skill do not translate to that position, though. He was better at dropping back to throw then running when things broke down.
Miller makes guys miss and seems to have another sense about where potential tacklers are.
Revenge for the loss at Purdue last season is on their minds but not a driving force.
Linebacker Zach Boren said he is getting more comfortable all the time at his new position. Every day, he is learning more. He is fine if he starts or plays as part of a rotation.
Guys responded great to the APB from Meyer for toughness. They had two great days of practice. Guys are flying to the ball.
He was nervous last week before making his college linebacker debut, and that was the first time he felt that way in a long time. It took him a couple of series to settle in.
Cornerback Bradley Roby acknowledged the Big Ten is down in football but said it will be back. Everyone has a down year – except for the SEC. He’s not worried about it.
He also disputed the idea the Big Ten could become a basketball league with all the highly ranked teams to start the season (I think this was a tongue-in-cheek question).
In the aftermath of Boren moving to linebacker from fullback because of a lack of depth on the defensive side, someone asked if Roby could pick up wide receiver in three days like Boren did linebacker. Roby said he definitely could. He has played it before, so he knows how to run routes. He would just need to learn the calls. If they need him, he is ready. He feels like receivers coach Zach Smith knows that.
Roby is definitely impressed with Boren. He is a leader on defense for them now. He is a good dude to have on their side of the ball. Boren might not look the part, but he is definitely playing the part.
They do have a chip on their shoulder and want revenge for the losses they had last year. He feels like they should have won them in the first place and would have if they had made more plays.
Purdue has a lot of quick receivers. Stopping receivers O.J. Ross and Antavian Edison will be key (Ross is questionable with an injury).
This week our inspiration comes from Sam Spence, who has put together many spectacular tracks for NFL Films over the years.
What we learned last week: The Buckeyes really do have their sights set on a national championship, and they just might be able to pull it off.
I think I saw the first fan mention this on our www.BuckeyeSports.com message board within an hour of the NCAA handing down its 2012 postseason ban to Ohio State, but now we’ve heard a player confirm the Buckeyes’ intentions to run the table and take home the program’s fifth Associated Press national championship this season.
“Oh yeah, that’s definitely a goal for our team,” cornerback Bradley Roby said Saturday night. “We want to win every single game. We’re taking it one play at a time, one game at a time. We definitely want to go undefeated, and hopefully that’s something in the future.”
There are many obstacles to overcome, of course, but the Buckeyes are within shouting distance after moving up to No. 8 this week.
Winning is one thing, but winning with flare is another. I wonder if some voters treated the Buckeyes – perhaps understandably so – as afterthoughts in their balloting before the season and in the first month. They seem to be taking notice now, and that comes as no surprise given the way the Buckeyes have won, including dropping 63 points on Nebraska last week.
They have some clear problems on defense, but people love offense. Those scoreboard fireworks also give voters who might not see a snap of a game a more tangible way to envision what happened, too, although major offensive numbers are becoming par for the course in college football lately.
Do I think this is going to happen? It’s still unlikely, but anything is possible.
The rest of the schedule lines up favorably as Michigan is the only other Big Ten team currently ranked in the AP Top 25 (and the Wolverines barely qualify as they cling to the last spot). Ohio State doesn’t play a plucky Northwestern team that can’t play defense but has a dangerous offense, but there are trips to Wisconsin and Penn State.
Those are not easy places to play, but Ohio State has more raw ability on its roster than either squad so winning should be a matter of finding favorable matchups and executing the game plan.
I thought before the season Illinois could be dangerous as a sandwich game between those two road trips, but the Fighting Illini have looked awful pretty much all season.
Beating Michigan will be no cakewalk, but the emotion of that game should be through the roof as the Buckeyes look for payback from their only loss to the Wolverines in the past decade and welcome back the 2002 national championship team for a 10-year reunion.
There might even be a boost from an appearance by Jim Tressel, the former coach who recruited many of the current Buckeyes and has been invited back as part of the festivities for his most accomplished team.
Can you imagine what Ohio Stadium would be like with an undefeated Ohio State squad playing host to both its bitter rival and its most beloved team of the past two or three decades on Thanksgiving weekend?
It could be epic, but there is much for them to do between now and then.
This pie-in-the-sky scenario involves receiving plenty of outside help, too, as the Buckeyes are nowhere near controlling their own destiny.
