Meyer Pushing For Preseason Perfection
One month removed from his team’s season opener at Indiana, Urban Meyer got back into pregame mode as far as his interaction with the media – an exercise that always seems to lead to candor.
Owner of a gaudy 61-6 record as Ohio State’s high-profile football coach, Meyer will go into the 2017 season with the usual lofty expectations but also with many questions to answer.
The Buckeyes, who are still trying to shake off the 31-0 loss to Clemson in the College Football semifinals on New Year’s Eve, will find themselves in the top three of virtually every preseason poll and have scads of players already appearing on watch lists for prestigious awards. They also have senior quarterback J.T. Barrett to lead an offense that now will be directed by former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson, who is known for attacking defenses.
Meanwhile, the defense is blessed with an embarrassment of riches up front and also features All-Big Ten caliber talent at linebacker and outstanding athleticism on the back end.
Still, OSU needs to shore up the right side of its offensive line, needs reliable players to emerge in the secondary and still has to find a go-to performer at wide receiver. Also, the kicking game is a bit of a mystery at this point.
The Buckeyes started their 29-practice preseason with an early-morning session on Thursday and did the same on Friday. Meyer gave his team the weekend off but had the coaches picked up the pace on Monday with a big week ahead and the trip to Bloomington looming. Afterward, Meyer met with the media and summed up the state of his team.
URBAN MEYER: What’s the common denominator on great teams, great organizations, and there’s plenty of professional organizations that just struggle every year, and the fans and the media, they blame the coaches. You don’t coach at that level unless you’re not a great coach. It’s not you just wake up and they make you a coach.
Then it’s even more comical when they blame the players. I hear the term, well, he’s a bad player. They’re not bad players, but what’s the problem? Why do some organizations have these great, great teams and why do these great certain companies have great companies even during hard times? And the term we come up with around here is they own it. It’s theirs. It’s their property.
I just noticed when Curtis Grant walks around here, he walks in this building, and he thinks he owns the damn thing, because he does, and he should walk around like that. And with that, comes responsibility. You see someone treating it not nice, it’s your home. So that was a central theme. We’ll continue that through training camp or part of it.
Q. You guys talked a lot this past week about how much their off-season included extended endurance work. Would your team last year have been able to run at the tempo you want them to run this year? Or was this off-season and the extra work necessary to get them to where Kevin Wilson wants them to go?
URBAN MEYER: I think that’s a lot of times players just because they just finished say it was harder this year. No it wasn’t. It was as hard. I don’t want to say. I’ll ask Mick (Marotti), but it’s not like that was a mandate sent down from me that we have to run more than we have.
So I think that’s simply what kind of team we have. We are going to play with much more tempo on offense, but I don’t think that affected the off-season.
Q. You have a rather unproven stable of wide receivers. What gives you confidence that one or two of those guys is going to step up and produce to the level?
URBAN MEYER: It’s one of the best groups we’ve ever had culturally. They believe in the four to six, A to B, plus-two mentality that we have here and there are zero issues. It’s just show up and go to work, be at your body weight and give your very best. They are unproven, but those kind of players usually turn out to have very good careers.
Q. There was so much talk last year, the team was a year away, you had so many starters at training camp, as a coach, do you enjoy that particular challenge of building guys up more than having a roster with so many veterans back? Do you have a preference between those two?
URBAN MEYER: No, whatever hand is dealt, I think you always like to have — you advance more quickly when you have an established group like our older guys are fantastic. It’s not like you have a choice. It’s just part of the deal.
Q. Is there a different mentality or mindset or approach that you use when you have a group that has as many returners as you have?
URBAN MEYER: Yeah, it’s that whole 2,000-rep club. We know every rep they’ve taken during their career here at Ohio State. It’s just that whole mentality. Football is a tough sport, and we’re just going to be efficient with every rep, especially for a guy that’s played a lot. Oh, yeah, much different mentality. Not so much for the team, for individuals. So when a guy has played and he’s been a starter for two years, it’s not like you’re going to see him get wiped out at practice and show us how he’s a tough guy. We’ve already established that.
Q. Does that actually help you develop some of the youth then as opposed to last year if you have to have some starters and find some starters? Does that make it easier?
URBAN MEYER: Yeah, with every rep, it’s sometimes harder to get that second or third quarterback a rep when the first guy’s a new quarterback because he’s going to take them all. And remember that happening with Kenny Guiton. Our first two years it was hard because it was so new to Braxton (Miller), that he took up so many reps and that’s why he was such an amazing example of preparing yourself even when you’re not getting the game rep.
Kenny Guiton is legendary around here because we won games for us without getting the one-on-one reps. But when you have an established guy, it’s easier to stick the other guy in there.
Q. I know it’s so early. Is there anybody who has made a jump in your mind? Any position group, any young player?
URBAN MEYER: It’s too early, Bill. Next week we’ll get you.
Q. What did you learn or observe from Michael Jordan last year playing as a true freshman on the offensive line, and how would that affect how you guys would view Josh Myers or Wyatt Davis or any true freshman on the offensive line, guys who are fighting for spots?
