Buckeye Coaching Staff Addressing Second Year of Challenges
By Patrick Murphy
Last year Urban Meyer and his coaching staff did the unthinkable. They took a 6-7 Ohio State Buckeyes team, adjusting to their second new head coach in two years, and turned them into 12-0.
They created motivation for a team that had no carrot to reach for yet found perfection.
It was an extraordinarily difficult task to develop those young men as players and come out smelling like a rose in the process.
This year’s task may be even more of a challenge for this group of coaches as they look to build off the success from a year ago.
Gone are the natural born leaders that Meyer praised so heavily throughout last season. Added is the pressure of being considered one of the best teams in the country, knowing one slip up could cost everything.
During the fourth practice of fall camp it was apparent the work these coaches have before them.
The staff has been praised for their ability to recruit the best young talent in the country to Ohio State in a short period of time, but with that young talent comes 18-year old men, still learning life and stepping onto a college campus as a student for the first time.
In high school, things likely came easy for these players, but these coaches are here to show them that nothing comes easy as a Buckeye. They must understand the demands placed upon them in order to contribute for this team and that mistakes are not to be tolerated.
This is the essence of the work called coaching.
Wide receivers coach Zach Smith and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs showcase this best, if for no other reason than the caliber and reputation of the young players they are working with.
Photo by Jim Davidson
A player like Jalin Marshall brings talent and speed to Ohio State’s roster and it is evident to anyone watching that he has potential, yet Smith is still unhappy when he does not make a catch.
Freshman Frank Epiptropolous got an earful from his position coach because he was late coming out with the second unit. At Upper Arlington this may not have hurt the team, but the Buckeyes cannot afford a player to miss his cue.
Corey Smith, a JUCO transfer, got the wrath of Zach Smith after not making a catch over Eli Apple. The coach came running to the corner of the end zone, pointing at Apple while yelling, “he’s a freshman” to the receiver. The ball landed well out of bounds, yet it was that the freshman got the better of the junior on the play that brought the fury.
Even much ballyhooed freshman Dontre Wilson does not get a pass. Despite the obvious talent and attributes he possesses, he must perfect the little things first. More than once, Smith stepped on to the field before the snap to adjust Wilson’s positioning slightly or correct his stance.
In DeSoto, Texas, these little nuances would not have been addressed, but they must at this level because they could be the difference on a play.
While Smith “coached up” his receivers, Coombs was letting the defensive backs hear it on the other side of the ball.
Coombs, who in the spring said he was going to “callous up” the young players, took no issue with letting the inexperienced know what they did wrong, even on plays that fell incomplete.
The same play Smith took issue with Corey Smith, Coombs was quickly over to Apple to make corrections. It seemed he did not like the angle Apple took, despite winning the play and not allowing a completion. If put in the same situation against Allen Robinson of Penn State or Jared Abbrederis of Wisconsin, the result could be differnt if the defender is not perfect, and more costly.
Kerry Coombs offers some positive feedback with a high five.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Vonn Bell had the attention of the defensive coaches – both Coombs and Everett Withers – as they try and help the highly-ranked freshman reach his potential.
Usually matched up against a tight end in the slot, Bell got beat on a few plays due to quick moves or raw size. The coaches were not loud in their criticism of his play, but made it a point to help clean up mistakes as soon as the whistle blew.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Despite coaching the defensive line, Mike Vrabel had no issue riding freshmen linebackers Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson. Both players come in highly touted, but the Super Bowl-winning linebacker was not going to let either off easy.
Like most of this staff, tight ends coach Tim Hinton is a fiery guy and he showed that on a mistake by Marcus Baugh. After making the catch and doing the hard work to get inside the one-yard line, Baugh allowed the ball to be stripped before crossing the plane of the goal line and it was recovered by the defense.
Hinton, moving faster than expected, screamed at the freshman, “the ball can never comes out” over and over again. He was in his face, which is impressive considering Baugh is close to a foot and a half taller than Hinton, for well over a minute about ball security and stressed it loudly again several minutes later.
Though Meyer was rather tame in comparison to some of his staff, he was not absent from the coaching. He once stopped a play pre-snap to address an issue he saw with his offensive line and was consistently talking to his quarterback when Braxton Miller was not throwing in 11-on-11.
One final freshman who is still learning the way things are done at Ohio State is Australian punter Cameron Johnston. Early on, Johnston’s punts under pressure were inconsistent and coaches let him know this.
At one point, a member of the staff hollered, “Cameron, I thought you wanted this! Show us you want this” after a punt went awry.
These coaches do not do this to embarrass these players in front of their peers or the media, but in order to make the point.
Football is a man’s game and until this point, these young players have been playing with boys.
It is likely, with the depth issues the Buckeyes have at some positions, that some of the new guys will be required to contribute this season. Though they are young, Ohio State cannot afford inexperienced mistakes as they chase their ultimate goal.
Things must be cleaned up now, so they do not leak over into games.
With under a month until the Buckeyes open against Buffalo, these coaches will continue to do all they can to turn these black-stripped freshmen into Scarlet and Gray Buckeyes.