COLUMBUS: He’d spent a year away from coaching. It was his first day of spring practice at his dream job, an Ashtabula native stepping onto the field as the man in charge of football at Ohio State.
His predecessors were everywhere. Woody Hayes and Paul Brown looked down from the wall, Earle Bruce and John Cooper from the sideline.
But Urban Meyer said he had no pinch-yourself moment, no instance when he was staggered by the enormousness of where he is and what he’s doing.
“No,” he said. “I imagine the first game will be … I won’t actually do it, pinch myself.”
Although the sky was sunny and the temperature in the 70s, winds gusting at a reported 26 mph blew over a 20-foot-by-40-foot tent in the north end zone that was held down by more than 2,500 pounds of water-filled 55-gallon drums. It was nearly impossible to see, with new mulch turned into projectiles, so practice was moved indoors at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. And the no-nonsense Meyer didn’t really like what he saw.
In a brief news conference in the team meeting room after the 2›-hour session, Meyer didn’t cover up the team’s weaknesses. It was obvious the attention to detail that will be demanded from Meyer, who won two national championships at Florida.
“Obviously, we’re not there yet,” he said. “I was very pleased with practice. However, the same issues that were concerns going into it are still there. The offensive skill guys making plays, I didn’t see a whole lot of it. Our depth at offensive line is not very good.”
He seemed extremely disappointed in the wide receivers. He seemed to question whether there’s anyone on the roster who can compare with former stars Anthony Gonzalez or Ted Ginn Jr. The three running with the first team were sophomores Devin Smith and Evan Spencer and junior Chris Fields.
“At Ohio State, you should walk off the field and go, ‘Wow, who are those three guys?’ I haven’t done that yet,” Meyer said. “You’ve got to have one. Here you should probably have more than two. There was a time when they had two first-rounders, Gonzalez and Ginn. This is the highest level of football. Maybe we do. Maybe we’ve just got to keep pushing them and developing and we’ve certainly got to keep recruiting.”
Even the speed displayed by Massillon’s Smith wasn’t enough to please Meyer.
“He’s fast. It’s so much more than just fast,” Meyer said. “He’s a real speed guy; he’s a separator. I’ll tell you more after I watch him. I just know what I saw last year and heard about last year, I just didn’t see.”
As for the offensive line, Meyer did mention freshman Taylor Decker of Vandalia Butler, who was thrown into action with the second team. He’s also been impressed with the dedication of 6-foot-8, 298-pound senior Reid Fragel, who has been switched from tight end to right tackle.
“He’s had his best semester academically. He’s much more serious,” Meyer said. “He’s gained 20-something pounds and his body fat actually went down. He’s one of the leanest offensive linemen. He’s a 300-pound guy who has below 10 percent body fat. That’s borderline incredible. That tells you what he has.
“Now can he play tackle? For the first day, he did fine. I’ll tell you in a couple weeks. He’s done everything we asked since the day we had our little meeting with his family, himself, our strength coach and his position coach. Off the field as well.”
Meyer seemed much more hands-on than former coach Jim Tressel, working on pitchouts with quarterbacks and running backs and making sure the cuts were precise when there was motion in the backfield.
“I felt great to blow the whistle and see guys run and talk to them and coach punt team, I love coaching punt team,” Meyer said. “I love being around quarterbacks and seeing the defense run in pursuit.
“It was great for my staff and I. I saw a lot of guys excited to be coaching at Ohio State.”
Meyer doesn’t know whether they have everything it takes to run his spread offense, but his top two quarterbacks, Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton, are not lacking arm strength.
“Both those kids, the answer is yes, they can throw,” Meyer said. “I’ve probably received that question from friends, from Ohio State people, from non-Ohio State people. All the other stuff that goes on, I’m not sure, but they can physically throw the ball. I feel good about those guys.”
All the quarterbacks wore left knee braces as a preventive measure on their plant leg.
“That’s your most vulnerable position, the knee that locks out when you throw,” he said. “We’ve always done that.”
Meyer credited the exhausting pace of practice to offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Tom Herman, who was in the same position at Iowa State and worked with record-setting offenses at Rice.
“The amount of plays was incredible,” Meyer said. “Coach Herman brought that with him. We weren’t that way at Florida. We weren’t rapid fire. We’re rapid fire now.”
Meyer said he sensed the players liked the tempo.
“Your leading receiver has 12 or 14 catches,” he said. “Kids come to catch the ball. I think they’re enthused by that.”
Work in progress
Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is down to 317 pounds, which seems like major progress for the 6-foot-3 junior. But Meyer wasn’t ready to praise Hankins.
“Before I start pumping his tires too hard, I think we’ve got some more LBs to go,” Meyer said. “I saw some jiggling out there that I wasn’t impressed with.”
One to watch
The most entertaining coach on Meyer’s staff is cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs, an assistant at the University of Cincinnati the past five years and a former coach at his alma mater, Colerain High School.
Doran Grant of St. Vincent-St. Mary and the rest of Coombs’ charges got an earful, especially when they ran footwork drills through a ladder on the ground.
“You’re too tall, you’re too short, Adam, you can’t see me,” Coombs said. “I’ve got a lady in the third row who can see this. You know how much better you’re getting, the lady in the third row knows you’re getting better.”
Later when Grant failed to catch an interception, Coombs scolded, “I don’t care if you go out of bounds. Catch the freaking ball!” Grant immediately dropped to the turf and did push-ups.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.