URBAN MEYER: Well, Michael Jordan, if you evaluated, played okay, played pretty good for a freshman, but that’s a position you would rarely like to see a true freshman go play. Those are three guys we’re excited about when Josh Myers and Thayer Munford and Wyatt Davis, those are all want-to, try-hard guys, so we have no problem playing a guy.
And Michael is only the second one of my career that I’ve ever had that Maurkice Pouncey and Mike Jordan can come in here and start right away.
Q. When you see Michael playing okay as a true freshman, what might that do for him now as a sophomore and the rest of the his career?
URBAN MEYER: There is no price tag you can put on experience. We try to create it as much in practice, but there’s nothing like it. He’s doing great right now. Had a great finish to the summer. Three days in he’s doing a nice job. Little different approach you can tell from him.
Q. You guys have been in interesting recruiting situations where you’re involved with trying to flip prospects and then your prospects who are committed are trying to be flipped from other programs. I was wondering, I can’t even think of maybe one that you’ve had flipped out of your class. You’ve done a very good job of taking prospects and keeping the ones that are being recruited by others in your class. When a prospect is committed to you, what is the strategy? How have you been so successful in keeping a commitment once you’ve gotten it?
URBAN MEYER: I think it’s our players, and I think it’s our players’ families. Why is Ohio State doing well? It’s a great place, the culture is really good, and our kids love to go to school here and compete. We tried to tell them to hold off on committing too. A lot of the players try to commit right out of the jump, and you take your time, because those are the ones that often say now I’ve got to rethink this thing through and they start taking visits.
That’s part of the game though. We don’t try to be over-forceful one way or the other. I always make sure, Are you sure you want to do this? Well, I’m kind of sure. Well, Hold off. We’re not a very pushy program. Does that make sense?
Q. It does, but there are maybe three programs in college football that can offer what you guys offer from top to bottom. When one of those programs, like Alabama, for instance, comes in here, is it different? How do you handle that? It’s one thing to say Ohio State’s a great place, but there are a few other programs that are on point with what you guys have?
URBAN MEYER: Good point. It’s player to player. You’ve probably heard of some of them and maybe some you haven’t heard of those kind of battles.
Just honesty is the best policy, and do the very best you can. The recruiter has a hell of a responsibility. The position coach and obviously me to make sure you maintain a great relationship.
Q. I know you mentioned that two practices is too early to tell on players, but what do you do in these early practices, you and the staff, what are you looking for? What does catch your eye?
URBAN MEYER: It’s all culture at this point. It’s the whole thing, the go-hard, because there are going to be plenty of mistakes. The player that freezes up, and we have a saying around here, when contact is made, that means when you’re in a game-like situation, you revert back to your training. The players that revert back to their training.
That’s the hardest thing for a quarterback because they can look so good in drill work, and then you get out there and you can’t hear. The right guard misses a block, you get hit and you lose your focus. Those are the quarterbacks you see really struggle in NFL, college, high school.
The player that something good does not happen and he could go right back to fundamentals and all the training he’s been through, those are guys that play. That’s what I look for now and all our coaches, as you start establishing depth charts, and we’ll have a scrimmage this Saturday. Then after that you’re going to start seeing depth charts get materialized a little bit, and following that one, they’re done. So they have about ten days or whatever it is, to establish themselves, and that’s what we’re looking for. We’re not looking for assignment expertise yet.
Q. One other thing I saw over the weekend, you guys posted that you were at Magic Mountain. Through the summer I know there were outings. I know that has nothing to do with the Xs and Os of the game, but the culture stuff, the team unity, how important is that stuff for you and the staff to kind of work in?
URBAN MEYER: I think you’ve been around here long enough. It’s called power of the unit. That’s nine units strong, and that guy has to, before he can do what you ask him to do, he’s got to trust you. How does he trust you? He’s got to know someone other than the guy who walks these offices all the time. We expect them to be over at their house, get to know their families, they know their families, and do something other than constant football. So you see us do that quite a bit.
Q. Mike Weber was on the sideline Thursday when you were out at practice. Is that injury-related and is he back to practice yet?
URBAN MEYER: He was jogging. He has a little tight hamstring, so we’re just being cautious this early out. So he’s practiced a little bit today. He’s on the mend.
Q. Are you going goatee on game day? No, that’s not my question. What was the best thing that happened today?
URBAN MEYER: The best thing that happened today?
Q. What stood out to you?
URBAN MEYER: We had two young defensive linemen that are on black stripe watch list. Not going to give you the names, but that was the best thing that happened.
Q. You can’t give me the names?
URBAN MEYER: No, not yet. And no.
Q. No? You’re going to shave?
URBAN MEYER: Yeah.
Q. J.T. was talking the other day about as he’s learned your offense and learned opposing defenses maybe there were times he would hesitate because what his knowledge told him would happen didn’t happen, and it was pump fake. Is it possible for a quarterback to know too much and think too much?
URBAN MEYER: Sure, it’s a little overreaction because it’s not perfect. Exactly, I’ve seen quarterbacks go through that, and that’s why we try to do the best we can to give them that situation in practice. And defense, especially the multiple defenses where, you know, there is no definitive — what’s the word I’m looking for? Definitive tendencies that we’re going to face, that’s the problem. Especially for a quarterback like J.T. that’s so smart. Alex Smith was the same way. Wait a minute, I thought we were practicing like this. Maybe a guy made a mistake.
