Ohio State Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from Big Ten Media Days
The Buckeyes are gearing up for another national title run after last year's quest fell short. Meyer has the pieces to contend, but fall camp will be a pivotal time for Ohio State to patch its remaining holes and grasp the vision of the coaching staff.
Here are the biggest Buckeyes-related takeaways from Big Ten media days.
Braxton Miller Is Healthy
"How important is it for Cleveland to keep LeBron (James) healthy?"
For him to stay healthy, though, he needed to get healthy. Miller underwent minor shoulder surgery last February, which forced him to the sideline as a spectator for the duration of Ohio State's spring practice. He breezed through his rehab this summer, and now, he's feeling a renewed strength in his shoulder, according to ESPN.com (via Sports Illustrated):
I feel like it's stronger. Man, everything that was damaged in there has been cleaned out. So even if I didn't have that injury, I feel like everything from before that injury has been cleaned out. I barely had any rust when I came back... My body is ready to go.
Miller also overhauled his routine to enter his senior season in the best shape of his life:
Braxton Miller changed his diet this offseason. Said his body fat went from 10% to 7% while going from 212 to 220 lbs: "I feel fast, clean."— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) July 28, 2014
That's good news for Ohio State, which will need Miller at his best to make a run at the college football playoff.
The Offensive Line Is Urban Meyer's Top Concern
A big key in keeping Braxton Miller healthy will be Ohio State's ability to retool its offensive line.
The Buckeyes must replace four multiyear senior starters up front, including captain Jack Mewhort at left tackle. That process started in the spring when Urban Meyer moved Taylor Decker from right tackle to protect Braxton Miller's blind side. Midway through spring practice, Pat Elflein secured the right guard spot.
The left guard, center and right guard positions remain open entering fall camp, and according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors, the coaching staff will dedicate a considerable amount of time to rebuilding the unit:
Meyer: Offensive Line is No. 1 Concern http://t.co/CklxkshhTi— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) July 28, 2014
"Protection of the quarterback is paramount," Meyer said, via Rowland. If the Buckeyes find the right fit up front, Meyer believes Ohio State can have a special season.
The Linebacker Unit Is Surging
When Ohio State's defense was getting thrashed on a week-to-week basis last fall, Urban Meyer's biggest concern wasn't his porous secondary. According to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors, Meyer was most worried about his linebacker unit.
Outside of future first-round NFL draft pick Ryan Shazier, the Buckeyes were getting little impact from the linebacker unit, and the depth was shallow.
Ohio State corrected that by signing four blue-chip linebackers in its 2014 class. That gave Meyer the depth he'd been lacking.
On Monday, Meyer reported that the linebackers have made huge strides.
Defensive tackle Michael Bennett expanded on the emerging unit:
Michael Bennett said the linebackers were probably the most improved group on the team. Fast, aggressive, and deep.— Tony Gerdeman (@GerdOzone) July 28, 2014
Solid play from the linebackers should help trigger a defensive turnaround for the Buckeyes.
The Wide Receiver Corps Is Thriving as Well
Ohio State's rushing attack was one of the most potent in the country last season, averaging 308.6 yards per game. That ranked fifth nationally, and it was a key factor in the Buckeyes' march toward a second straight undefeated regular season.
With the loss of Carlos Hyde and the bulk of its offensive line, Ohio State is looking to diversify its attack.
Doing so will require the receivers to step up in a big way. Corey Brown was the only consistent presence in the unit last season, and the Buckeyes need to find a way to replace his production.
That appears to be a challenge they're ready to accept:
#OSU HC Urban Meyer: "Will be disappointed if the receivers aren't ready to carry their own weight."— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) July 28, 2014
The Buckeyes are very deep at the position with players such as Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, Dontre Wilson, Michael Thomas and Corey Smith primed for bigger roles. If Ohio State can count on the unit to make plays, less of the load will be put on Braxton Miller's shoulders, or rather—legs, in the run game.
This Defensive Line Could Be Better Than Florida's from 2006
Ohio State fans have clear memories of Florida's defensive line from 2006.
That was the unit most responsible for the Buckeyes' meltdown in the 2007 national title game. Troy Smith spent the better part of the night running for his life as then-Florida head coach Urban Meyer's defensive line blasted Ohio State's overmatched offensive front.
Meyer thinks that Ohio State's defensive line could be just as good as the one that earned Florida a national championship eight years ago.
"This one, if they all perform and stay healthy, this could be at that level," Meyer said, according to Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer. "You don't have to do a lot of blitzing, you don't have to do a lot of twisting and movement, because those guys are one-on-one beaters."
Those expectations turned into results on the field last season, and heading into 2014, the unit could boast three future first-round NFL draft picks.
If Ohio State's defensive line produces like the one Florida had in 2006, the Buckeyes could bulldoze their way through the Big Ten.
Urban Meyer Met with Chip Kelly This Offseason
It's not unusual for coaches to branch out during the offseason to meet with other coaches and share football strategies.
Urban Meyer did just that this summer—meeting with Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly in June:
Details of their time together weren't discussed, but Kelly is known for his innovative offensive schemes and breathtaking pace of play.
The Buckeyes did run the hurry-up at times last year, but on the whole, they were in the middle of the pack in terms of pace of play. Ohio State averaged just 72.8 plays per contest in 2013, which ranked 71st in the country, according to TeamRankings.com.
It wouldn't be surprising to see those number spike this season.
But speed isn't the only thing Meyer gleaned from Kelly. According to Dave Biddle of Bucknuts, there are offensive concepts Meyer wants to incorporate into his own playbook.
"What I admire about Chip is he keeps pushing the envelope," Meyer said. "I mean, he's off the chart with some of the things that he's doing and starting Sunday, we're going to be doing some of the same things."
LeBron James Has Unlimited Access to Ohio State's Sideline
LeBron James' return to Cleveland wasn't only good news for the Cavs—it was also great for Urban Meyer and Ohio State.
James, a longtime Buckeyes fan, has made his way to Columbus for a number of big games over the years. Just last year, he was on the sideline for Ohio State's prime-time matchup against Wisconsin.
Apparently, Meyer wants to see more of James this year:
Meyer said LeBron has a sideline pass for Ohio State games. Said he already texted him and told him to be at every game.— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) July 29, 2014
Meyer later talked about how big James' presence was for recruiting, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors, so it only makes sense for him to extend an open invitation to the state's biggest superstar.
Ohio State Is Pondering a Future Neutral-Site Game
Ohio State isn't shy about playing marquee nonconference games. The Buckeyes have played Texas, USC and Miami over the last decade and have games against Virginia Tech, Oklahoma and Oregon scheduled for the future.
All of those matchups were set up as home-and-home bouts, so each team has the advantage of hosting one of the games in a two-year series.
The Buckeyes are exploring the possibility of playing a neutral-site game, according to Eleven Warriors' Kyle Rowland:
Meyer said Ohio State is in discussions about playing a neutral site game. Did not say who opponent might be.— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) July 28, 2014
Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer spoke with Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith about the possibility of a neutral-site game, and while he confirmed the Buckeyes' interest, nothing is materializing yet.
"We are always keeping that possibility open," Smith said. "It's pretty nice to think of going to Dallas. But right now, no."
Ohio State's future schedule is loaded with quality opponents, but another game against a top-tier team—at a neutral site—could be on the horizon.
Stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report.