After finishing 12-0 in 2012, Urban Meyer’s second season as Ohio State’s football coach is underway. The Buckeyes kicked off their first practice of the spring football season Tuesday, practicing for two and a half hours on the indoor fields at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Meyer said his players had “good attitudes” Tuesday.
“I knew we would have good attitudes. What I’m concerned with is just development of some players,” Meyer said. “After day one, I can’t give you a whole lot because I don’t know.”
Tuesday’s first practice, which the media was allowed to watch, gave a preliminary glimpse into what the depth chart could look like this fall before OSU opens the season against Buffalo on Aug. 31.
The Buckeyes are replacing seven starters from last season on defense. One of the four returning starters, rising junior outside linebacker Ryan Shazier, was limited in Tuesday’s practice as he recovers from what Meyer said he is “99 percent sure” is a sports hernia. That meant eight new players took the field with the first-team defense Tuesday.
The Buckeyes ran a 4-2-5 nickel defensive formation Tuesday, a formation Meyer said the Buckeyes will use often on defense this year.
“If you look at our schedule, we’re going to be in a lot of nickel,” Meyer said.
With many starters being replaced, Meyer said the defensive line and linebackers are the areas of his roster that must develop the most this spring.
The Buckeyes will have four new starters on the defensive line in 2013. The first-team line Tuesday consisted of rising sophomore defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington and rising junior defensive tackles Michael Bennett and Joel Hale.
With Shazier limited, the two linebackers on the field with the first-team defense were rising junior Curtis Grant and rising sophomore David Perkins.
The Buckeyes have three returning starters in the secondary: rising redshirt junior cornerback Bradley Roby, rising senior Christian Bryant and rising redshirt senior C.J. Barnett. They were joined on the first-team defense Tuesday by rising junior cornerback Doran Grant and rising redshirt freshman Tyvis Powell, who played the “star” defensive back position in the nickel.
Meyer said Powell, who redshirted last season, “earned the right” to start the spring season getting work with the first-team defense.
“I really like him,” Meyer said of Powell. “He’s a 6-foot-2 guy that’s done everything right.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Buckeyes have 10 returning starters, only needing to fill a hole at right tackle. On Tuesday, rising sophomore Taylor Decker took first-team reps at the position.
Braxton Miller’s offseason and first day of spring football
Rising junior quarterback Braxton Miller worked out one day during OSU’s winter break with “quarterback guru” George Whitfield Jr., well-known for his work with many prominent quarterbacks including current NFL starters Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck.
Meyer said he was glad Miller took time in his offseason to work toward becoming a better player.
“I’m glad Braxton did it … instead of sitting there playing video games, he’s out there working on fundamentals at quarterback,” Meyer said.
Meyer said that training showed in Tuesday’s practice.
“I thought Braxton Miller had one heck of a day,” Meyer said. “His fundamentals and his footwork were not very good last year, but it was fantastic today.”
Meyer made it clear, however, that Miller’s learning still comes from his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
“The quarterback guru working with Braxton is a guy named Tom Herman,” Meyer said.
Early start to spring football
The Buckeyes will practice twice this week before resuming practice after OSU’s spring break.
Meyer said it is the first time he has scheduled practices prior to a school’s spring break, but said the schedule is working out well thus far.
“So far I love it,” Meyer said. “We felt it was really important, especially with this outfit, to get the 20-hour work week as often as we can. So we have a 20-hour work week this week, that means Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we get a significant amount of meeting time. Then when we get back, we’re going to go Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday again. Why? Because we get three days of a lot of meeting time … Monday, Wednesday, Friday will be four-hour meeting days.”
OSU’s Spring Game is set for April 13 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Finding a punter
The early choice to replace Ben Buchanan at punter appears to be rising senior Drew Basil, who is also the Buckeyes’ kicker. Basil split repetitions with rising redshirt freshman Frank Epitropoulos during punting drills Tuesday, but Meyer said he likes what he has seen from Basil thus far.
“Drew could have punted last year,” Meyer said. “The only thing he’s lacking is consistency and experience. Fundamentally, I felt he was maybe our best punter (last year) … I feel good with Drew.”
Rising senior wide receiver Corey Brown did not practice Tuesday due to what Meyer said is a knee sprain. Meyer said Brown is “fine,” and should be able to practice Thursday.
Like Shazier, incoming freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett and rising redshirt senior safety Jamie Wood also practiced wearing orange non-contact jerseys Tuesday. Barrett is recovering from a torn ACL, while Wood is recovering from shoulder surgery.
One of the highlights of Tuesday’s practice came when rising redshirt senior running back Jordan Hall lined up wide for a pass, ran about 40 yards up the seam and made a tough catch away from his body in traffic. Hall, who received a medical redshirt to return for the 2013 season after only playing three games due to injuries in 2012, received high praise from Meyer after practice.
“Boy, was he great today,” Meyer said. “I love that guy.”
Two former Buckeyes, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and safety Orhian Johnson, watched portions of practice from the sidelines on Tuesday. Hankins and Johnson will both be participating in OSU’s Pro Day for NFL hopefuls on Friday.