There was no Mark May – the pin the tail on the Mark May donkey event was slated for later in the day – but there was a definite ESPN feel on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas on Sunday morning as network personalities Kirk Herbstreit, Robert Smith and Joey Galloway and former game analyst Urban Meyer discussed college football and the Ohio State Buckeyes in front of a packed deck on the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer.
The four answered questions from 97.1 The Fan personality Anthony Rothman and fans in the hour-long show, with Meyer the star attraction after having led the Buckeyes to a 24-2 record each of the past two years.
The Urban and Shelley Meyer Fund is also the featured fund for the trip as the cruise attempts to top last year’s $1 million raised for the James Cancer Center and Solove Research Institute.
With that in mind, here’s some of what Meyer had to say about his 2014 Buckeyes and more.
On the 2014 season: “I really underestimated the 2012 leadership, and a couple of those guys are on the boat, John Simon and Zach Boren. And it’s something that I believe through the years and was really taken to the nth degree in 2012, were we the most talented team in America? Obviously probably not, but a team that refused to lose, became very close. Leadership willed us through two overtime games, obviously some other close games. When those guys walked out the door, we had a problem last year, and that was in February, we really noticed a void in leadership. We started leadership training, and really guys like Philly Brown, Jack Mewhort, some of those guys really stepped up to the top. We won 12 in a row again, stumbled at the end, but the reason I bring that up, we’ll be talented, probably a little faster team than we have been. Offensive line won’t be quite as good; we’re going to try to develop that, and the defense is a complete overhaul. We’re working on that right now, and that’s linebackers and the back end. But the common characteristic of every great team is leadership, and I really like where we’re at right now. We’re not having some of the similar issues that we had a year ago. If we stay healthy and keep pushing forward, I expect a very good year.”
On the toughest players to from last year: “We had the most points scored in Ohio State history, the most yards rushing, the most touchdowns, and a big part of that was the offensive line. Chip Kelly, a great friend of mine who is the head coach of the Eagles now, sent me a text like two weeks ago getting ready for the combine and said it was the best offensive line he’s seen in college football the last few years. Those guys, Ed Warinner did a great job. He took a group that I think was 115th in rushing offense and we were second last year, so we’re going to count on him to develop linemen. We have Jacoby Boren, there’s a chance he’ll play center with Billy Price, that’s who’s competing. We have Taylor Decker, we’ll move him to left tackle, Darryl Baldwin at right tackle, Pat Elflein, and this is not really news but Joel Hale is going to be moved from defensive tackle to offensive guard. That gives us energy, leadership and toughness, which you need on the offensive line. But the offensive line without question is going to be the biggest void, but Carlos Hyde is a hell of a back. At this time two years ago, he was 245 pounds and over 20 percent body fat. That’s nothing to be proud of. That’s not what you want in your tailback. He finished the season at 229, 230, and obviously very low body fat. His production on the big plays was much different. Coach Marotti and Coach Drayton did a fabulous job developing him, but there’s a kid named Ezekiel Elliott right behind him was a true freshman. Dontre Wilson, we’re going to get him to 195, he’s 188 right now, but those are two explosive guys. If we can get the offensive line where we need them, I think those tailbacks will be fine.”
On how the team will use Braxton Miller: “There were times last year, and we went through a series of games, he played his best football against Penn State and Wisconsin, and the number of quarterback runs called was like four or five. The bigger games when it’s on the line, I have a tendency to lean on him too much because he’s our best player. We don’t want to do that. If we can develop the people around him – I’m expecting our receiving corps has gone from not very good to better to I think we’re going to be very good this year. The better you develop the people around him, we won’t lean on him as much.”
On Miller’s development: “Braxton is not where we want him to be, but he’s probably the most improved quarterback in America. Imagine what he was like his freshman year, and his sophomore year, he was Big Ten Silver Football player of the year as a sophomore and he wasn’t a great quarterback. He was a dynamic player and went 12-0. This past year, he didn’t finish strong, but during the middle of the year, I think he was the No. 2 most efficient passer in America for a couple of weeks, so he’s really developed. I always go back, quarterbacks get much more credit than they deserve and much more blame. We’re getting better (at the skill positions). We’re still nowhere near where we need to be for a place like Ohio State, but the better they get, the better Braxton will get. Braxton did have minor surgery on his shoulder so he’ll be limited for spring, but we don’t have a called run in until we play the first game of the year because we work so hard on pocket passing. That’s probably the hardest skill. That’s why there’s so many bad quarterbacks there are in the National Football League. Think about how many of them are great pocket passers? Well stand back there sometime. That’s I think the hardest skill other than bump-and-run coverage to ask an athlete to do. When that stuff is coming at you to step back and you have two seconds to make a decision to get the ball out. He’s getting a lot better.”
