Thinking Out Loud: Return to Ohio State Media Day
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It felt good to be back.
For the first time this fall, I was back in Columbus and back with a number of my former co-workers and colleagues at the Ohio State football training center on Sunday. After meeting with some of The Ozone staff in the morning – if you’re not already following Rob Ogden and Patrick Murphy you might want to change that – we headed over to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for OSU Football Media Day.
This is always one of my favorite days of the year because we actually get a chance to talk to some guys we don’t get much access to during the year. We also get a chance to interview these guys 1-on-1, or at least in much smaller groups than the usually 30-person swarm that surrounds Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller and the other OSU football stars.
Miller still had the largest group when he came out to talk, but that’s pretty standard. What really makes media day unique is the access to some of the younger guys. This year, that included names like Dontre Wilson, Mike Mitchell and Vonn Bell. There were a lot of interesting things that came out of the day, but here are a few highlights that stuck in my brain after all the interviews were over.
Who’s Going to Be the Running Back?
This seemed like a pretty obvious question a few weeks ago, but a lot has changed with Carlos Hyde’s suspension. The senior tailback is going to miss “at least” the first three games of the season, and we don’t know if that will be the end of his punishment. In the meantime, it seemed like Rod Smith would be battling Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball for the starting tailback spot in the season-opener, but there may be another name in the mix.
Photo by Dan Harker
Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton said senior Jordan Hall would likely be the starting tailback if the opener were tomorrow. He said Hall and Rod Smith had separated themselves from the pack, but it sounds like Hall is the guy they trust the most at this point.
Hall missed most of last season because of injuries (foot and knee) and he spent most of the spring – when he wasn’t battling a hamstring injury – playing the H-back spot. Drayton said the plan was always to get Hall more reps at tailback in the fall, but Hyde’s suspension has apparently turned that into a necessity instead of a luxury. Smith is still going to play, because this team is going to rely heavily on the inside zone power running play, just like last year. That could mean some real-time reps for Dunn or Ball, but Drayton also said freshman Ezekiel Elliott is still in the mix at tailback as well.
Elliott is more of a pass-catcher than the other guys outside of Hall, but it looks like Meyer really wants to get the football into Jordan Hall’s hands while they are missing Carlos Hyde. Eventually, it makes sense he would see more time at H-back, unless of course Dontre Wilson has taken the country by storm by then.
Is Dontre Wilson the Real Deal?
Photo by Dan Harker
There have been a lot of freshmen at Ohio State who have created an early buzz before they ever stepped on the field for a real game at Ohio Stadium. Some of them have gone on to sparkling careers in the scarlet and gray, while others have fizzled out just as quickly as they burst on to the scene.
Which one is Dontre Wilson? It’s impossible to say at this point, but all signs point to an incredibly bright future for the speedster out of Texas. For as much hype as Noah Spence created last fall, Wilson’s legend is already on a completely different level. There weren’t many times on Sunday where I conducted an interview without one of Wilson’s teammates gushing about the shifty tailback. It started with Urban Meyer, but Stan Drayton was practically drooling when I asked him about how they might be able to use Wilson this season.
Rod Smith, Jordan Hall, Mike Mitchell, Vonn Bell and just about everyone else had big things to say about Wilson, whether they were prompted or not. The only real question right now is how they’re going to get him on the field. Drayton said they know Braxton Miller wants him out there and it’s important to keep that in mind, but Meyer said he wasn’t sure if Wilson was ready to play the H-back role in his offense.
According to Wilson, it’s a role they talked to him about during his recruitment. He said he first took notice of Meyer during the 2009 BCS National Championship game between Florida and Oklahoma. Meyer’s Gators only put up 480 yards of offense in that game – certainly not one of the highest outputs of his career in Gainesville – but they passed and ran all over the Sooners.
Percy Harvin carried the ball nine times for 121 yards and a touchdown in that game, and Wilson wants to be that type of player for the Buckeyes. He reportedly ran a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash at Ohio State and it sounds like it’s been close to impossible to get a clean look at him this fall.
We’ll see if that can carry over to his rookie season at Ohio State, but we know Meyer isn’t afraid to use freshmen if they can help him win.
One to Watch For
Photo by Dan Harker
If there was one name that seamed to roll of the tongue for Meyer on Sunday – other than his usual love affair with guys like Braxton Miller and Jack Mewhort – it had to be Evan Spencer. The third-year receiver out of Illinois has probably been one of the least talked about players on either side of the ball since Meyer took over the program, but that all changed on media day.
There were at least two or three times during his media day press conference where Meyer mentioned how far Spencer had come this offseason, going as far as to say that he is a completely different player than he was last season. For the first time, well probably ever, Meyer actually used three names when talking about the receivers he could depend on for the upcoming season.
Philly Brown and Devin Smith have been the only two guys in that group until recently. Meyer and Zach Smith keep talking about the need for a third receiver to emerge as a dependable weapon this year. I thought it was going to be Michael Thomas. The sophomore wideout really impressed me in the spring, but his name didn’t come up once during my interviews on media day. It appears as though Spencer is going to be that guy, at least on the outside, with Chris Fields being a guy who could get some looks inside.
One name I wouldn’t expect to hear a lot from early in the year? Corey Smith. There’s obviously a reason Meyer went out and recruited a junior college player to come to Ohio State, but any ideas that Smith is a ready-made player who can step in and play immediately are probably a bit idealistic.
Smith has a lot of ability. He was a tremendous high school player and a lot of teams were willing to overlook some of his past issues because of his potential as a football player. In fact, Smith said Urban Meyer was the only coach who asked him for details on some of his past transgressions. Meyer laid out the expectations for Smith at Ohio State, saying he would make sure he got his diploma – and possibly a shot at the NFL – if he was willing to keep himself on track.
While Smith is more experienced than the other players in his recruiting class, he admitted it’s still going to be a learning process for him. He obviously didn’t get the kind of coaching at his junior colleges that he will at Ohio State, so it’s probably a lot to expect he can jump right in and play early this season.