COLUMBUS, Ohio – This is a different Urban Meyer, a man more comfortable with his surroundings and more familiar with his players.
This is the same Meyer, too, demanding, intense and straightforward. His second spring practice at Ohio State officially kicked off Tuesday, and Meyer both looked and barked like a guy who’s done this before.
“The only thing I don’t feel great about it is I look and don’t see my leaders from last year,” Meyer said. “I grew to love those guys. But I feel there is so much carryover. On defense there are a lot of young puppies running around out there, but on offense there’s a lot of carryover.
“If we put together a good defensive line and linebackers we’ll have a good team. If we don’t, we won’t. It’s that simple.”
The bowl-banned Buckeyes went 12-0 last fall, playing their best football in the second half of the season and not-so-subtly sending a message to the rest of the Big Ten about what’s to come. Most of Meyer’s latest recruits aren’t here yet, but the players who are make up his team, one that’s confident and much more comfortable than it was in this spot a year ago.
The players and coaches are speaking the same language. They’re thinking the same thing, too, even if the words “national championship” are frowned upon inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“Those two words…we don’t use them very often around here,” Meyer said. “The key to being good is just to play great defense in the plan to win. In the first half of last year we didn’t play great defense, but in the second half we did.”
Meyer took this job to win those championships, and though he’s probably ahead of schedule in some regards, he wants his players to work like they haven’t won a thing yet.
In truth, they haven’t. But with quarterback Braxton Miller and a bunch of runners and pass-catchers returning, the Buckeyes are going to score points. The biggest concern now is with the lack of experience in the defensive front seven, but the Buckeyes have athletes and talent in place.
They have another soft schedule on deck. At some point, they’ll see the rewards from Meyer’s highly-rated recruiting classes of both 2012 and 2013. Right now, they’re trying to maximize their allotted time and keep pushing everything forward.
“One of our mantras is just, ‘Grade the day,'” Meyer said. “We’re going to evaluate every day. A guy like (Bradley) Roby gets two picks, comes out and performs (on the first day). That’s what we want to see.
“We, as a football team, have some dreams. So we’re going to grade the day. You come out and do your job.”
Meyer said Miller on Tuesday “had a heck of a day, but it’s just one day.” On Roby, a fourth-year junior who flirted with the NFL Draft, Meyer said “I’m glad he came back.” As for the chemistry and production in the passing game, “The appropriate term last year was clown show at this time. It’s not a clown show now.”
On a banner at the south end of Ohio State’s indoor practice facility are the words, “The Chase.” Meyer said under the banner is some workout equipment the players use when the coaches aren’t permitted to supervise or oversee them, so it’s called the chase area.
But “The Chase” has more symbolic meaning, and though Meyer said that meaning qualifies as in-house business, it’s really not a secret. Standards and expectations have never been higher. Meyer treats the first practice like it’s the last because he won’t be happy until the Buckeyes are one of the last teams practicing at the end of a season.
“It’s within the team, but we’re all chasing something,” Meyer said. “They’re chasing the dream. We’re 15 practices behind every team (in the country that played) in a bowl game. Some guys are chasing a starting position, some are chasing bowl games, some are chasing NFL contracts.”
One practice into spring football, 10 months from the really big goals and The Really Big Game, The Chase is on in Columbus.