Top-ranked Alabama looks to be head and shoulders above the field so far this season, and the other six undefeated teams ranked ahead of them would in all likelihood need to lose, too, because Ohio State’s schedule won’t be considered tougher than any of them have faced.
Some of those teams will take care of each other as fifth-ranked West Virginia and No. 6 Kansas State play each other Oct. 20, the same day No. 4 Florida hosts No. 3 South Carolina. The Gators also play Georgia and at Florida State while the Gamecocks’ second-toughest remaining regular season game is this weekend in Baton Rouge against LSU.
I’m still not sure how legitimate Notre Dame is, but the seventh-ranked Fighting Irish still has lose-able games against USC, Stanford and Oklahoma.
That leaves the Crimson Tide, who will have to down in all likelihood the winner of the Florida-South Carolina game in the SEC championship, and No. 2 Oregon. The high-flying Ducks have the easiest remaining schedule of the top seven but must also contend with USC and Stanford before facing someone in the Pac-12 title game.
What we can expect to learn this week: If the Buckeyes can keep their focus and continue to iron out the mistakes.
The trips to Happy Valley and Madison could be daunting, but Ohio State gets a couple of tuneups first from the state of Indiana’s Big Ten representatives.
First up is Indiana, a squad that enters this week’s contest with its customary bottom-dwelling defense but an offense with the potential to do damage under second-year head coach Kevin Wilson despite the loss of potential star quarterback Tre Roberson.
No one in the Big Ten has thrown for more yards than the Hoosiers so far this season, and their 304.8 yards per game through the air are 19th in the nation. They like to pick those yards up with short passes and a variety of screens, something that has bothered the Buckeyes this season as defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers work to meld their defensive philosophies.
Indiana’s most dangerous weapon is sophomore wide receiver Shane Wynn, a Cleveland Glenville product once thought to be a future Buckeye, and they have a trio of interesting running backs in Stephen Houston, D’Angelo Roberts and Tevin Coleman.
On the flip side, they haven’t shown the ability to stop the pass or the run, so Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman can likely pick their poison as they continue to evolve their version of the spread offense.
This one would be an easy one for the Buckeyes to overlook, but one also wonders about the mental state of the Hoosiers after a second-half collapse last week against Michigan State. Will that give them confidence that Wilson’s program is gaining a foothold, or did they shoot all their bullets at the Spartans?
We’ll find out Saturday night in Bloomington.
Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook after another week on the Ohio State football beat…
(Recapping the Ohio State head coach’s weekly press luncheon)
They have got to get the youngsters going in the running game. He has confidence in Bri’onte Dunn if he practices well this week. He is a good runner, but he had some glaring missed assignments last week against UCF. He has to practice well, or they won’t put him in the game. That also goes for Rod Smith.
He has no reservations with using Zach Boren as more of a runner, either.
Braxton Miller’s mechanics are coming along as a passer, but he still lets them go occasionally. It’s a thing of beauty when he gets it all lined up. He has a great release. They are pushing his maturation so he gets some of the miscues out of the way. He just needs to get more and more reps. The development of the wide receivers helps, too.
We can expect to see wide receiver Corey Brown used in more ways. They have to think outside the box about ways to use him (Isn’t that what these guys are known for?)
Asked about the pass rush’s struggles, he said they have dropped eight men into coverage a lot, and teams have done a combination of quick passing against them and using maximum protections when they do take deeper drops. They have to count on the guys who are out there doing better at winning individual matchups, and they might supplement their efforts with more blitzing. Maybe both.
It is tough to improve during the season because they only really have two days in pads and you don’t want to get people beat up in those sessions. Plus there is prep work for the opponent to do. He wonders about how to balance that a lot, maybe 20-25 percent of the time.
The preponderance of broken plays on Saturday was a result of a variety of things – people going the wrong way, people not knowing the right play or aligning wrong. If it was one thing, they wouldn’t have any trouble getting that fixed.
There was a “tough” coaches meeting this morning to discuss some of the things that need to improve.
He loves coaching the kickoff team and appreciates the efforts of the members of the squad.
They are still trying to find out exactly what they can do with Jake Stoneburner. He is listed as a wide receiver now, but it remains to be seen if he can separate from DBs down the field. He can block at the point of attack, but he is probably not the best tight end they have for that. Meyer wishes he had another year to coach Stoneburner to continue trying to utilize him best. He also said he never lost trust in Stoneburner when the senior got in trouble during the summer, but he was angry with him and disappointed in him like one would be with a son.
