Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has always been accustomed to having breakaway threats on offense, and he was astonished when he began working with the Buckeyes last year and found they were almost completely devoid of burners.
“We were not a big-play team at all. Our fastest player was our quarterback,” he said. “After the first game, I said, ‘We need some big-play guys. Either develop them or go recruit them.’ “
Meyer and his staff managed to do both, and the Buckeyes will go into the start of preseason camp today percolating with confidence because of the prospect of having a much more potent offense.
Receivers Philly Brown (60 catches, 669 yards, three TDs) and Devin Smith (30 catches, 618 yards, six TDs) are proven players. Tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett are so versatile that Meyer expects to be find mismatches by playing both of them at the same time. And the running back position is well-stocked, even with star Carlos Hyde serving a three-game suspension.
There’s also junior QB Braxton Miller, the Big Ten offensive player of the year who draws so much attention from defenses that he creates openings for others.
“I’m hoping this year we have a nice little contingent of playmakers, that our only playmaker isn’t No. 5,” Meyer said. “I think last year we didn’t have very much confidence in the surrounding personnel. The first half of the season, you could ask, ‘Who else did we trust to put the ball in their hands?’ But by the end of the year, we didn’t rely on Braxton as much.”
Miller expects to be even more explosive this year. He not only has a better grasp of the offense, but believes he’ll be allowed to rely more on his natural instincts.
“I feel a lot more confident than what I was last year. … It’s like, ‘Dang, I know what I’m actually doing this year.’ And it can change up the whole offensive game plan. The plays are in my mind, and I (won’t) second-guess myself,” he said.
For all his athletic gifts, Miller surprisingly had a hard time dodging pass-rushers last year. The Buckeyes, who had a quality offensive line, gave up 29 sacks, the 10th most in the Big Ten.
“Last year, I didn’t scramble as much as my freshmen year,” he said. “I felt like I was trying to be too perfect. It took away some of my game, and (offensive coordinator Tom) Herman sometimes says, ‘Just make the big play,’ and I’m working on that.
“They tell me don’t try to be too perfect. If you want to be too perfect, it’s going to take away from your game. They tell me to get outside the pocket and go back to the game I played when I was a freshman or in high school.”
But Miller also believes he won’t be overburdened this year and can avoid some of the injuries that caused him to miss a play or more against Michigan State, Nebraska and Purdue.
He worked in the offseason with incoming freshmen Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall, Ezekiel Elliott and James Clark, all of whom are considered blazers.
“The new recruitment is unbelievable — speed and talent,” he said. “Guys are learning the plays. I don’t think anyone is going to have to redshirt here. They’ve got to play.”
Wilson, a hybrid running back-receiver who flipped from Oregon to OSU just before signing day, was a top sprinter in his native Texas.
“Watch out for him this year,” Miller said.
He added: “I throw to the guys all the time. I see some talent. I see some big plays.”
Decker in battle: Right tackle is the only open spot on the offensive line. Meyer said Taylor Decker, a sophomore from Vandalia, has the edge going into camp, although he’s in a battle with sophomore Chase Farris, a converted defensive lineman.
Left tackle Jack Mewhort said Decker is “a big, athletic kid, and he’s really bright. He’s smart, so he knows everything there is to know about playing tackle in this offense. He works hard, he’s strong. … He just needs to come along and realize he’s not a freshman anymore. Get that edge, that grit to him. And if he figures it out, he’s going to be unbelievable.”
Prime-time games: The Buckeyes will have at least three night games this season, kicking off at 8 p.m. against Wisconsin and Penn State at home and Northwestern on the road.
“I love night games. It reminds me of Friday Night Lights in high school,” Miller said. “I feel like everyone is watching when you’re under the lights. I wish we could have a night game every game.”
Ohio State’s schedule
Aug. 31 BUFFALO noon
Sept. 7 SAN DIEGO STATE 3:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 California 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 FLORIDA A&M TBA
Sept. 28 WISCONSIN 8 p.m.
Oct. 5 Northwestern 8 p.m.
Oct. 19 IOWA 3:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 PENN STATE 8 p.m.
Nov. 2 Purdue TBA
Nov. 16 Illinois TBA
Nov. 23 INDIANA TBA
Nov. 30 Michigan TBA
Home games in CAPS