Spring Practice Insider: Meyer Brings New Look to Offense
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer wanted to get a look at his whole team in the first practice of the spring, but Ohio State’s first-year head coach just couldn’t help himself.
Except when he was working with the punt team, which Meyer said he “loves,” the 47-year-old was glued in on quarterback Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes offense during his first practice in Columbus.
Exactly 121 days after being named the 24th head coach in the storied history of Ohio State football, Meyer was forced to move things inside the indoor practice field of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center because of severe winds on an otherwise beautiful day in the Buckeye State.
Herman Brings Rapid-Fire
While it was the first day for Meyer as head coach of the Buckeyes, it was also the first day for offensive coordinator Tom Herman, as well as the rest of the OSU coaching staff outside of Stan Drayton, Luke Fickell and Mike Vrabel.
Herman was very hands-on with Miller and the other quarterbacks, but he also set the tone for practice offensively. He and Meyer are trying to implement the spread offense this spring, but it’s not going to happen over night.
Meyer jumped in to coach Miller and Kenny Guiton on the art of the inside hand-off, a play that will become a staple of Meyer’s read-option offense at Ohio State. It was a pretty crude version, but the foundation is already being laid for an entirely new look on offense.
Miller and the other quarterbacks practice the zone-read play, the outside option pitch and even the hurry-up, no huddle offense on day one of Urban Meyer’s first spring at Ohio State. Even Meyer was impressed with the hurry-up offense Tom Herman brought with him.
“We ran a lot of plays out there today,” Meyer said.
Meyer said it was a lot of plays, even for him, but he is excited about the rapid-fire pace Herman is trying to install. It’s something Meyer tried to use briefly at Florida, but never really perfected with the Gators.
The Braxton Watch
The first practice for Braxton Miller with the new coaching staff looked a lot like the old practices, except for some of the different things they asked him to do with the football. It’s clear that Miller is going to excel in the read-option, and there were a number of times he broke open on a quarterback keeper (albeit on a non-contact day without full pads).
Miller’s throwing was good, but he is still inconsistent with his ball placement. His timing was better, and he hit 8-10 straight dump-off passes with perfect precision. As a whole, Guiton actually had the better day throwing the ball.
The junior backup showed good arm strength and hit most of his passes in practice, prompting Meyer to say that both of his quarterbacks can “physically throw” the ball and he “feels good” about both of them.
Meanwhile, freshman Cardale Jones, is a big guy for a quarterback. He reminds me of Terrelle Pryor, size-wise, and even seems to move a little like Pryor although I’m not sure he has the same athleticism. He has a strong arm and really guns it, but Jones looked pretty lost on day one.
A couple times he threw it to a spot where there was no receiver, so it’s going to take time for him to catch up.
Meyer Not Impressed with Skill Position on Day 1
One of the biggest issues during Wednesday’s practice was the lack of consistency from the guys catching those passes. Meyer was not impressed with the skill position players on day one, saying he should be walking off the field thinking "wow" about 2-3 guys.
He wasn’t feeling that way Wednesday, especially after watching sophomore Evan Spencer struggle to catch the football. Spencer was with the first group most of the day, along with classmate Devin Smith and junior Chris Fields.
Fields was in the slot with the first-team offense, bumping junior Corey “Philly” Brown to the second team. He was joined by sophomore Tyrone Williams, who has a pretty solid day catching the ball, and freshman Michael Thomas. Sophomore Verlon Reed was limited in practice and did not take part in the team drills.
Both Fields and Brown got some handoffs out of the slot and Smith made a nice grab and took it up field for a big gain after Travis Howard slipped. Meyer called him “fast … a separator … a speed guy,” but said it takes more than speed to be a playmaker.
Tight end Jake Stoneburner is 100 percent recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of the Gator Bowl and he spent most of the day with the first-team offense. Jeff Heuerman also got some looks with the ones, and also the twos, along with Nick Vannett.
Running Backs Gaining Momentum
Meyer did not seem to be talking about the running back position, and said after practice that the tailbacks have positive momentum right now. He was pleased with them today and felt they had kept that momentum going.
Senior Jordan Hall took the most snaps with the first-team offense, followed by Rod Smith and then Carlos Hyde. It seemed liked Hall and Smith were best suited for the style offense Ohio State is going to run.
Freshman Bri'onte Dunn looked a little lost for his first day. Physically, he's a specimen, but he struggled in the blocking drill and Stan Drayton made him redo it a number of times.
Fragel, Mewhort Anchoring Offensive Line
Maybe the most impressive looking player on the field coming out of winter conditioning was senior Reid Fragel. The former tight end was working as the first-team right tackle on day one, and he looks like an NFL tackle. Meyer said he is 298 pounds now with less than 10 percent body fat, which is incredibly impressive for a 6-8 kid.
Across from Fragel on the left side of the line was redshirt junior Jack Mewhort at left tackle and true junior Andrew Norwell at left guard. Marcus Hall was the first-team right guard and Corey Linsley took the bulk of the snaps as the first-team center.
Redshirt freshman Brian Bobek also got some snaps at center with the ones, but Meyer said Linsley is the first-team center. He also seemed to be impressed with true freshman Jacoby Boren, who he referred to as a tough nut.
Boren got a few looks on the second-team line, along with fellow freshman Taylor Decker, who jumped in for Tommy Brown at right tackle. Converted defensive lineman Darryl Baldwin was the second-team left tackle with second-year linemen Chris Carter and Antonio Underwood at the two guard spots.
First Team Line: LT Mewhort, LG Norwell, C Linsley, RG Hall, RT Fragel
Second Team Line: LT Baldwin, LG C.Carter, C Bobek/Boren, RG Underwood, RT Brown/Decker
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