Meyer Focused on Fixing Fundamentals Heading into Year Two
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Just outside Ohio State’s team meeting room, around the corner and down the hall, is a picture of the 2012 Buckeyes. A team of destiny. A team of heart. A team worth remembering inside the hallowed halls of the Woody Hayes athletic complex which sits just north of Ohio Stadium on the opposite bank of the Olentangy River.
There will also be not one but two walls inside the WHAC dedicated to this fine group of young men who went on an incredible and unforgettable journey with Urban Meyer and his coaching staff during their first year in the program.
“In my history with players, they like that,” Meyer said last week.
“They like to come in (later in life) and bring their children, bring their families and then say, `I was a part of that.’ ”
Photo by Dan Harker
These Buckeyes didn’t win a national championship like some of the great teams that came before them. They didn’t win a Big Ten championship either, but names like John Simon, Zach Boren, Johnathan Hankins, Etienne Sabino, Reid Fragel and Nathan Williams will forever be a part of history at Ohio State.
While that group won’t be around next season, Meyer is only getting started in Columbus. Even he couldn’t have predicted how quickly things came together for the Buckeyes after a 6-7 season under interim head coach Luke Fickell year ago.
It was a magical ride, filled with grand heroics, tense moments and lucky breaks. That’s a winning recipe for any program, but Meyer would like to rely less on luck and more on fundamentally sound football than his team did throughout large portions of the 2012 football season.
“Fundamentally, we are not where we need to be,” Meyer said. “I was fortunate enough to at the championship game, and I think probably the best fundamental team that I've certainly seen this year won that game.
“For me to say we have to get there next year, that's like talking about we have to go fly to the moon. You know what we have to do? We have to find out who can play defensive line for us. We lost some really good players.”
Not only do the Buckeyes have to replace a pair of senior captains on the line in Simon and nose tackle Garrett Goebel, they also have to replace Nathan Williams and big Johnathan Hankins, who opted to turn pro after his junior season at Ohio State.
Photo by Dan Harker
Hankins is projected as a first round draft pick in April’s NFL Draft, and cornerback Bradley Roby could have been a first day pick if he had opted to make a similar jump after his redshirt sophomore year with the Buckeyes.
Roby and Hankins were both a part of Jim Tressel’s 2010 class, which also included names like Christian Bryant, Carlos Hyde, Andrew Norwell and Rod Smith.
“When he is playing his best, he's as a good of a corner as there is in college football,” Meyer said of Roby, who quickly became one of his favorite guys on the OSU football team.
“I think he's got a brilliant career ahead of him. I think he's still a young player who has to develop in some areas.”
OSU cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs believes Roby could be a first round pick with a little more seasoning, which is one of the primary reasons he opted to return for another season in Columbus.
That and a chance to play for a national championship, but Meyer isn’t ready to start buying the hype that is already surrounding his football team after a perfect 12-0 season in year No. 1 under the new regime.
“Where are we? I don't like to feed on the speculation. I think we're a very good team that can compete with any team in the country,” Meyer said of his 2012 group.
“To say that we could go out and beat a team like (Alabama) – first of all I don't want to speculate, but if I was going to give you an honest answer right now, I'd say that we have too many holes to fill.”
Along with all four starters on the defensive line, the Buckeyes also have to find a replacement for cornerback Travis Howard and, more importantly, two linebackers to replace Sabino and Boren. Those two really helped stabilize things for the Ohio State defense at the end of last season.
“We have some stability in the back end,” Meyer said.
“We have the two safeties back and Roby, so it’s three out of four. It’s stable. Our defensive line and our linebacker position aren’t stable. If you throw the back end in that now, we’re dealing with an unstable defense.”
Roby’s return will give Doran Grant a chance to slide into the starting lineup without having the pressure of being Ohio State’s No. 1 corner in 2013. Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett return as the starting safeties, but Meyer has to find someone who can emerge as the team’s leader at middle linebacker.
Photo by Jim Davidson
At one point, that guy was supposed to be Curtis Grant. Meyer himself said it had to be Curtis Grant, but it appears as though that ship has since sailed. We’re being told Grant will likely play more Sam linebacker and even some rush end (Leo/Viper) for the Buckeyes in the spring.
That could leave sophomore Camren Williams to battle incoming freshman Mike Mitchell for the middle linebacker spot. The outside will be a race between guys like Joshua Perry, Jamal Marcus and maybe even David Perkins.
The good new is, Ryan Shazier will be a year older and should take on some of the leadership responsibilities over on defense. Offensively, the Buckeyes return nearly everyone from the 2012, including tailback Carlos Hyde.
They will also add Jordan Hall and talented group of incoming freshmen to the mix, but must find a replacement for Reid Fragel at right tackle.
“The truth is we're very strong in certain areas, we've made great strides in certain areas, however, there were quite a few that were below average performances,” Meyer added.
“So we've got to get those fixed. The saying is, `If it's strong, enhance it and make it even stronger; if it's weak, fix it.' So that's where that truth comes back.”
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