Meyer Enthused by Ohio State’s Off-Season Overhaul
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The first time Urban Meyer laid eyes on some of his new players, Ohio State’s first-year coach had to look away.
He wasn’t sure they would all buy in to his grueling off-season workout program, but he also knew the ones who did would look vastly different in the spring.
Meyer was right about both.
The Buckeyes have had a handful of defections this off-season, as new strength coordinator Mickey Marotti implemented his tiresome winter workout program after Ohio State’s loss in the Gator Bowl.
On Tuesday, Meyer was eager to praise the ones who stayed for their commitment to the program, to each other, and most importantly, to themselves and to becoming the best football players and the best student athletes they can become.
“We had an excellent offseason,” Meyer said while meeting with the media to preview Ohio State’s spring practice, which kicks off on March 28.
“I’d like to really tell our strength staff – and not just Coach Mick – but all of them like (Anthony) Schlegel, (Jeff) Uhlenhake and Kenny Parker. Our new weight staff has done a phenomenal job.”
Meyer has always believed championships are won and lost in the off-season, and he graded the work he saw from his new players as an A-plus. It was high praise coming from a coach who has not been one to pull his punches when talking about some of players he inherited from the previous regime.
“The team looks very different to me, especially the offensive line,” Meyer said.
Photo by Dan Harker
“I was very disappointed in some body types that were here and a lot of those bodies have changed. Very impressive.”
That includes the big man, Chris Carter, who is said to be down in the 350’s now after weighing upwards of 390 pounds during his first season in Columbus. It also includes senior Reid Fragel, who is making the switch from tight end to offensive tackle this off-season.
“I like him. He was challenged very directly and he (responded well),” Meyer said of the fourth-year guy out of Grosse Point, Mich.
“He’s put on about 20 pounds and is tinkering with 300 pounds right now. He looks fantastic.”
“Statuesque” is how one insider referred to Fragel’s body after his two-and-a-half month transformation. Meyer was actually more impressed by the way he reconstructed his mind and his commitment to the student part of being a student-athlete at Ohio State.
Photo by Dan Harker
“Academically he’s been on point,” Meyer said Tuesday.
“He was very lazy in the classroom, and oftentimes lazy-in-the-classroom correlates into lazy-on-the-football-field. He has a terrific family and we had a little conversation and I’m really proud of him.”
Fragel, who was the backup to Jake Stoneburner at tight end last season, is a serious contender for Ohio State’s starting right tackle position in the spring. The Buckeyes must replace a pair of starting tackles in Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts, along with their four-year starter at center, Michael Brewster.
Along with Fragel, the Buckeyes have also moved redshirt sophomore Darryl Baldwin over to offensive tackle after two seasons on the defensive line at Ohio State.
“Well, I trust Luke,” Meyer said of his defensive coordinator, Luke Fickell.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“We felt (Baldwin’s) best chance to play and help the team was on offense. Darryl came in and talked about it and he was great.”
According to Meyer, Fickell and former OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock spoke to Baldwin about the move a year ago, but he wasn't very excited about it. He wanted to stay on the defensive line, and even cracked the rotation on a limited basis, but with all the talent coming in, there wasn’t going to be much opportunity up front defensively.
Meyer said Baldwin was great about it this time around, and now they will get a chance to see how well he can play on the offensive side of the ball.
The Buckeyes will also add another key piece to the offensive line in the spring, when freshman offensive tackle Taylor Decker enrolls in time for the start of spring practice. Decker is expected to be joined by defensive end Se’Von Pittman and linebacker Luke Roberts.
The 6-8, 315-pound tackle out of Vandalia Butler is a real candidate to play early for Ohio State and new offensive line coach Ed Warinner, but only because he is getting to Columbus in the spring.
As one might expect, Meyer plans to have a hyper-competitive first spring at Ohio State, but by the end, he wants to have a pretty good idea of who his top 11 guys will be on both sides of the ball.
“We had a team meeting today at 6 a.m. – it was their last meeting before they get out of here – and I made it clear to them (what is expected during spring),” Meyer said.
“Sometimes, people say, ‘Well, I’m going to work hard and earn a spot in training camp.’ Spots are done by then. By the time we hit training camp (in the fall), it’s game mode. We’re trying to go beat Miami of Ohio.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be any opportunity for guys like Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence, two players from the class of 2012 who won’t arrive at Ohio State until after the spring quarter is over.
They will have a chance to win a spot, but it’s going to take something really impressive to capture Meyer’s attention.
“Go beat someone out,” he said.
“Because the two-deep will be set, so they’ll have to come in and defeat someone, have to beat them out to go get that spot. That’s pretty much standard.”
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