It is officially game week for the 2013 edition of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team, and coach Urban Meyer said football is all he wants to talk about.
“I just can’t wait to play football,” Meyer said Monday, deflecting a question asking if he is the same guy he was when he coached at the University of Florida. “All due respect, I just want to answer questions about football.”
A constant throughout camp has been talk about how impressive younger players such as freshmen Dontre Wilson, Ezekiel Elliot, Jalin Marshall and Joey Bosa have been performing and how they are expected to contribute right away. Meyer said a few of those freshmen will see the field against Buffalo.
“For sure, Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliot will play,” Meyer said. “On defense, Joey Bosa for sure will play.”
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said OSU would “be foolish” not to let Wilson touch the ball on offense, but doing so is a delicate balance.
“I think that you have to be careful with a true freshman that has to play some running back, has to play some wide receiver, has to flex out and run routes,” Herman said. “So the package will be small to start the year off, and let him become an expert at the few things we are asking him to do.”
Meyer said Wilson is “going to return the opening kickoff of the 2013 football team,” but is more “anxious” to see how he reacts to being in front of a large crowd at Ohio Stadium.
“I think coaches have a tendency to devalue what happens when you jog out that tunnel, especially at a place like Ohio Stadium,” Meyer said. “There will be a lot of deep breaths being taken and you just can’t create that animal until you get that opportunity.”
Senior safety C.J. Barnett called the feeling he got when he ran out onto the field for the first time at the Horseshoe “unexplainable,” but has simple advice for Wilson for Saturday’s opening kickoff.
“The only thing I could tell him is just take a deep breath and he’s out there for a reason,” Barnett said. “We all have confidence in him that he can get the job done, so just relax.”
Another position that younger, more inexperienced players could see time at is running back, due to both senior Carlos Hyde and redshirt-junior Rod Smith being suspended for three and one games, respectively. Meyer, however, said he is not worried about the spot, thanks to the return of redshirt-senior Jordan Hall from the injuries that plagued him in 2012.
“Jordan Hall is the best running back on our team right now, and so he’ll have to lose that spot,” Meyer said. “Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball are the next two in, and we want to get Ezekiel (Elliot) in to see how he responds in that kind of environment.”
Meyer also said Wilson could see some time at running back, depending on the offensive sets they go with, but for the time being, Hall is the guy.
“Jordan is a little smaller but he is arguably one of the toughest guys pound-for-pound on our team,” Meyer said.
During OSU Media Day Aug. 11, Meyer spoke about how there were four or five units on the team that were causing him to be uncomfortable as fall camp came to a close. His thoughts on those units have since changed.
“Offensive line, I feel very good about (it),” Meyer said. “Quarterback, feel very good about. The receivers (are) probably one of the most improved areas on our team. Running back feel very good about.”
There is one position, however, that Meyer believes the team is still lacking at: linebacker.
“The area we are still trying to solidify is linebacker,” Meyer said. “Curtis Grant has not really played a whole lot of Mike (middle) linebacker, but he’s catching up quick.”
Meyer noted how Grant is behind because he suffered a concussion during training camp, but is doing his best to get on the same level as his teammates before Saturday.
Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, Luke Fickell said Grant is in a tough position, because even though he is a junior, he has yet to see consistent playing time.
“A guy that’s a junior in college maybe wouldn’t miss a beat because he’s been here for two years and had a lot of experience,” Fickell said. “But the reality is he has not had a whole (lot) of game experience.”
Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier echoed his position coach, but said the inexperience goes beyond just Grant.
“I feel like the biggest concern right now is because we have a lot of inexperience and a lot of young guys,” Shazier said. “When we get a lot of guys that haven’t played together, it’s kind of a struggle.”
Fickell said even though the concussion set the starting middle linebacker back, he still has confidence in him.
“The reality is if that was a freshman that missed 10 or so days or 10 practices or something like that, you would be much more worried,” Fickell said. “I’m not worried about Curtis Grant, because his passion and his energy is what’s going to show.”
According to Meyer, the team held a meeting Monday afternoon to decide the 2013 captains. An OSU athletics spokesman told The Lantern that the decision has not been made as of late Monday evening.
Kickoff against Buffalo is scheduled for 12 p.m. Saturday at Ohio Stadium.