So you try to do the best you can to give them those situations. But I’ve seen that happen before, and I’ve seen that with J.T.
Q. What is the balance you try to strike then when you have a guy that’s as intelligent as JT is, but you don’t want to compromise his instincts out there as well?
URBAN MEYER: You try to give him as much nonsense in practice. That’s what happens. Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day like to go really fast and he’s going to have a lot of that.
I’ll just give this as a little detail, but it’s a pretty good way of thinking of it. For example, in throwing the football there is a movement key. If you’re there, I’m going to throw the ball there. If you’re going really fast and it’s a discombobulated defense, you don’t do that, it’s pure progression. That means you go one to two to three. Does that make sense? That’s a simplified way, but a perfect example.
So, if you go fast and you’re going to see defenses aren’t quite lined up, we’re more progression oriented within the throw game. That just simplifies things for them.
Q. Urban, the NCAA did away with two-a-days, did that affect how you did things?
URBAN MEYER: Oh, yeah.
Q. Did you already cut back on that? How did it affect it? And then the two-parter, you also have more days because you started earlier like a lot of teams have, how do you balance the idea of not hitting as much but having more days?
URBAN MEYER: I just saw the other day there was a proposal going across 25 practices and we’ve had 29. Rarely do you use all 29. So that’s the biggest thing that we’ve spent a lot of time this summer. It’s different when you play a couple preseason games. We are not playing preseason games. We are in the Big Ten Conference, game one. So sometimes I’ll count those games as a chance to get guys ready. We don’t have that luxury this year. This year, you’re in it.
So I’d like to think that we’ve always had 27 or 28 practices, so that’s why I moved it up when we practiced on Thursday and Friday. So I’m trying to get as close as I can to our routine. We know you need that many practices to get ready.
Q. So you’re doing 28?
URBAN MEYER: Right now we have 28 scheduled.
Q. Are you at all concerned about guys getting stale an extra week?
URBAN MEYER: Oh, yeah.
Q. What are you doing to avoid that?
URBAN MEYER: I gave them the weekend off. We’ll practice Thursday, Friday. They’re going to practice today, tomorrow, and Wednesday off, and practice Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday off. So we’re very conscientious. My staff, there is nothing worse than a stale, tired group. So I’m watching that.
Q. Coach, we had a chance to talk to Jamarco Jones the other day. It seemed when things were going sideways with the offensive line at the end of the season, he was a guy that kind of held his own, I guess. Maybe didn’t have as many breakdowns. What did you see out of him down the stretch last year his first year? What do you want to see in his senior year? How’s he going to take it to the next level?
URBAN MEYER: He was one of our most improved players. He’s a guy that that comment I made about what happens when contact is made, do you revert back to his training, and he was a guy that didn’t do that, that’s why he didn’t play very much his first few years. He was the one guy in that offensive line that him and obviously Pat Elflein were the two guys that when chaos was going around them, you could count on them to settle things down and do their job.
So it was just maturity, and he’s turned into being a heck of a player.
Q. Do you view him as a leader up there?
URBAN MEYER: He’s got to be. There is no choice.
Q. When you look at this team, the group you’ve got out there, I know you haven’t played real football yet this season, pads on and stuff, is this as deep a team as you’ve seen in a while?
URBAN MEYER: Certain areas, yeah. But certain areas we’re very thin. Receiver there’s not a whole lot of depth there of experienced talent. The D-line is the one area that you do, so I don’t want people to start thinking, you hear that label, boy, what a deep — we’re not deep at all. At certain positions at the secondary, you know, it could be.
Q. You’re talking about proven guys, right?
URBAN MEYER: Yeah.
Q. Do you see a talent well there?
URBAN MEYER: It’s too early to tell. Yeah, but I’ll let you know. When we have these weekly meetings and all that, but it’s still early.
Q. As you’ve said, you’ve got five defensive ends, do you think they’ll be playing in the NFL and be draft picks and stuff. You still stand by that statement, right?
URBAN MEYER: Four.
Q. I thought you said five?
URBAN MEYER: Potentially five.
Q. Then you have Chase Young coming along. I don’t know. In that realm, are you as deep as you’ve ever been in a position like that?
URBAN MEYER: I think D-end will be as deep as we’ve ever been, at defensive end. We’re not inside yet. It depends how well Sprinkle comes back and other guys mature. But, yeah, defensive end, I would put ours against any group I’ve ever had or anybody in America.
Q. Wide receiver, what does a young wide receiver, a freshman-type wide receiver have to do in your mind to get on the field to earn playing time? What will you be watching for from those young guys in the next several weeks?
URBAN MEYER: The guy that’s kind of stepped up a little bit is Jaylen Harris from Cleveland. He’s kind of a playmaker, but he’s still a very immature player, which is not a negative yet. It will be if I’m still saying that ten days from now. But he’s shown that he’s got the skill set to play here, no doubt. It’s how soon can you learn the offense and fight through injuries, etc.