For years, the Ohio State spring game was probably the least important practice of the year when it came to actual football-like content.
It was a fun day for the fans, no doubt, but the game itself – with its unbalanced rosters and scaled down game plans – didn’t exactly give the coaching staff the best film to work off of when it came to evaluating players.
However, it’s safe to say Urban Meyer – a man who doesn’t believe in wasting time or reps – has a different view of things.
His first appearance in Ohio Stadium last year was heavily hyped, and the coach made an immediate impact when he had team members stage a version of the “circle drill” at midfield that left the fans in the venerable Horseshoe roaring.
And with this year’s game set to kick off at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati this afternoon at 1 thanks to renovations to Ohio Stadium, Meyer is again planning to gain some key insight on his team based on the way it plays.
“It’s very important,” He said. “A lot of times the spring game makes or breaks if we have enough trust to play them in the game.”
And why not? Who cares if the rosters are askew or uneven, or if a player has to step into a role that is unfamiliar and then make an impact? That often happens in a real game, and how players adjust to that is important when it comes to whether the staff feels comfortable sticking a guy into a regular season game.
In addition, this is the last of 15 practices in which players can catch the eye of the coaching staff before the depth chart is set going into fall ball.
“We attack spring a little different than most programs,” Meyer said. “I always tell the guys, the spring depth chart, it’s set now. When we’re done with spring, that’s the way it’s going to be in the fall. Of course things change at times, but very rarely. In the fall we’re trying to go win a game. In the spring we're trying to identify the depth chart.
“That’s not taking into consideration the freshmen that will show up in June – obviously you can't – but I want the mentality here at Ohio State to be spring ball is when you go earn a spot. In the fall we're trying to go win a game.”
There is also some benefit to playing in front of what should be a big crowd in Cincinnati, as more than 25,000 tickets were sold as of last week. The coaching staff often talks about evaluating how players adjust to performing in front of the sellout crowds in Ohio Stadium rather than the relatively pressure-free confines of the practice field, and this is a chance for the Buckeyes to approximate that atmosphere.
“We are going to evaluate,” Meyer said. “The one thing, and I used to tell our guys the same thing at Florida, is that we have a built-in advantage that we can see how kids perform in the spotlight. There will be a lot of passes in the game, especially with the ones.
“I was thinking about sitting some our offensive linemen, but if you do you don’t have enough to scrimmage. It is really important to play in that environment. I hope we have a great crowd and we’ll find out who can make some plays in that big environment.”
The game will look like a real game, too, with only a few changes. Quarterbacks Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton will be in black non-contact jerseys as they have been all spring, while quarters will be shortened. There will be no kickoffs, and all punts will be fair caught.
Otherwise, the game will look normal to fans, with most of the starting offense on the Scarlet team and the No. 1 defense on the Gray side. And winning will be key, as the loser will have to do beautification work in the Buckeye Grove All-America garden next week.
“We’ll have two different coaching staffs,” Meyer said. “It's going to be two different coaching staffs. It's going to be very competitive. We’ll break down everybody from the secretaries to the managers to the interns. Everybody will be on a team. It's going to be winner-loser mentality.”
There will also be fun had by the team as it makes its way to the Queen City. The Buckeyes will hear from Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis before the game and will also get to see the Cincinnati Reds Museum, located at Great American Ball Park just east of Paul Brown Stadium.
Ohio State’s players will also get a chance to experience some true Cincinnati culinary staples like Montgomery Inn ribs, Skyline chili and Graeter’s ice cream.
“We're going to have a taste of Cincinnati,” said cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs, a longtime native of Cincy. “Maybe Andrew Norwell and Adolphus Washington can stand up and introduce those guys to some real food. That is part of our tradition. We're going to be on the banks of the Ohio River. It is a special thing. I want these kids who haven't seen that before to experience that. It is part of Ohio. Cincinnati is a great place.”
It will be a bit of a homecoming for those Cincinnati natives like Norwell (Anderson High School) and Washington (Sycamore), as Norwell said he will have a big family presence both at the game and the pregame tailgate.
For the rest of the squad, though, the chance to play in an NFL stadium – for the first time since a 2009 trip to Cleveland Browns Stadium and the first time in Cincinnati since a game vs. the Bearcats in Paul Brown in ’03 – is something to look forward to.
“I think it adds a little sense of excitement, going on the road and we're going to play in a big NFL stadium,” offensive lineman Jack Mewhort said. “I think guys are excited to get down there and see what its like. It’s an awesome honor to go play in Paul Brown. It adds a little sense of excitement.”
For more on the game, here are some helpful links:
BSB Spotlight: What We’re Watching For
OSU’s Fans Guide To The Game (including directions, parking and game info)
Broadcast info: The Big Ten Network will show the game live on BTN2Go, which is available on mobile devices and at http://www.btn2go.com/btn2go/ for those who are cable subscribers to BTN. The network itself will show the game on tape delay Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 12:30 a.m. and 8 a.m., and Monday at 3 p.m.
WBNS-FM (97.1 The Fan) will broadcast the game live with Paul Keels and Jim Lachey describing all of the action, while WDJO-AM 1480 out of Cincinnati will also carry the live radio broadcast, as will Sirius XM.