Meyer Putting Together the Pieces like a Jigsaw Puzzler
By Patrick Murphy
Last week, when the ESPN Bus Tour made a stop in Columbus to get an inside look at Ohio State ’s fall camp, Joe Tessitore asked Urban Meyer the question on everyone’s mind.
“Two times in the past in your career you’ve known exactly what a national title winning team looks like at this stage of August,” he said to Meyer. “How would you compare the development of this Buckeyes team to teams in the past that have been able to play for it all?”
Photo by Dan Harker
“I don’t think we’re there yet,” was the simple answer from the head coach.
What is the difference Meyer sees between this Ohio State team and his two Florida teams that won it all?
Meyer did not address this specifically, but he did describe the current Buckeyes as a very attractive puzzle, “that is not put together yet.”
The main piece that is still searching for its proper spot on this team is leadership.
The 2012 Buckeyes had some of the best leaders in college football. Players like John Simon, Etienne Sabino, and Zach Boren helped give a team with no prospect of a championship the motivation to win every game and conclude the season 12-0.
Meyer compared Simon to Tim Tebow, who was the ultimate leader on the Florida teams. That is the type of leadership lost and must be replaced this year before talk of winning it all can start.
So far, the lack of leadership flared its nasty head before camp, as two elder players who were expected to step into prominent guidance roles were involved in incidents that resulted in suspensions.
Rod Smith, an upperclassman in his fourth season, also was involved in something over the winter that will force him to miss the opening game..
Leaders have begun to emerge during fall camp. Meyer recently pointed to Braxton Miller and offensive line as players who have stepped up and taken on the leadership role.
Defensively, as Meyer has pointed out, is where most of the leadership was lost. Ryan Shazier, Christian Bryant, and C.J. Barnett have all been mentioned as players attempting to become leaders.
This puzzle piece will not fit until these leaders are firmly in place and the team has embraced them.
Another issue that must be solved in order for Meyer to be comfortable talking about playing on January 6, is the defense. The historic Ohio State teams of the past have always been able to rely on their defensive unit to at least keep them in games.
The main issue this year is the inexperience.
The defensive line features immense talent, but does not return a single starter from last year. Each of the expected starters this year rotated in, so there is some experience, but it is unknow how these players will do as starters.
The linebackers have been discussed as a potential weakness. Shazier is the only returning player with vast experience and there is still a question of who will play where.
For much of the season, the Buckeyes will lineup with two linebackers in the nickel formation. With Curtis Grant missing much of the fall with a concussion, sophomore Josh Perry – who was penciled in at stongside linebacker – has not been out there with Shazier; rather it has been former walkon Joe Burger running with the first team.
The linebacker position was a question mark last season as well, but Zach Boren was able to make the switch from fullback to shore up the middle linebacker spot. There will be no Boren walking through the door this season, so this will need to be solved.
As far as the defensive backs, Barnett and Bryant should be solid safeties with Tyvis Powell in when in nickel. Bradley Roby is one of the suspended players, but is projected to be of All-American caliber when he returns opposite Doran Grant.
This may be the safest unit on the defense, provided they are able to make the necessary tackles if the opposition does catch the ball.
The offense may have to carry the defense early in the season, but if things get settled and clicking, Meyer will feel more comfortable about that piece.
A final puzzle piece that must fall into place is the quality depth of this team.
This is an issue that Meyer has stated can only really be solved through recruiting, but if the Buckeyes are going to be successful this season, they will need those there to contribute.
There comes a point in every year where there is an injury and the next man must step in. More commonly, players get tired and need to rotate out for a few plays. When that happens, the backup must not only be ready, but be capable.
Ohio State has developed talented depth in several positions, such as running back, wide receiver, defensive line, but others are still at issue depthwise. If there is an injury on the offensive line or at linebacker, there could be trouble.
If the Scarlet and Gray are to make it to the summit, the team they are looking to overtake is Alabama. Nick Saban has stockpiled talent like Meyer for the Buckeyes, but Saban has had six top-five recruiting classes, according to Rivals’ rankings, since he took over in 2007.
This is no slight on the previous regime at Ohio State, but Meyer and Saban recruit on another level. The Buckeyes have as much talent as anyone in the country in their starters, but Meyer will look deeper, which likely causes him concern in talking about a national championship.
The Crimson Tide on the other hand are loaded with talent multiple players deep.
There are plenty of reasons for a coach to be cautious about his team winning it all before they even step on the field. Urban Meyer’s group is no different this year.
The thing about putting a puzzle together though, is as long as you have the pieces, they should eventually fit together. Meyer has done it before in his career and is the man Buckeye fans wanted to do it again in Columbus.