If there was one thing Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer wanted his players to take away from his team’s first spring practice of the year, it was that he wants them to play angry.
The Buckeyes are coming off back-to-back losses to finish their 2013-14 season 12-2, falling to Michigan State and Clemson in the Big Ten Championship Game and Orange Bowl, respectively. Those losses came after the team’s second straight 12-0 regular season, and coming into spring ball, Meyer wants his team to have a different outlook on things.
“I felt last year (coming into spring practice), I don’t want to say the word ‘entitled’ … but I want an angry, blue collar team (now),” Meyer said Tuesday after wrapping up the first stint of spring drills. “I’m hoping that’s what we have. Last year it was 12-0, you’re preseason this or this. I haven’t had many people ask about our preseason, not that I know what it is. We’re just trying to find out who’s going to play for us in some spots.”
OSU announced Monday that Meyer had undergone a procedure this past weekend to alleviate pressure from an arachnoid cyst in his head — which occurs in the brain and skull or in pockets around the brain called ventricles — but he said he’s “good to go,” and just has some simple directions from his doctor.
“Just watch how loud I scream. I’m not kidding you,” Meyer said. “And how loud I blow the whistle. So I didn’t end up blowing the whistle today – it didn’t sound very good. But I’ll be back after spring break.”
Offensively, the Buckeyes are likely to be without starting quarterback Braxton Miller throughout spring ball after he underwent minor surgery on his throwing shoulder Feb. 21. Miller watched the Buckeyes’ first practice with his arm in a sling, studying plays from behind the line with a camera on his hat. Meyer said Miller calls the plays, and then studies the defense in hopes of him not regressing in the spring.
“They got a contraption set up where he actually calls the play … and he also tells us what he sees in the secondary,” Meyer said. “Every play we’re having him say what he sees in the secondary. It’ll be a productive spring. He’s into it right now.”
Meyer said a big thing Miller will miss this spring is a chance at game reps, but it’s on the senior quarterback to keep improving other facets of his game.
“If he doesn’t have a good summer, that’ll cost him a lot. He’ll be a very average player,” Meyer said. “He’s got a lot riding on this now. If he doesn’t fix this and this, that’s a much different spot than he wants to be.”
Redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones took the majority of the reps at quarterback with the first team offensive unit, with redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett throwing with the second team. True freshman and early enrollee Stephen Collier saw time as well.
Sophomore Ezekiel Elliott took the most reps with the first team at running back. Redshirt-sophomores Warren Ball and Bri’onte Dunn, as well as redshirt-senior Rod Smith, all split time with the starters. The latter three were all clearly behind Elliott, however.
Sophomore wide receiver Dontre Wilson spent time in drills in the slot receiver position, and also returned punts alongside freshman Curtis Samuel and redshirt-junior Corey Smith.
At tight end, redshirt-junior Nick Vannett took the majority of the snaps with the starters, as senior Jeff Heuerman rehabs from a broken nose. Redshirt-freshman Marcus Baugh also played considerable time. Baugh was cited for underage drinking in July and January.
On the other side of the ball, the Buckeye defense was not exactly what fans had been used to, finishing 47th in the country after giving up 377.4 yards per game last year, including 268 yards through the air.
Meyer took time to speak with the defense specifically before team drills began Tuesday, and said he wants them to keep more a simple message in mind this year.
“To me it’s ‘all go.’ It’s all the 4 to 6 (seconds), A to B … there’s certain things that’s built into your culture and the way you go. It’s not the call, it’s not (that) I want you thinking about plays,” Meyer said. “I think sometimes as coaches because of what’s happened to the game — it’s a fast-paced game get lined up and go — as opposed to it used to be a game based on effort … I want to get back to that. So that’s what I’ll tell them.”
With the loss of first-team All-American and All-Big Ten performer Ryan Shazier — who was in attendance for OSU’s first spring practice along with the since-departed cornerback Bradley Roby — the linebacker position is undoubtedly a position of interest for Meyer, who called it his biggest concern as far as depth at any spot goes, but was pleased with the effort of five-star true freshman and early enrollee Raekwon McMillan.
“I was really impressed with Raekwon today, did a really good job. Moved around, very mature,” Meyer said. “For a shorts practice, he did enough where I was … very positive of what I saw.”
Returning starters at the position, senior Curtis Grant and junior Joshua Perry, took reps with the first team defense along with sophomore Darron Lee who did not play a snap in 2013.
Meyer said Lee “earned” the time with the first unit after the way he finished off last season and improved this summer, saying “he’s got all the skills.”
Perhaps the most experienced group on that side of the ball is the defensive line, which returns all four starters in juniors Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, senior Michael Bennett and sophomore Joey Bosa. Washington took reps exclusively as an interior defensive lineman on the group’s first day on the field with recently hired defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
The defensive backfield is undergoing a vast array of changes in addition to the linebacking core, because of the departure of Roby to the NFL and graduation of safeties Corey “Pitt” Brown, C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant.
Three safeties saw time in OSU’s first practice, those being redshirt-sophomore Tyvis Powell, sophomore Vonn Bell and sophomore Cam Burrows. Redshirt-junior Ron Tanner also saw time, but Meyer said he “lacks some physical skills” to be added into the group.
The Buckeyes are set to practice for the second time this spring Thursday.