Spring practice holds different levels of importance for college football programs across the country.
Some look to prepare for that next necessary step toward becoming elite, some look to completely reload after losing key members from a winning team the year before, while others still are dwelling in major transition periods while they welcome new leadership.
The Ohio State Buckeyes could be considered to be in the latter as they sit mere hours from their annual Spring Game at Ohio Stadium, after co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash as well as defensive line coach Larry Johnson were brought in to help revamp the OSU defense and get it back to championship level.
The two coaches — along with head coach Urban Meyer and the rest of the staff — have preached the “4 to 6 seconds, point A to point B” mantra all spring long, and they’ll finally get to show the fans what they hope is an improved squad Saturday.
“We had six units operate at capacity and three units that did not,” Meyer said Thursday on the Big Ten Teleconference regarding the 2013 team. “I’ve had people ask me that question, ‘(Why are you) changing the culture, you just won 24 straight?’ No, we’re enhancing our culture. We’re making it better.”
Meyer said as the Buckeyes head into the annual intrasquad scrimmage, the pass defense — particularly on first down — has “drastically improved,” which is likely to be pleasing to OSU supporters. That unit gave up 268 yards per game last season, good for 112th in the country. The defense as a whole gave up 1,014 yards in OSU’s two losses last year — to Clemson in the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl and Michigan State in the 2013 Big Ten Title Game — which put a stop to its 24-game win streak.
“You’re only as good as your last game. You’re only as good as your last practice, and our last two games weren’t that great,” senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett said Thursday on the Big Ten Teleconference. “But last year we did some really good stuff in the beginning of the season but kind of trailed off in the end for whatever reason. It’s important to look back and figure out why you trailed off so that it doesn’t happen again. It’s not about blaming people, it’s just about, find the problem and learning how to fix it.”
Meyer said Wednesday he looks forward to the Spring Game as not just “another practice” because it allows him and his staff to evaluate players on a bigger stage. He echoed that statement Thursday, saying it’s not really for the guys who have that experience to get snaps.
“That’s not really what spring games are for — I know what their reaction is going to be in front of a nice crowd,” Meyer said. “What I want to see are the skilled athletes that need to go learn how to make plays and let the fans watch them and have some fun doing it.”
Meyer touched on the fall schedule as well, which sees two new conference opponents in Rutgers and Maryland added to it.
“I think it’s great,” Meyer said of their additions to the Big Ten. “Plus, being the main attraction, the main conference on the eastern seaboard … I know that’s a big goal of the Big Ten.”
Some new toys Meyer has on offense to combat those new foes are freshman wide receiver Johnnie Dixon and freshman H-Back Curtis Samuel, who he said Wednesday are both in the rotation offensively. Bennett agreed with his coach on the latter, adding that redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones is also impressed him in place of the injured senior Braxton Miller. Miller’s been out all spring after having shoulder surgery.
“I’d say the freshman Curtis Samuel, and Cardale’s been doing pretty well,” Bennett said. “Other than that, I haven’t paid too close attention.”
A total of seven freshmen enrolled early as part of yet another top five recruiting class for Meyer, and they figure to be put to the test plenty Saturday once the Spring Game starts at approximately 1:30 p.m.
“If you want to have a practice, have a practice,” Meyer said. “If you want to somehow arrange it so a receiver has to go beat a guy in coverage and catch a pass and hear the crowd roar, I mean that’s real. I think that’s one of the unique things we get at Ohio State.”