On replacing Mike Vrabel as D-line coach with Larry Johnson: “First of all, Coach Vrabel is a great friend, a great Buckeye and did phenomenal things for Ohio State. He attacked coaching like he attacked playing, and by the time he left, he only did it three years but he was one of my best recruiters. The D-line played a lot better. He’s developed into a heck of a coach. Romeo Crennel is the reason he went, that was his position coach with the Pats, and it was a hard loss for us. We had to hit a home run and I believe we did. Larry Johnson, an 18-year vet at Penn State, a very experienced guy. He’s been with us for two months and he’s off the charts. He’s as good a football coach and has made as big an impact as any coach I’ve ever had in such a short time.”
On who will make the gameday calls on defense: “I’m still evaluating the whole thing on defense. I have a lot of respect for Coach Fickell. We’ve made mistakes in recruiting, we’ve had some injuries, and we haven’t played very well at certain times. I still remember, there was a decade of football where the Ohio State defense was as strong as any defense in the country. We have to develop our players, keep recruiting our players and we have to do better.”
On the proposed NCAA rule change that would require a 10 seconds between snaps: “We just had the AFCA meetings in Indianapolis and Big Ten meetings in Chicago and it wasn’t brought up one time. We were on a Nike trip and all of sudden I started hearing about this. I think those kind of things, whenever you start talking about player safety, we need to research it and if there is room for improvement I think it will be changed, but I don’t see that happening right now. We run a lot of hurry-up so we’re obviously not in favor of a 10-second rule.”
On the potential of adding Aaron Craft to the roster: “I don’t know Aaron that well. I know him as a player like a lot of fans. I think he’s one of the most relentless, athletic, tough guys in his sport. What’s his future with the NBA? I have no idea so I can’t comment on that, but I can assure there would be a space available for him. That’s how much respect I have (for him), but I’ve not even talked to Thad about it.”
On potential NCAA rule changes that would provide players a stipend: “I do believe they should have a stipend. I’ve also coached at Bowling Green and I’ve had two daughters that played college spots, and you can imagine the mess you’d get if you paid football players and don’t pay the other athletes, and if you pay the other athletes, you can’t operate. I do believe at some point you’ll see a separation between the big boys and the smaller schools. I’m not sure when that’s going to happen because of different issues. That’s taking up a lot of our time, though, in meetings. I believe at some point, you’ll see a stipend for our kids, but not at all levels because you just can’t operate.”
On the upcoming College Football Playoff: “I think that’s one of the things, on all the committees I was able to sit on and listen to, the player welfare did not come up very often. And the fans, imagine being a fan and wanting to spend whatever it costs to go to a big-time bowl game and then you win that game and you have one more. That’s probably a 10,000 investment to take your family to the bowl game. But there’s Auburn-Alabama, there’s Florida-Florida State and there’s us and our rivals. To finish the season against your rival, and it’s a real rivalry game, the amount of effort that goes into that game, you saw it, 42-41, and then to come back and play two more games. Our entire defense took a major blow when Christian Bryant went down. So now it becomes, if you’re lucky enough and fortunate enough to get to the final game, that’s the 15th game. It used to be 11 and then you get to a bowl game, it’s 12. Now it’s three more, and you still have the same scholarship limits. We had nine scholarship limitations the last two years. After this year, it’s going to be wiped out, but every player matters now. You make a mistake in recruiting, a guy gets hurt, that’s the difference between making the final four or being fortunate to make that last game. Thinking of the times that we were fortunate enough to get to the national championship game, if they had come back again and said you had one more after that, first of all, I’m not sure the coaches could handle that. And obviously, the players are even more important. By the time you reach that level of ball, that’s two sledgehammers going against each other, and the amount of injuries, wear and tear, how you practice, that’s all going to be uncharted water for college football.”