Urban Meyer’s state of the team address was a mixture of both good and bad for the Buckeye squad.
The former outweighed the latter, though, one week into camp, good news for a Buckeye team that hopes to put together a second consecutive 12-0 regular season with a chance to advance to postseason play with an eye on the biggest prize.
Discussing his second Ohio State squad in a recently remodeled team room featuring new chairs and carpeting with Block “O” logos, Meyer was largely positive about his team, and why wouldn’t he be. Coming off just the sixth unbeaten, untied campaign in school history, the Buckeyes return many offensive starters, have hungry young talent on defense and brought in some impact freshmen.
That’s especially true on the offensive side, prompting Meyer to compare the Buckeyes to his 2006 national championship winning squad at Florida. That team added impact freshmen like Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Jarred Fayson, and while the names are Dontre Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott and Jalin Marshall this time around, Meyer sees a similar impact.
"I feel a little bit of a jolt that's certainly going to help us,” Meyer said. “We're a faster team. I hope you see that in three weeks."
The head coach, one of the lead innovators of spread offense football in previous stops, said that last year’s pro-style offense should turn into the read-option, up-tempo style he prefers given the talent on hand.
And when it comes to passing the ball, Meyer continued to be impressed with quarterback Braxton Miller. The head coach said they don’t plan to push his signal caller into the Heisman Trophy mix with any sort of campaign, but he praised his quarterback’s improved mechanics and leadership skills seen this camp.
“Mechanically, he is much further ahead,” Meyer said. “He's a different guy. He’s always been a great guy, but now he's got some confidence to him. I don't want to give him an ‘A’ yet but he’s pushing ‘A’ work.”
Meyer also had good things to say about a wideouts group that was maligned at times this year, including Evan Spencer, who had just 12 catches last year but is in the midst of his best camp and has solidified the No. 3 spot behind returning starters Corey Brown and Devin Smith.
Defensively, there continue to be a number of options on the defensive line, while a number of open spots on the back end appear to be close to being filled. Junior Curtis Grant has moved into the No. 1 spot at middle linebacker, while sophomore Joshua Perry is the top strongside LB and redshirt freshman Tyvis Powell continues to hold onto the top spot at the nickel position.
Meyer also admitted that dealing with the heightened expectations all this brings is the “essence of the season,” but praised the leadership the team is receiving from guys like Miller, defenders Ryan Shaizer, Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett and the entire offensive line.
On the injury front, much of the news was good. Linebacker Curtis Grant hopes to return this week from a concussion, while starting center Corey Linsley (foot) and backup safety Devan Bogard (leg) should return to practice this week after being limited of late. Starting left guard Andrew Norwell is also expected to be fine after leaving Wednesday’s practice with a bout of plantar fasciitis.
On the other hand, the Buckeyes will be without freshman defensive tackle Donovan Munger this year, and the status of sophomore cornerback Najee Murray remains up in the air. Munger has qualified academically and will arrive on campus Wednesday, but he will not play this year as he recovers from a blood clot issue.
Meanwhile, the door has not been closed for Murray – who according to numerous reports had been kicked off the team after a violation of team rules – to stay on the team.
"He's suspended right now,” Meyer said. “It's a training camp issue."
Meyer was not asked to address the situation involving cornerback Bradley Roby, while cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs acknowledged the returning All-American is working with the second unit while the team figures out potential punishment after Roby’s arrest at a Bloomington, Ind., bar in July.
The improvement process will continue over the next week, which will be the toughest of the year for the Buckeye team. Over the next six days, the team will practice nine times at its Ackerman Road fields, which serves two purposes – they aren’t as well appointed as the team’s surfaces at the Harmon Family Football Practice Park, and it provides a small training camp like feel given the team must bus away from its home base for practice.
“The 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes will be determined by this week coming up,” Meyer said.
For continuing coverage, be sure to check back throughout the evening.