Despite Changes, Buchanan Still In Good Hands

Despite Changes, Buchanan Still In Good Hands

The more things change, the more they stay the same for Ben Buchanan. The Ohio State punter goes into his third year as the starter with a third head coach in that time, but his newest mentor, Urban Meyer, is yet another coach that preaches the importance of special teams.

When Ben Buchanan arrived at Ohio State, it was about as secure a place as a highly rated kicking specialist could find.

The three-star prospect from nearby Westerville Central was following in the footsteps of 2003 Ray Guy Award winner B.J. Sander, 2004 Lou Groza Award winner Mike Nugent and other successful kickers and punters like Josh Huston, Aaron Pettrey, Andy Groom and Kyle Turano.

All of those players excelled under the tutelage of Jim Tressel, the coach who famously ascribed as much importance to the punt as any other play in football. For much of Tressel's tenure, the team's emphasis on the kicking game was one of its hallmarks, a bedrock that helped the team to a historic run of Big Ten titles and wins against Michigan.

So when Tressel was forced out and it became apparent that Luke Fickell's grasp on his job was tenuous at best last fall, it could have been a concerning time for any specialist on the OSU roster, let alone one like Buchanan who was the first commitment in the prized 2008 recruiting class and who had put together a solid career as the Buckeyes' punter.

All is well, though, as the 2012 season inches closer. That's because OSU has hired Urban Meyer, a two-time national title winning coach at Florida who has his own thoughts on the importance of special teams – a belief that the third phase of the game is so important that he personally coaches the punt team and puts as much emphasis on the play as Tressel did.

"I think he very much does," Buchanan said. "That's one of the reasons I came here to Ohio State. I still have a great relationship with Coach Tressel and have so much respect for him because they did put a great emphasis on special teams. From what I've seen in the spring, Coach Meyer does feel the same way.

"We would have a punt unit meeting every single day. We're always working on our skills. Even if I wasn't punting that day, we would still have a punt period for guys to work on their kick slide, get downfield, those type of things. It's exciting. I think he's going to bring a lot of great things to our punt unit this year."

In fact, Meyer set about changing the Buckeyes' punt formation this year, bringing in the one he used at Florida while the Gators were finishing in the top 10 of the nation in net punting in five of the coach's six years, including second-place finishes in 2009 and '10.

The hope is that will help Ohio State, which famously had a punt blocked late in the Sugar Bowl win vs. Arkansas in 2010 and also suffered critical blocks vs. Toledo and Florida a season ago.

"He's had some great punters at Florida, so I'm excited to work with him," Buchanan said. "I think we have a good strategy going into the season. Really, what we're looking for is Coach Meyer likes to directional punt. We want to punt them in the corners toward the numbers.

"A lot of that has to do with a certain block spot that I'm going to look to meet. We want to get under a certain time – that 1.95-second, two-flat time is what we're looking for. I think if we accomplish those we could have a very good punt unit like we did last year."

Indeed, Buchanan averaged 41.3 yards on his kicks a season ago, and 27 of his 70 punts were placed inside the opposing 20. Twenty-five kicks were fair caught and only three were touchbacks, showing there was a lot to like about the way the Buckeyes performed a year ago.

But the two blocks showed there is improvement to be had, and that's what Meyer is going for with the new formation. It is a spread formation that has been credited with allowing defenders to get downfield quicker to tackle the return man, while it also provides blocking as Buchanan mentioned such players as Zach Boren and Johnny Simon as potential members of his protection shield.

"You can always have a chance to get better," Buchanan said. "I think with having two (blocks) last year, this new scheme of certain block spots that I'm trying to hit with the new shield we have up front, we have a lot of good guys up front. I'm just working on the block spot and being the most consistent punter I can, dropping them inside the 10 and changing the field position."

Buchanan has also added holding on field goals and extra points to his repertoire at the request of Meyer, who wanted the team's quarterbacks and receivers to focus on the primary tasks at hand. That should also help Buchanan should an NFL job open up, as most professional squads have their punters handle those duties.

Receiving such personal attention is something that excites Buchanan going forward, just as it did in the past under the previous regime.

"I enjoy the level of involvement that (Meyer) spends with us," Buchanan said. "He is like Coach Tressel. Coach Meyer, those guys are legends in the coaching field. They've won national championships. They've been around Heisman Trophy winners. To have them coach you is really a pleasure."

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