COLUMBUS: No one in serious pursuit of his craft likes to be called a clown, and so it was for Ohio State receivers a year ago.
As new coach Urban Meyer watched his first few spring practices, he couldn’t believe how inept the relatively inexperienced receivers were as they adapted to his spread offense. It’s when he uttered his “clown show” synopsis.
“I got heat for it … but if I look back one year ago from today, it did look like a clown show,” Meyer said.
He was not amused, and neither were the receivers.
“In the spring we came out, and it was bad,” Corey Brown said Thursday. The senior is just a few months removed from a 60-catch season. Obviously, things got better for him and the group during last season.
“We came out in fall camp and felt like we had a point to prove, so we took the summer, that little gap between spring and fall, to just go to work, to do everything we could to get better as a group,” Brown said. “Obviously, in fall camp we showed strides, and we got better and better every day.”
The work ethic carried over through this past winter.
“We’ve just been taking serious initiatives,” senior Chris Fields said. “It started with the winter conditioning — after the workouts, we’d go out and run routes until we were tired. We now take the offseason serious, and that’s what we didn’t do last [winter].”
Receivers coach Zach Smith had to stand in the front of the meeting room and teach after that “clown show” comment, which made for an interesting dynamic.
“Last year there was some discomfort in, one, they knew they weren’t as good as they needed to be,” Smith said. “And they were really uncomfortable with new people calling them out, telling them they weren’t very good, when deep down they knew they weren’t as good as they needed to be.
“Now they feel like they have put in four months of hard work to get to a different level, to do what we want them to do. So they’re more confident because they know how committed they’ve been, how hard they’ve worked, and they know what it’s going to end up being in the fall if they continue.”
What the group seeks is consistent all-around better play. For example:
• Brown led the Buckeyes with 60 catches, but only three went for touchdowns.
• Devin Smith had some spectacular moments, like a one-handed touchdown catch against Miami University and the winning touchdown on a catch-and-run against Michigan State, but 19 of his 30 catches came in the first five games.
• Fields was almost forgotten when the season started but wound up making the seminal catch of the undefeated season, a diving grab on a pass from backup quarterback Kenny Guiton that helped send the Purdue game to overtime.
• Evan Spencer had three catches in the season opener, but just nine the rest of the season.
• Then-freshman Michael Thomas had 12 catches in the spring game but just three during the season as he worked to learn the nuances of the college game, especially when he was switched from flanker to split end.
“Last year was a learning experience — you have to crawl before you walk, and I was able to see how it feels to be out there,” Thomas said yesterday. “Now I’m comfortable and ready to play.”
That goes for the offense. It took a while for the group to click, Brown said.
“By the time we got to the end of the year we were, by my opinion, a top-five offense in the country,” he said.
Now more is expected, even in the spring, and Brown thinks the offense, led by third-year starting quarterback Braxton Miller, has shown a zest and a play-fast approach. The clown quote made an impact.
“It was motivating, and it helped us improve as much as we did,” Zach Smith said. “And it helped us see what we needed to do last year that we are doing this year.”
Prank works on coach
Jeff Heuerman could tell that Tim Hinton was buying the story.
Heuerman told the Ohio State tight end/fullbacks coach on Monday that he and his brother Mike, a tight end at Notre Dame, had been involved in a late-night altercation.
Heuerman, a junior-to-be tight end, told Hinton that two men had tried to rob them on High Street and that one of assailants was in the hospital with a “fractured face” after Heuerman fought back. Then Heuerman said that police intended to press charges against him and were coming to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to arrest him.
Hinton, as might be expected, was near panic.
“He’s always like, ‘Be careful, be careful,” Heuerman said. “He’s paranoid about us [brothers] together.”
Now it seemed his fears had been realized.
“Head in his hands and turning bright red,” Heuerman said of Hinton’s reaction. “Finally, I was like, ‘It gets worse.’ I thought he was going to have a heart attack.”
Only then did Heuerman deliver the kicker: April Fools.
“He couldn’t even be mad afterward because he was so happy it wasn’t true,” Heuerman said.
Spring game update
Ohio State said that more than 26,000 tickets have been sold for the spring game April 13 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Concrete reinforcement at Ohio Stadium caused the game to be moved this year.
The practice Thursday was closed to the media, but some highlights were shared. Michael Thomas caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kenny Guiton in tight coverage. ... Linebacker Ryan Shazier, who had been wearing an orange jersey, signifying limited contact because of a sports hernia injury, did not have orange on. But he did not participate in contact drills. ... Ivon Blackman, listed as an offensive lineman, is seeing time with the defensive line.