Meyer ‘Fired Up’ to Coach Ohio State Offense this Spring
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — From clown show to air show.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Urban Meyer is hoping his offense has come full circle in just one short year at Ohio State.
The second-year coach inherited a group that ranked 107 out of 120 teams in total offense during the 2011 season. The Buckeyes were one of the six-worst teams in all of Division I college football at throwing the ball two years ago, but Meyer turned them into the top-scoring outfit in the Big Ten last season.
Now Meyer is expecting even more as the Buckeyes prepare to open this spring camp with an established Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, not to mention a number of other key players back from last year’s perfect season.
“I’m fired up,” Meyer said recently when asked about the guys he has coming back on offense this spring.
“It all starts with the offensive line. Coach (Ed) Warinner took an offensive line that wasn’t very good and made them I think – I don’t think, it’s the best offensive line by far (in the Big Ten).”
Photo by Dan Harker
The Buckeyes will have to replace senior Reid Fragel at right tackle, but the four other starters return for their senior seasons at Ohio State. They are anchored by left tackle Jack Mewhort, a guy who Meyer plans to lean on for a lot of leadership this spring, and center Corey Linsley.
Linsley was a kid who could barely chew gum and get to class on time when Meyer took over the program, but Linsley has done a complete 180 in his first season under Meyer, Warinner and the new regime.
The same could be said about Marcus Hall, a fifth-year senior out of Cleveland’s Glenville High School who found himself on the wrong side of Jim Tressel’s doghouse more than once during his early years at Ohio State.
Left guard Andrew Norwell might be the best offensive lineman in the Big Ten that no one is talking about, and sophomore Taylor Decker gives them a prototypical pass-blocker to replace Fragel on the outside.
“And we have two really good tight ends in (Jeff) Heuerman and (Nick) Vannett, so there’s some dudes right now,” Meyer said with a smile.
“I can’t wait to get back.”
That’s not something the 48-year-old coach would have said, or thought, about his offense a year ago. The transformation this group has undergone, and continues to undergo, has been nothing short of remarkable, but it’s not done yet.
Not by a long shot.
“There’s a lot to improve on,” OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman said.
“We have a lot of work to do still. That’s exciting knowing what we accomplished last year, not being at the potential we know we can be.”
Even getting to where they were in 2012 wasn’t easy. There were a lot of bumps in the road; a lot of times where Meyer and his young offensive coordinator were probably ready to throw out the new playbook and go back to running Robust 26 and Robust 27.
“It was interesting,” a smiling Herman said while shaking his head about some of his first practices at Ohio State.
Interesting the way bad reality television is interesting.
Installing an entirely new offense in the first year at a new program is never easy. It almost always comes with growing pains and, likely, with trial and error. Lots of error. A comedy of errors, in this case, or at least that was the way Meyer remembered his first seven or eight practices in Columbus.
“Our guys have been instructed, no one is allowed to watch that video tape,” Meyer said, referring to the early footage from last spring.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“It was a clown show. The third week was when all of a sudden it started to resemble an offense. That starts up front. Once we got our offensive line cooking, they really improved.”
Maybe that’s why Meyer is so excited about the job Warinner did last year and the group he has coming back for his second year with the program he calls home.
“We have four offensive linemen coming back and they’re my guys,” Meyer said of Mewhort, Norwell, Linsley and Hall.
“I love them to death.”
He is also quite fond of that kid who wears No. 5 and plays quarterback for the Buckeyes. With Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde in the backfield, Meyer had the 10th-ranked rushing attack in the country last season.
He also had the No. 2-rated offense in the country when it came to scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Most of that was Miller, who had 15 touchdowns through the air and another 13 scores on the ground last season.
His one one-yard touchdown run against Penn State was a thing of beauty, but it was Hyde who led the way with 15 touchdowns over the final seven games of the 2012 football season.
The 6-2, 235-pound back out of Naples, Fla. fell 30 yards shy of becoming Urban Meyer’s first 1,000-yard rusher at the tailback position, but he is back to make another run at that distinction as a senior in 2013.
“When I first got here, I wouldn’t have known who he was,” Meyer said during the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer.
“He had a bad reputation. He was kind of lazy and kind of fat, but Carlos Hyde has turned into a grown man. He’s really good, I mean like really good.”
Behind Hyde, the Buckeyes have a stable of tailbacks that includes Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball, a redshirt freshman who missed all of last season with a foot injury.
They should also have a little bit more of the one thing this offense really lacked a year go.
“Big plays are a problem for us,” Meyer said on National Signing Day.
“We didn't have the home-run hitter explosiveness, open-space players on offensive. But you know what? Some guys really grew up and did a good job for us.”
One of those guys was Corey Brown. They were hoping Jordan Hall would be another, but Hall’s season-ending injury has given him a chance to find a new role in Meyer’s offense as a fifth-year senior this spring.
“We moved Jordan Hall to H, so he’s going to be the H with Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall,” Meyer said.
“If they turn out to be what I think they are, that’s some legitimate stuff. Then you have Philly Brown we’re moving out to the Z and Devin Smith at the X.”
Wilson and Marshall won’t arrive at Ohio State until after spring ball. That’s one of the consequences of switching from quarters to semesters. Not only do the Buckeyes start spring ball about a month early, but there won’t be another waive of early enrollees the way there has been in the past.
Somehow it still seems like Meyer will find a way to get his best playmakers involved, just like he always does.
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