When they failed to pick up a fourth-and-1 early in the game, there was a mistake by a player as they tried to run the “power” play. The next time they faced that situation, they went with an inside zone play instead and it worked. (Should note they ran “power” with the quarterback out of the shotgun and ran zone out of an offset I with the QB under center.)
Some big plays other teams have hit them with have been a result of defensive backs lacking discipline. UCF converted a third-and-21 when a DB didn’t get deep enough in his zone (I believe this was Roby drifting forward). There was nothing wrong with the defensive call there. They have missed some tackles, too.
They will have to adjust the offensive scheme based on who plays tailback because not everyone can handle every part of the offense. Both young tailbacks are talented, but they still have to figure out who deserves to get the ball. That will be learned through practice this week.
Miller’s carry total was inflated by errors on some plays. People going the wrong way or running the wrong route or missing a block. The Buckeyes need to play better around him. The coaches have to call what they have to in order to win the game, but they have to be smart, too.
Asked about the upcoming OSU Hall of Fame weekend, Meyer said he is good friends with inductee Bobby Knight, who does it the right way without cheating. Others can have their own opinions about Knight.
Meyer admires Mike Vrabel – another inductee – very much. He knows Vrabel’s high school coach well and is glad he kept him on the staff.
They do need to get more handoffs and quick throws for Miller so he can have time to compose himself during the game. Miller is a hell of a football player, better than people around the country realize. Meyer has tremendous respect for him. Figuring out the best way to use him is a good problem to have.
He hasn’t talked to AD Gene Smith much about it, but he seemed to think the nonconference scheduling philosophy of having one national game, one mid-major game and two “other” games (i.e., patsies) will continue.
Matching up against an unusual Cal defense will be interesting because the Buckeyes made a bunch of errors last week against a very conventional defense from UCF. That is a function of the transition in styles, but it must be addressed.
Cal has several draftable players, including a cornerback and a defensive tackle Meyer did not identify by name. The Bears have a deeper roster than UCF, which had a lot of studs at the top.
Asked again about the pass rush, he acknowledged that losing Mike Bennett to a groin injury throws off what they wanted to do. They would prefer to pressure with only four players, but they might have to dial up some more blitzes.
Cal saw some things Ohio State does from Nevada’s pistol offense last week. Nevada executed at a high level despite being probably outmanned a bit. The OSU coaches will look at that as well as how Cal has defended Oregon in the past.
He has not seen the OSU DBs lose any physical matchups this season. One big play was a result of Travis Howard not knowing the coverage they were in, another was the lack of depth in a drop he already mentioned. He thinks Howard will be fine, though, and missing the call is uncharacteristic of him.
When the Buckeyes have the ball, they can expect to see some “zero” coverages from Cal, meaning their corners will be in man to man with no safety help. That means OSU will need to go for some home runs even if it means a few foul balls. Still, coaches hate second-and-10 after failed deep shots. They want to be on schedule.
He is getting more comfortable with what the wide receivers can do and the passing game overall.
He said he has great respect for Cal coach Jeff Tedford, whose stuff he has studied and borrowed in the past. (Tedford is something of a quarterback/passing game guru.) Meyer spent some time with him back when Meyer was at Bowling Green putting his offense together in the first place and uses some of his passing concepts.
Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said Howard has done a very good job going about his business since he took the job last winter. He is among the best players Coombs has coached.
Facing 95 passes in two games has forced them to use a variety of pass coverages, and the ensuing complication has played a role in some of the miscommunication and breakdowns they have had. It also has made it harder for teams to pass the ball against them and helped lead to some of their turnovers. He expects dramatic improvement.
They can’t accept giving up any 20-plus-yard plays, especially if it is a case of coverages being blown.
Cal WR Keenan Allen is a great player who runs good routes and has speed. He will go vertical.
Most of the problems OSU has had in communication have come between the safeties and the cornerbacks. He hopes to correct them. The coverage is called from the sideline, the players identify the offensive personnel and formation then apply the coverage that’s been called. Breakdowns have occurred at each step.
Doran Grant played 22 snaps last week and did a good job. Adam Griffin is playing extremely well in practice. Freshmen Najee Murray, Armani Reeves and Tyvis Powell remain outside that top four with Murray and Reeves running ahead of Powell.
Asked if OSU should blitz more, he said there is give and take. It means fewer guys in coverage and sometimes playing more man, but his guys are good in man. The pressure does need to shorten the clock for the quarterback. He hopes the pressure and coverage can be used to enhance each other going forward.
