The cavalry is coming for the Ohio State football team.
Speaking at his weekly press conference on Labor Day, head coach Urban Meyer confirmed the Buckeyes should see the returns of three veterans to the field for this upcoming Saturday’s game vs. San Diego State.
Junior cornerback Bradley Roby and his classmate, running back Rod Smith, should return from one-game suspensions, while senior safety C.J. Barnett looks ready to go after missing the Buffalo game because of an ankle injury. In addition, senior center Corey Linsley is expected to see his time on the field expand from the 17 plays he was in for Saturday as he continues to battle back from a foot injury suffered last year vs. Michigan.
"We're starting to get our roster back intact,” Meyer said, a good sign considering Ohio State was down to just one returning starter on defense – senior safety Christian Bryant – at times on Saturday because of graduations, injuries and suspensions.
Players like Roby and Smith will have to earn their spots back, Meyer and assistants Stan Drayton and Kerry Coombs said, with their performance on special teams in practice playing a key part.
Still, it will be good to have increased depth going into Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. home game with San Diego State. Though the Aztecs are coming off a 40-19 season-opening loss to Eastern Illinois, the team won nine games last year and was expected to contend for a Mountain West championship.
Quarterback Adam Dingwell threw 63 passes in the loss to EIU, meaning the Buckeyes should be very happy to get Roby back. The play of his replacement, sophomore Armani Reeves, was described as “average” by cornerbacks coach Coombs, but Roby will have to earn his way back on to the field, Meyer said.
"He’s competing for a spot,” Meyer said. “It depends on how they practice.”
Meanwhile, Meyer said he was unsure of how Smith’s return would affect the running backs rotation but said that could “free up” senior Jordan Hall – who ran for a career-high 159 yards and two long touchdowns – to play more of the “H” hybrid role he seems most suited to.
Meyer also shed light on why senior left guard Andrew Norwell was on the field for coin toss Saturday despite not being listed as one of the eight game captains.
It was all about the Buckeyes’ ongoing search for more leadership, and Norwell deserved the honor, the head coach said.
"I stuck Norwell out there last game,” Meyer said. “(Defensive line coach) Mike Vrabel said something to me intriguing about how he wasn't a captain of (his last OSU) team. What are you talking about? He is a captain. So the way Norwell has been, I wanted to put him out there and we did that.”
When it came to recognizing players for the way they performed against the Bulls, Hall was named offensive player of the week, while Bryant grabbed defensive honors after making seven tackles and grading out at 94 percent. Sophomore Ron Tanner was named the top special teams player.
Other champions included Chris Fields and Philly Brown on offense, Noah Spence and Doran Grant on defense and Vonn Bell on special teams. Grant made 18 of 21 plays that came his way and graded out at a 96 percent.
There were a few negatives in Meyer’s opinion, though, including the performance of the offense once the squad put up 23 points in the first quarter against the Bulls. Ohio State had just 17 the rest of the way, and the head coach said after the game he was a little disappointed in that outcome.
“Very high expectations,” he said. "I want to score every time we touch the ball. I’m disappointed if we don’t score.”
With another week of practice and a number of players returning, though, Meyer expects to see a Buckeye team that looks more like what he expects against the Aztecs.
“I’m anxious to see a lot of improvement,” Meyer said. “I think complacency is certainly not a problem this week.”