The Buckeyes have held two spring practices and will now take the next 10 days off for spring break. They will get back at it on Monday, March 19, and stay at it until the Spring Game on April 14.
To this point, the media has been allowed to watch the first hour of the first practice, and we have spoke with Urban Meyer, defensive line coach Larry Johnson, receivers coach Zach Smith, and several of the defensive linemen and wide receivers.
Not much has been seen, but a lot has been said. Here are the five things that stood out to me so far over the first week.
1. Urban Meyer’s honesty about Joe Burrow’s situation.
Let me just start out by saying that I believe the quarterback battle is far from over and that too many onlookers are pushing Joe Burrow out the door before he even gets through spring camp. But since Burrow himself has brought up the discussion of transferring, it is now fair game. And with Urban Meyer addressing it himself, even more so.
My entire thought process leading up to spring ball was that Meyer would never tip his hand on where the quarterback battle stands because he wouldn’t want Burrow to transfer if he doesn’t win the job out of spring. But when he said that he owes it to Burrow to let him know where he stands at the end of spring ball so he can weigh his options, that surprised me a great deal.
A cynic could say Meyer’s okay with the idea of a transfer because OSU is three scholarships over 85 and that he likes Dwayne Haskins and Tate Martell. However, Burrow is a talented fourth-year junior who learned at the feet of J.T. Barrett, so this isn’t the area where Meyer is looking to manage the roster. And he would never want to leave the program with just two healthy scholarship quarterbacks. So yeah, I was surprised with Meyer’s blunt answer and honest approach.
Or maybe — just maybe — he can be this open because he thinks Burrow is going to win the job.
2. This is a mature and excited group of defensive ends.
Jalyn Holmes, Tyquan Lewis, and Sam Hubbard were part of the defensive end rotation in both 2016 and 2017, which limited reps for every defensive end on the roster in 2018 — including First-Team All-American Nick Bosa. Now that those three veterans are gone, you can see the excitement in the faces of Bosa, Jonathon Cooper, Chase Young, and Jashon Cornell.
And while each of these guys is excited about the reps that they are finally going to get, you’re also talking about a fourth-year player in Cornell, two third-year guys in Cooper and Bosa, and a second-year phenom in Young. This is not an inexperienced group, even if only one of them has seen the field on a regular basis to this point.
All four are confident that they will be able to live up to the standard that has been set over the past few years, and more than that, they are looking forward to making it happen.
3. Urban Meyer has given Demario McCall ownership.
Urban Meyer likes to talk about players taking ownership in the program and when they have put their time in as Buckeyes, they eventually walk around the facilities like it is their own. That’s what he wants to have happen. They then want to take care of what is theirs and leave it better than when they arrived.
Meyer has given redshirt sophomore H-back Demario McCall a plot of land to take ownership of — the return game. McCall returned three punts for 14 yards in 2016 and two punts for six yards in 2017. He also had two kickoff returns for 29 yards last season. So while he has experience, it’s not like the experience is extensive or even productive. Meyer has challenged McCall to become the productive player that his potential has always teased he could be.
When healthy — or almost healthy — McCall has been explosive in his handful of opportunities on offense. Now with a larger role for the Buckeyes on both offense and special teams, I am expecting a very fun season for McCall in 2018.
4. The 2017 class’s fingerprints are going to be all over this team.
The 2014 Ohio State football team would have never won a national title without the massive contribution from the 2013 recruiting class. That team featured second-year players in J.T. Barrett, Ezekiel Elliott, Jalin Marshall, Billy Price, Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell, and others.
This year, some of those second-year players who will be relied upon are J.K. Dobbins, Chase Young, Jeff Okudah, Isaiah Pryor or Amir Riep, Baron Browning, Thayer Munford, Shaun Wade, and several others. Even though they may not all be starters, they will all contribute each Saturday and create the depth that a championship team needs.
Meyer was very high on the 2017 class from the day they signed. He touted their maturity and their work ethic. We saw a little bit of that last season, but it will be on full display in 2018. He is as excited to see what this class can do as the fans are.
5. Zone 6 can’t get comfortable.
It was a big deal that every Ohio State upperclassman returned at receiver this year. Most of the draft-eligible receivers were weighing their options, and each of them decided to return. This season will be an opportunity for them to improve their respective draft stocks, which should keep them from taking it easy in 2018.
Another factor in keeping them from getting too comfortable are fellow receivers Jaylen Harris, Ellijah Gardiner, C.J. Saunders, and Demario McCall. As Zach Smith said this week, all it takes for those guys to get on the field is to beat somebody out. In that sense, every job is open. Sure, there are a lot of returners with experience, but the best players are going to play.
If Harris proves that he’s better than Binjimen Victor or Austin Mack, then he’s going to play. Or, if they show that they are as good as those guys, a place can be found for them. And, as Saunders said this week, if there are specific things that they can do on specific plays better than others, they can have a role in that way as well. This is a deep group of receivers that has gotten even deeper.
As Meyer said, however, it is time for these guys to go from good to elite.