Cal QB Zach Maynard is very athletic. He scrambles to run and to throw and makes big plays. He is a pocket passer first but can get out and do damage.
Wide receiver Devin Smith said how the wide receivers perform against Cal is up to them. They will have a good day if they do what they’re supposed to.
The scout team cornerbacks have been playing press all week to prepare them, and more pass plays are going in this week.
He is pumped to face one-on-one coverage. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman told him Cal’s strategy will challenge their manhood (told this later, Meyer said he was happy to hear that.)
Jordan Hall has been looking good in practice and said his foot felt fine.
Braxton Miller was sore after the UCF game but felt normal by midweek.
Smith would be honored to have his one-handed catch against Miami (Ohio) voted the national play of the year, especially since he is so young.
Hall looked like he could play at practice but it was up to the coaches to make the call. He gives them versatility because he can line up at running back or receiver.
Fullback Zack Boren said the running backs have looked really good in practice this week, especially the young guys.
He was coy about what role Hall might play this week but said he is encouraged by how he looked.
Boren didn’t know his own role yet. He has done a variety of things already, including play out wide against Miami and running back against UCF. It’s fun moving around in the offense and changing things up.
Hall is a playmaker who can do special and crazy things any time he gets the ball.
They haven’t done anything out of the ordinary to prepare for Cal’s unique 46 defese.
Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said if everything goes according to plan with the pass rush, they have to make the Bears pay when they reach him.
If the defensive line plays well, the defense will have a good day. They need to have more production. Hankins has done his job so far but needs to be more dominant.
He has good practice battles with Andrew Norwell, who was always a great run blocker and has gotten better in pass protection.
Mike Vrabel brings tons of energy to the defensive line group. His NFL experience gives him a lot of knowledge regarding technique. He taught them about attacking just one side of a blocker sometimes instead of always going through the middle of him. Vrabel has been harping on technique and taking it to the playing field from the practice fields.
Adolphus Washington is doing a good job, but he needs to think less.
He could see J.T. Moore or Se’Vonn Pittman helping out on the field this week.
Cornerback Bradley Roby said Cal has a good group of receivers. He is ready for whoever comes his way. He won’t be matching up with star Keenan Allen as OSU plays boundary and field corners.
He admitted to becoming disinterested at times against lesser opponents and during practices. He feels he has improved in that area. Also, Smith and Brown have improved since the spring and offer him a greater challenge now.
Roby wants to take on the best in the country and looks forward to having a “show-time matchup” with Allen.
He is tired of noon games (they will play a fourth straight next week against UAB).
The defense’s problems have been related to pretty common breakdowns in communication. They have more checks based on what the offense is doing this year.
Brown is the best trash talker among the OSU receivers, but the rest of them don’t talk a lot, anyway.
So what about the defense?
There’s been no shortage of discussion about the new offense Urban Meyer spent spring installing at Ohio State. That’s the name brand product. It’s the sexy new thing. It’s only natural that would dominate the headlines.
Defense, however, has been what Ohio State has hung its hat on for much of the past decade.
And, by the way, that defense was pretty bad at times last year. It almost went unnoticed because of the handwringing about the offense that gave way almost immediately to euphoria about the new scheme Meyer would bring in, but there were times injuries and youth reduced the 2011 Buckeye stop troops to near helplessness.
Now most of that group is back, for better or for worse, so what did we see in spring to make us think it will be better?
Well there were the more svelte bodies, for one. John Simon went from ripped to super ripped, inspiring second thoughts about the idea he is not quite suited to play the standup Leo rush end position. Johnathan Hankins came back having dropped a few more pounds, too, meaning he should be able to go strong for longer periods of time.
Having the two best players from last season in better shape seems to be a good starting point, but are there pieces available to supplement what they can do well?
That remains to be seen.
The line wasn’t bad last season, but it was somewhat limited by lack of athleticism. There were four stout starters, but only Simon had the quickness to scare opposing pass protectors. He looked even better in the spring, but the jury is still out on the issue of finding him help.
Steve Miller showed some potential in his first spring in the program. He bulked up a bit and seems to have the ability to get around the edge, but he is still raw when it comes to moves. He will need to keep getting stronger and to supplement his quickness with some kind of counter to keep offensive linemen from cheating outside on him.
