With just two weeks remaining before the season opener against Navy, Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer is in the process of finalizing a starting lineup.
Meyer, who is entering his third season at the helm of the Buckeyes, said at a Saturday press conference he has seen improvement from multiple positions including on the offensive line, a unit that graduated four starters from last year’s team.
“(Redshirt-senior) Darryl Baldwin is the starting right tackle,” Meyer announced Saturday. “He is one of the most improved players on the team.”
Meyer said that makes Baldwin, redshirt-sophomore Pat Elflein and junior Taylor Decker the three named starters along the offensive line. He added junior Jacoby Boren, senior Joel Hale, redshirt-junior Chase Farris, redshirt-freshman Billy Price and redshirt-junior Antonio Underwood are in the running for the final two starting spots.
Meyer also mentioned Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay, but said Lindsay, a senior, has been banged up during camp.
“His shoulder was dinged up a little bit, he did scrimmage today,” Meyer said. “The good thing is we have a couple names in there, the bad thing is it’s not solidified yet.”
Other than naming Baldwin a starter, Meyer said there has been a shift in the battle to replace fan-favorite quarterback Kenny Guiton.
“(Redshirt-freshman) J.T. Barrett has moved slightly ahead of (redshirt-sophomore) Cardale (Jones) in the quarterback derby,” Meyer said. “That is because of his opportunities…he has grown up a little bit. He was always kind of a quiet guy and he is starting to act like a quarterback.”
Other than the quarterback position, which has been locked down by senior Braxton Miller since Meyer’s arrival to Columbus, getting touches on offense is something Meyer said needs to be earned.
“I tell our guys it’s a street fight for the ball,” Meyer said. “Don’t have a bad day, because that’s a couple carries or that’s a couple pass receptions.”
Replacing Carlos Hyde’s production from a year ago will likely be a team effort as Meyer said multiple running backs are in the conversation for playing time.
Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott missed a few practices due to a minor wrist surgery, which gave redshirt-sophomore Bri’onte Dunn and redshirt-senior Rod Smith an opportunity, something Meyer said they embraced.
“Zeke (Elliot) is back in the rotation just non-contact. Both (Dunn) and Rod Smith have made every practice and done really well,” he said. “I give credit to (Dunn) and Rod Smith, every day they have shown up and they have worked their tails off so they are in the mix.”
The most scrutinized unit from last year, the defensive secondary, received high praise from Meyer.
“Safety (position) is strong. You got (sophomore) Cam Burrows, (sophomore) Vonn Bell and (redshirt-sophomore) Tyvis Powell and (freshman) Erick Smith right on his toes,” Meyer said.
The competition for the open spots is something that co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell believes will push OSU to become better as a team.
“If we have a game tomorrow, I’d say we have 15 guys who can compete for a starting spot, not just a set 11,” Fickell said at OSU’s media day Aug. 10. “If you have a true 11 starters, you don’t have the great competition that makes a great team.”
From the most dissected unit, to the most praised, the Buckeye defensive line has been tabbed by many as the best in the country. One of its members, junior Tommy Schutt was singled out by Meyer on Saturday.
“Tommy Schutt is the most improved player at Ohio State right now,” Meyer said. “He has done a really really good job. You start seeing people like that step up along with Darryl Baldwin — they were non-factors a year ago and now they are going to be deep into the mix offensively and defensively.”
One of the few concerns on the OSU defensive line is who will replace junior Noah Spence, who will miss the first two games of the 2014 season due to suspension. Meyer said there are a number of players in competition for extra playing time while Spence is out.
“(Senior) Steve Miller, (redshirt-senior) Rashad Frazier are the two that will fill his spot,” Meyer said. “(Freshman) Jalyn Holmes is really making a push right now. When we go Navy period, which we have been going pretty much every day, he (Spence) is on the scout team. We do keep him training with the one defense though.”
With so many talented players on the defensive line, first year OSU coach Larry Johnson said he wants to see all of them on the field.
“My goal is to have a group of nine to 10 guys we can shuffle in and out in no particular order,” Johnson said at OSU’s media day. “We have the talent to be able to do that, we just have to coach it up.”
Overall, Meyer said he is happy with the direction his team is heading, just two weeks away from its first game.
“I feel good. I like our players. We are not going to practice tomorrow, they deserve that, they have earned that,” he said.
The Buckeyes are scheduled to kickoff Aug. 30 at noon against the Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.