COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Ohio State won the inaugural College Football Playoffs championship in January, yet the Buckeyes do not utter the word ”repeat” around their spring practices.
”We don’t even have conversation about that around here,” coach Urban Meyer said.
Instead, they try to deal with the here and now. The thinking is, a team concentrating so much on what it has done runs the risk of overlooking the next practice, the next opponent, the next challenge.
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”Our focus – we call it clarity of purpose around here – the purpose is real clear,” Meyer said. ”That’s to be nine (position groups) strong by the time we hit September.”
Meyer has spent much of this spring, which will be capped by the team’s annual intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday, lamenting his team’s lack of depth on the lines, the need for a marquee playmaker, nagging injuries and the fear that his players will be soft or complacent.
Yet he knows he’s got a powerhouse, confident team. How many other coaches have an All-American, game-changing rush lineman like Joey Bosa? Or three proven starting quarterbacks? Or a lineup dotted with other stars like Ezekiel Elliott and Joshua Perry?
Here is a look at some of the Buckeyes’ strengths heading into the break before camp begins again in August:
Most of the talk might be about Ohio State’s offense, particularly its three-headed quarterback attack, but the defense also was brilliant in last year’s postseason. And it started up front with Bosa, a 6-foot-5, 278-pound junior-to-be who many (behind his back) liken to laid-back, surfer dude Jeff Spicoli of ”Fast Times At Ridgemont High.”
He had 13.5 sacks last year, one off the school record, and 21 tackles for a loss.
”I can always improve my game and we could win again,” he said. ”That’s always the goal.”
Cardale Jones, who was an unknown until leading the team to wins in the Big Ten title, national semifinal and championship games, is healthy this spring and taking most of the snaps.
Two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year Braxton Miller (shoulder surgery) and J.T. Barrett (broken ankle), who led the Buckeyes into the playoffs last season, have had limited work while they recover.
Sure, there could be some hurt feelings when Meyer picks one to start. But it’s still an embarrassment of riches at the most important position.
”It’s not as important (who starts) as people would want to make it seem,” said linebacker Joshua Perry. ”The great thing is that we know we have guys who have stepped in and made big plays in big games. So we trust everybody.”
LINES AND ANGLES
For most of the spring, the Buckeyes only had two healthy starters up front on offense. And Meyer wasn’t happy with the depth on defense.
But holdover first-teamers Taylor Decker, Billy Price, Jacoby Boren and Pat Elflein will be ready to handle the blocking when Ohio State opens at Virginia Tech on Sept. 7, and Bosa and Adolphus Washington will be chasing opposing ball-carriers along with (most likely) Tyquan Lewis and Tommy Schutt.
Elliott rushed for 1,878 yards as a sophomore a year ago in 15 games, while utility backs Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall, and leading receiver Michael Thomas are also returning.
Darron Lee came out of nowhere – he was a quarterback in high school – to become a surprise LB starter a year ago. He’ll be joined by Perry and acclaimed sophomore Raekwon McMillan in the center of the defense.
CB Doran Grant graduated, but Gareon Conley steps in opposite Eli Apple. Nick Vannett steps in for Jeff Heuerman at TE.
Meyer’s biggest fear is that his players will get fat-headed, gobble up all the praise being thrown at them and won’t work as hard. But he and everybody on his staff are on high alert to guard against that malady that frequently destroys champions.
There’s an underlying feeling on the team that there is enough talent to pull off another championship – if the Buckeyes just keep their heads on the task at hand.
”I’ve been in situations where complacency and entitlement does start to seep into the program,” said Meyer, who has twice come up short when trying to defend a national title while at Florida. ”And I have not seen it.”
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