Buckeyes' Howard taking a leap
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Earlier this month, new Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said cornerback Bradley Roby had gone from being "bored" to a player who's reaching his potential.
Now, Meyer has similar praise for his other starting cornerback.
As the Buckeyes prepare for Saturday's season opener vs. Miami-Ohio, Meyer put Travis Howard among a handful of players he said used training camp to take the biggest jump. The change in Howard, Meyer said, is "monumental."
The entire Ohio State defense could benefit.
"Guys like Travis Howard are going to make a tremendous impact," Meyer said. "I'm not sure how much impact he's had in the past.
"He's a much better player than he was."
A fifth-year senior, Howard made all 11 of his career starts last season. The Miami (Fla.) native has great size for a cornerback at 6'1, 200, and though he has four career interceptions, Meyer said Howard was too often guilty of "lazy footwork" and not focusing on the fundamentals. Meyer said he's seen Howard embrace the challenges set forth by cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs and a strong push for his starting job by talented sophomore Doran Grant.
Howard has made sure that Grant will continue to wait for his turn.
"I see (Howard) much improved," Meyer said. "I really like coaching him right now. He's a lot of fun to be around."
Everett Withers, Ohio State's safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator, said Howard "has the size and speed...he looks like what a cornerback should look like." Now, he's also looking the part.
"We want to see the consistency," Withers said. "The last two or three weeks of camp he's been as good a corner as I've been around."
POINT OF EMPHASIS: Howard is one of a group of athletic secondary players who could potentially play a key role on special teams, and Meyer has made blocking kicks a point of emphasis.
"We're going to come after a bunch of punts," Meyer said. "Our best players are going to be on that (punt block) unit."
Mark it down - the Buckeyes are going to block some kicks. Just how many -- and how those plays change games -- remains to be seen.
STILL WAITING: Meyer called Monday's scheduled full-pads practice "a big day" for senior defensive end Nathan Williams, who's recovering from knee surgery nearly a year ago. Meyer said his hope is to have Williams available "on a limited basis" for Saturday's game.
HERE AND NOW: After a camp-long competition, Ohio State will start senior converted tight end Reid Fragel at right tackle over true freshman Taylor Decker, though offensive line coach Tom Warriner said both Fragel and Decker will see action in the game.
Decker is one of eight true freshmen on Ohio State's updated, game-week depth chart. The others on offense are Jacoby Boren, who's listed as the backup center, and Bri'onte Dunn at backup running back.
Defensively, Noah Spence is listed as a co-second teamer at the "Leo" position. Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt are listed as co-second teamers at defensive tackle. Three true freshmen -- Joshua Perry, Camren Williams and David Perkins -- are listed as backup linebackers; Perkins is listed third at one outside spot, while the others are listed second.
The group of rookies on the depth chart doesn't even include Devan Bogard, the first freshman to have his black stripe removed from his helmet in training camp as part of a camp ritual Meyer brought with him to Ohio State. Withers said Bogard is one of several players in the mix for playing time in the secondary in the Buckeyes' nickel defensive packages.
Meyer said three true freshmen will be on the first kickoff team Saturday.
"You go out and recruit guys that go play," Meyer said. "You're not recruiting them to redshirt."
True freshman running back Warren Ball, who was impressive in camp, is out indefinitely after having surgery on his foot.