COLUMBUS: Urban Meyer doesn’t know what to make of his current crop of Buckeyes yet.
He believes he’ll have a better handle on them when practices get harder. A lot harder.
“It’s the first day in pads. So right now this is all candy,” he said, flashing a wicked grin. “Come back in about a week and there’s going to be people asleep on the mattresses (by noon). It’s hard. Camp is terrible. But we’re not in camp yet. This is just practice.”
That phrase — “just” practice — must sound ominous to the players already sweating through early workouts at Ohio State.
Asked if he preferred the weather be a little hotter instead of so temperate, Meyer added, “Just see what goes on next week at Ackerman Field. It’s awful.”
The Buckeyes went through only their third practice on Tuesday. There’s a lot that’s unknown about the 2013 team. But Meyer said he already has a pretty good feel when it comes to several major items.
— Concerning star players Bradley Roby and running back Carlos Hyde, both in the doghouse after recent legal problems, both are practicing with the team. Roby is awaiting the next step in the process after being charged with misdemeanor battery after an incident at a Bloomington, Ind., bar this summer.
“We’re just still waiting to find out all the information,” Meyer said.
Police called Hyde a person of interest in an alleged assault against a woman. The alleged victim declined to pursue charges, with police ending the investigation. But Hyde was suspended for the first three games by Meyer.
— Meyer said he likes the players he has. He just wishes he had more of them in spots.
Of major concern is a lack of depth at both the linebacker and offensive line positions.
“They just don’t look Ohio Stateish,” he said of the backups. “Other positions, you can see three guys that are all good-looking players. The O-line and linebackers are not where we need to be.”
Moreover, Meyer said the problem probably cannot be fixed with the people on hand.
“(Maybe) with another recruiting class,” he said. “Yeah, we’re going to have to hang in there for this fall and not get guys hurt. Because we have depth issues there.”
— He is not concerned about the quarterback spot, where Braxton Miller is coming back for his third year as the starter.
Miller has grown into the position. He was thrown into a bad spot, learning on the job as a freshman during the tumultuous 2011 season when NCAA investigators were on campus, Luke Fickell was filling in for the deposed Jim Tressel as head coach and there was confusion everywhere. The Buckeyes went 6-7.
As a sophomore, Miller carried the team with his running ability for much of the first half of the season, then reverted more to passing in the second half as the Buckeyes pulled a 12-0 record out of the hat. Still, he had his highs and his lows. There was and is room for improvement, even for a quarterback who ran for 1,271 yards and 13 scores and passed for 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns with only six interceptions.
Ed Warinner, Ohio State’s co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, said there are several things that jump out when you look at Miller now.
“In terms of his technique, it’s his footwork and all his techniques, his mannerisms, running the offense but setting his feet, throwing, making his reads, keeping the ball in the right position, his footwork on runs and meshing with the running backs,” Warinner said. “Technically, he’s a better player and he’s much more confident and he’s much more of a leader and really has a much better understanding the big picture of what’s going on.”
— Meyer expressed satisfaction with the early returns on Australian punter Cameron Johnston, a freshman running back and a huge fill-in on the offensive front wall.
Johnston is a former Australian Rules Football player who is being asked to step in for the graduated Ben Buchanan.
“He’s got a live leg,” the second-year coach said. “He’s a tremendous kid, 21 years old, so he’s not that 17-year-old, wide-eyed guy that looks at you like, ‘What planet am I on?’ He’s a fast athlete, so we might be able to do some things with him, moving the pocket and so forth.”
Meyer called Johnston his “No. 1 guy” at punter.
Dontre Wilson, recruited as a generic athlete in February, has made an impression so far at a running back.
“He’s got something that we didn’t have last year and that’s just ‘jets,”’ Meyer said, referring to the DeSoto, Texas, native’s speed.
Up front, Taylor Decker has looked solid in his attempt to fill the spot at right tackle. At 6-foot-7 and more than 300 pounds, he made some headway as a backup last year during his first year on campus and has continued to improve.
“I feel like I’m getting there now,” Decker said. “I feel really comfortable with the playbook, like I’m definitely able to play full speed all the time.”
The Buckeyes opened camp Sunday and will slowly change the focus from drills and learning the playbook to concentrating on the opener Aug. 31 against Buffalo.