COLUMBUS — Finally, the focus turns to the field.
After several weeks of questions and controversy, the Ohio State Buckeyes open fall training camp today with concerns like every team, but also with strengths pointing to a run at a Big Ten title and maybe even a national championship.
“I’m going to focus on the positives, positives created by tremendous momentum from last year’s team, to an excellent recruiting class, positive spring practice and one of the best academic performances in recent history at Ohio State,” coach Urban Meyer said.
“A good bunch of guys that are, for the majority, doing the right things, getting themselves ready for the ’13 season.”
Meyer’s Buckeyes debut a year ago resulted in a surprising 12-0 record that came to an abrupt end because of an NCAA bowl due to infractions committed under former coach Jim Tressel.
“We’re going to go into this season with more of a chip on our shoulder, just for the simple fact we couldn’t compete for what we wanted to compete for last year,” safety Christian Bryant said. “We had something ripped away from us. We know what we want to do this year and we have the goals set out and we can actually achieve those goals this season.”
Meyer is beginning his 12th year as a head coach (116-23) after stints at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. He won two national championships with the Gators. But he has also faced withering questions recently about his handling of discipline problems there in the wake of the murder charges against former NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez, a centerpiece of Meyer’s 2008 national title team.
Four players were disciplined in July for brushes with the law. Tailback Carlos Hyde, the team’s leading scorer a year ago, was listed as a person of interest in an assault against a woman at a Columbus bar, but police eventually dropped the case when the alleged victim declined to pursue charges. Hyde was subsequently suspended for the first three games and faces additional team punishment.
Bradley Roby, a shutdown cornerback and one of the team’s defensive leaders, was charged with misdemeanor assault after an incident in a Bloomington, Ind., bar.
The police report says Roby struck a bouncer in the chest. He is awaiting the next step in his legal case and could still face team sanctions.
In addition, two incoming freshmen were disciplined after skirmishes with the law.
All of which prompts questions about the leadership of the team, since two of the team’s top players were involved in the headline-grabbing problems. Leadership was certainly not a problem a year ago.
“The leadership was something I didn’t anticipate and I underestimated that (with) the adversity that we experienced throughout the year,” Meyer said. “(That was) one of the most refreshing groups I’ve been around.”
As far as personnel this time around, the Buckeyes are in pretty good shape.
Star quarterback Braxton Miller should have a better handle on Meyer’s hurry-up offense, and will benefit from vast improvement at wide receiver where Corey Brown and Devin Smith have made strides. The line is solid, built around Jack Mewhort, Marcus Hall and Corey Linsley.
“Offensively I feel very strong about where we could be if we have a solid training camp,” Meyer said. “Defense is where the issues are.”
The defense has holes to fill — most of the front seven starters are gone from a year ago and there’s the nagging mystery of Roby to be resolved — but several promising candidates are ready to step in. They include Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, Michael Bennett and Joel Hale on the line, along with Curtis Grant and Ryan Shazier at linebacker.
The opening of camp is a time for optimism.
“I’m really excited. The guys are in great shape going into camp and we’re going to set ourselves up for a good season,” Mewhort said. “As you get older, you learn to appreciate camp more. All I can think about is I want to go play football. Lifting weights and running can only take you so far. The young guys might dread it a little bit, but once we’re in there and all together in the hotel and practicing and grinding together, it’s a lot of fun. And when you come out the other side of camp, there’s nothing like it.”
Of course, a lot of fans have lofty hopes for the Buckeyes. So, apparently, do coaches. They ranked Ohio State No. 2 in their initial poll of the season.
Meyer agrees that his team ought to be good.
“This year’s team has high expectations, riding off the coattails of what those kids did last year,” he said. “It’s very simple that if we get tremendous leadership from our coaching staff, but most importantly our players, then we’ll have a successful season.”
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP.