COLUMBUS: Say this much for Urban Meyer: He doesn't mind putting pressure on himself, his Ohio State staff or his players.
"I would be disappointed if we're not the best offense in the Big Ten," Meyer said Saturday after the Buckeyes' annual spring intrasquad scrimmage.
What a difference a year makes when it comes to Ohio State's attack. It was early last spring when Meyer, in his first year as head coach of the Buckeyes, famously called the formative first steps of the players adapting to his no-huddle, spread attack as "a clown show."
Meyer saved a lot of his vitriol then for a group of wide receivers who he said didn't work hard enough, weren't serious about learning plays and didn't come prepared to get better.
No wonder receivers coach Zach Smith had a lot of sleepless nights.
"I was very, very concerned a year ago because this offense is built around (receivers) and we were almost in panic mode," a more relaxed Smith said this week. "Where we are today is not panic mode but we can always get better and we still have a ways to go before we can truly run out into the Horseshoe and say we're the best wide-receiver group in the country or the Big Ten."
Meyer, a longtime offensive coach who takes special interest in that side of the ball, was tormented a year ago along with his offensive coaches by what a debacle they might have on their hands.
Instead, the Buckeyes got better, got a few breaks and got a lot of help from an inspired defense to put up a surprising 12-0 season.
Now, with just two starters missing from the offensive side, there are still some minor concerns but nothing that can't be remedied.
Braxton Miller is back for a third season at quarterback after rushing for 1,271 yards and passing for 2,039 last year. Carlos Hyde is established at tailback off a 970-yard, 16-touchdown season. All but one starter on the line returns and the receivers have gone from a liability to a strength.
Quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Tom Herman was pleased with the way the unit played during the 15 spring sessions. Now the impetus is on the players to work individually and in groups to make themselves and the passing game, in particular, better.
"They have to get stronger and faster and become better football players," he said. "They've got to buy in and put in the work and the sweat and the hours and all that. If all you did was the minimum that the NCAA allows us to be a part of, you're probably not going to be a real good football team. So the leaders have to get those guys out there, do extra football-specific drills. Obviously the quarterbacks and receivers and skill guys need to throw (and catch) as much as they can."
The main worry is right tackle, where Reid Fragel grew into the job a year ago after moving over from tight end. With his graduation, the Buckeyes are still looking for a replacement. Meyer has wondered aloud "who the Reid Fragel will be" on this year's team. He has expressed deep concerns about the heirs apparent.
Right now, sophomore Taylor Decker (6-foot-7, 315 pounds) has the edge over classmate Chase Farris (6-4, 300).
"We have guys there who will do a fine job," line coach and co-coordinator Ed Warinner said.
He had no doubts that Decker will only get better with work and experience.
"I like everything about him in terms of what his upside is and his ability and mindset," Warinner said.
Miller carried the Buckeyes (and the ball) for the first half of last season. He rushed the ball more than anyone would have liked, exposing himself to injury or just wearing down as the season went on. But then Hyde took over, freeing Miller to concentrate on the passing game, which developed apace.
Hyde, recovering from an injury, didn't see contact this spring but still took some important steps.
"As a leader of this football team, it was critical that he establish himself with a young group of guys," said running backs coach Stan Drayton, who listed Hyde and Rod Smith as 1-2 on the depth chart through the spring. "I thought he did a phenomenal job. He was like a coach out there."
The staff is pleased with how Miller advanced this spring as well, particularly in his footwork and throwing motion. The challenge now is to get everyone else to his level.
"We have to improve everyone around him. We've got to become legitimate," Meyer said. "I think we have the people and we have some (freshmen) coming in in June. We have our work cut out for us."