New coach operating as same old Meyer
COLUMBUS, Ohio — New gig, new spring season, new surroundings.
Same Urban Meyer.
The old coach is officially back to coaching after Ohio State held its first practice of the spring football season Wednesday afternoon. Wearing what's becoming his signature white pullover, Meyer was active and rarely far from quarterback Braxton Miller during the 2 1/2-hour session.
"I felt great," Meyer said. "It felt great to blow the whistle, see guys run, talk to them and coach."
After leaving Florida and taking a year away from coaching, Meyer came back in November for the only job he said he'd come back for, the biggest one in his home state. His hiring has brought a new energy and new standards to a program that's coming off its first losing season since 1988.
The 2012 Buckeyes are facing a bowl ban but return nine starters on defense, play a very soft non-conference schedule and have upperclass leadership (21 seniors) and enough young talent to quickly erase last season's struggles.
Translation: The new coach is expecting big results. Instantly.
"I was very pleased with practice, however the same issues that were concerns going into it are still there," Meyer said. "The offensive skill guys making plays, I didn't see a whole lot of it. The depth on the offensive line is not very good.
"At Ohio State you should walk off the field going, 'Wow, who are those three guys?' I haven't done that yet.
"It has to be a wow factor. It should happen. There's a time where they had two first-rounders (at wide receiver) in (Anthony) Gonzalez and (Ted) Ginn. This is the highest level of football."
If Meyer has brought anything besides his reputation to this point, it's high standards. He's implemented his legendary and competition-based offseason program, and it's brought immediate and visible results. Gifted sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier is up to a solid 227 pounds. Senior Reid Fragel, making the move from tight end to offensive tackle, has gained 20 pounds while losing body fat. Junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who was anywhere from 330 to 345 pounds a year ago, is down to 317.
New strength coach — er, Assistant Athletic Director, Football Sport Performance — Mickey Marotti is making $380,000 annually. He's earning it, apparently.
"I love Hankins, but (he) still has some (pounds) to go," Meyer said. "I saw some jiggling out there I wasn't impressed with."
Meyer said his biggest spring priorities are installation of the offense and identifying his team's playmakers. The Buckeyes had almost as many suspensions at running back as they did players who scored a rushing touchdown in 2011. Three players shared the team lead in receptions with 14.
Yes, 14. For a 13-game season. That's unfathomable.
"Kids come (here) to catch the ball," Meyer said.
Meyer said he's pleased with what he's seen from Miller, who was in spring practice as an early enrollee a year ago, but was basically a fourth-stringer then, and top backup and the only scholarship quarterback returnee, Kenny Guiton.
"The answer is, yes, those guys can throw the ball," Meyer said. "I've been asked that a lot."
The multi-talented Miller will be expected to be the playmaker Meyer is calling for and to make those around him better. Meyer's spread offense should play to Miller's strengths, and the new coach said this offense will be "rapid-fire" in hustling to the line of scrimmage the way his Florida teams weren't.
Meyer said his offensive players left their first practice "exhausted. The amount of plays we got was incredible."
The Buckeyes will practice twice more by the end of the weekend and 15 times in all before the April 21 spring game. At that point Meyer wants to have his offense installed and his two-deep set. Everything remains a work in progress, though, and Meyer wasn't even a little rusty with his whistle Wednesday if he saw something he didn't like.
"We're in a sprint (to find the playmakers)," Meyer said. "We're in a journey for the other stuff. We have to develop depth at offensive line. If you don't have it, you don't have it. You have to go recruit it. The immediacy is installation of the offense and identifying guys who can take the ball and do something with it."
One practice in, these new Buckeyes know they're entering a brand new world.