COLUMBUS — The list of big-time players Urban Meyer had while winning two national championships at Florida goes on and on: Percy Harvin, Chris Leak, Tim Tebow, Joe Haden and Brandon Spikes, among others.
So far, during his first few weeks working with his new team at Ohio State, he has yet to find anyone of that caliber.
But he remains hopeful.
“You’ve got to do it over and over again but there are times ...” he said last week after what he called the best practice he’s seen the offense have in the short time he’s been with the team. “It’s not a clown show out there like at a couple of points it was.”
It’s a three-ring affair in many ways. With a new offensive system, the Buckeyes are learning new plays, new terminology, new philosophies — really one philosophy, Meyer’s.
“It’s just really, really, really uptempo,” offensive lineman Jack Mewhort said of the change. “We’re a no-huddle offense now.”
That’s dramatically different from years past when Ohio State relied more on muscle and execution to blow people off the ball, freeing the skill players to pile up big yardage.
“Last year we were much more of an I-formation team, kind of a pro-style thing with the quarterback under center a lot,” fullback Zach Boren said. “This year it’s all about spreading the field and making vertical plays, getting the ball up and down the field with speed. We’re not going to be lining up with a fullback and a tight end in the box and just running power. We’re still going to run power this year, we’re still going to be a tough, physical power running team, but we’re just going to do it out of different formations and let guys play in space and make plays.”
Now if somebody on offense would just prove that they can do that.
All spring Meyer has lamented that no one has shown breakaway speed or playmaking ability. That doesn’t mean the Buckeyes haven’t made some headway, but it’s not like they’ve unearthed a Harvin who can crack a game open from any of three or four positions.
Running backs coach Stan Drayton, who also assisted Meyer at Florida, recognizes that the offense is basically the same but different players will fit into the system.
“Our best ballcarriers (at Florida) were Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow,” Drayton said. “In this system, in the Urban Meyer system, playmakers touch the football. We’re going to make the system fit our playmakers. At that time, those (Harvin and Tebow) were the best ballcarriers and they had over 1,000 yards. So, now, we feel as if we’ve got ballcarriers. They’re time-proven, they’re game ready. There is no question that a 1,000-yard rusher can be in this offense.”
In his first season after taking over a program rocked by Jim Tressel’s forced resignation less than a year ago and a 6-7 mark under interim coach Luke Fickell last fall, Meyer believes the Buckeyes are gaining ground, literally.
“There’s momentum in (the running back) group,” he said. “As long as there’s momentum in a group, that’s a positive. And the receivers are getting better. But someone has to — we need two or three to step up.”
Funny, but Ohio State might have found someone to turn the tide on the other side of the ball. Although he is far from proving himself an All-American, as Haden and Spikes did at Florida at cornerback and linebacker, respectively, lineman John Simon has been a mainstay on defense.
How good has he been? Meyer went so far as to compare Simon to one of his favorite players at his last coaching stop, a guy still making headlines.
“The No. 1 guy, the guy who’s just a warhorse, he is Ohio State football, is John Simon,” Meyer said. “I can’t help but say I love the guy. He’s one of the most committed — he’s Tebowish as far as his commitment.”
While none of the wideouts have really stood out, many others on offense have made big strides.
Quarterback Braxton Miller, running backs Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde, tight end Jake Stoneburner and occasionally others have displayed a knack for biting off chunks of yardage.
Of the burly (6-0, 235 pounds) Hyde, Meyer said, “He’s drinking the Kool-Aid right now.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s marked himself as someone who can change a game with one step, one swivel of the hips, one shake-and-bake move like famed Florida quarterbacks Leak and Tebow, who delivered national titles.
Besides, it’s a long way to the Sept. 1 opener against Miami (Ohio).
“It’s a work in progress,” Meyer said of the quest to find a football home-run hitter. “But the best thing, the snaps are hitting the quarterback right between the numbers. And guys are competing. So that’s why I’m (growing) very impressed with the Ohio State Buckeyes.”