Michael Bennett, another sophomore like Miller, also had a strong spring as the new strong side defensive end. He replaced Adam Bellamy, a very solid contributor last season, and I think he can be a more disruptive force because of his long arms and greater quickness. Bellamy is tenacious and tough and should remain a guy worthy of playing time, but Bennett has a lot of upside.
The new starter might be more suited to the 3-technique than the 5 where they had him in the spring, however, and just maybe he’ll end up there depending on how everything else shakes out. Garrett Goebel returns at nose guard with Hankins at the 3-technique, but I still think the best lineup slides Goebel to reserve status with Hankins anchoring the middle and Bennett holding down a guard-tackle gap. That would coincided with moving Simon back on the strong side with someone new – such as Miller – at Leo. Of course that Leo could be someone old, too, depending on the status of Nathan Williams, a senior who missed spring ball while recovering from significant knee surgery. He was the best outside rusher on the team before he got hurt, but what he’ll be able to do (and when) this fall remains to be seen. Help could also come from a group of freshmen comprised of Se’Von Pittman (who was here in spring but also slowed by a knee problem), Noah Spence or Adolphus Washington. Pittman and Washington could both start on the weak side before growing into strong-side (5-technique) guys while Spence is considered a pure speed pass rusher.
Chase Farris and Joel Hale both had some nice moments with the second team and seem like potential depth guys now with bigger roles in the future, but they will face heavy competition from the waves of defensive linemen Meyer has recruited in the past six months. The same is true of J.T. Moore, a sophomore who competed with Miller for playing time at Leo but failed to make an impact last season or in spring ball. He may be better suited for the other end spot as well.
At linebacker, there was good news and bad.
On the plus side, Ryan Shazier left no doubt he took advantage of his second winter in a college weight room. Noticeably thicker in his upper body, he did not appear to lose any quickness despite gaining 16 pounds (the cowboy collar under his jersey was a nice addition, too, at least as far as intimidating aesthetics go). I thought he played faster, too, letting his instincts blend with the experience gleaned from playing significant minutes late last season. He seemed locked in from day one and took a more vocal role on the defense.
Etienne Sabino was in a bit of a new role playing over a slot man instead of a tight end, but he seemed comfortable doing so. He didn’t do a lot to stand out, but he held his own in space.
The early returns were encouraging with Curtis Grant at middle linebacker, but his spring was abbreviated by a stinger. Before that, he played more loose and gave a hint to why he was so highly recruited. A big guy who runs smoothly, he is a big hitter once he figures out where he’s going.
Storm Klein is a bit of a wild card heading into his senior season. Injuries continued to be a problem for him, and his limitations outside the box figure to give Grant the inside track to winning the starting role this fall. Meyer spoke of Grant as one of the key figures on the defense.
On the bright side, youngsters Connor Crowell and Luke Roberts held their own both with the second team and in some surprising first-team reps necessitated by injuries to veterans. This is another position that will get needed reinforcements when the recruiting class arrives this summer.
Josh Perry, an early enrolling freshman like Roberts, showed flashes of the athleticism that earned him one of the first offers of the 2012 class but was slowed by injury for much of the spring.
The secondary remains a work in progress, and it should be interesting to see how the tweak in coverage style affects the group. From day one, it was noticeable that the corners and safeties both were driving hard on patterns, getting their hands on balls and making things happen. That is what the move to “off’ coverage was designed to do, let them drop, read the play and react. The corners played with some feistiness, too, no doubt derived from fiery new position coach Kerry Coombs. Bradly Roby continues to look like a star in the making, and Travis Howard appears more coverage in the new cover scheme.
Doran Grant is a good athlete with some physicality to him as the No. 3 guy, and Adam Griffin had a surprising impact as he rose up to snatch the second back-up corner spot. He passed true freshman Tyvis Powell, who is a big, impressive looking physical specimen who is probably better suited to play safety.
Safety was plagued by injury as well, so It was hard to get a good gauge of what progress was made. Here the style was tweaked a bit, too, with a strong safety regularly playing in the box.
Quite frankly, it’s tough to tell much about safety play in the practice setting unless someone is knocking heads all the time or clearly getting burned. They weren’t live tackling on a regular basis, either, so it remains to be seen if that area will be improved from last season.
As far as athletic ability, the Buckeyes have plenty to burn in C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant with Orhian Johnson looking like he continued to build on the progress he made as last season wore on. Corey Brown also received some starter reps when Barnett and Bryant went down with injury and looked solid. Ron Tanner offers potential for the future.