July 26, 2016
— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) July 26, 2016
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer.
COACH MEYER: Thanks for being here, and it’s an honor to represent the Ohio State University and the Big Ten Conference in our fifth year as a staff. Like the other members of our Big Ten family, our thoughts and prayers for the Foltz and Sadler family and the tragedy that was just experienced.
Where we are as a team in 2016, have to find a way to replace arguably one of the best group of players ever to come through college football.
They won 50 games, they won a national title. Highest graduation rate in the history of Ohio State University and a record NFL draft. So I’ve been answering a lot of questions about a young team.
The issue would be if it was a non-talented young team. And that’s not the case at all. So it’s a very young team, but talented. Probably the most critical coaching month that our staff will — I’m speaking for myself — that I’ve ever been through.
We have to get these guys ready. Forty-four of our players, which is over half of our scholarships, are kids that never played in a game. So we have to get them ready. So our practices are going to be much different.
They were in spring. We’ve carried it out throughout the summer. And it will be interesting. But I’m very excited to be around them as all our coaches are this time of year. But this will be a new challenge for us and one that I can’t wait to get our hands on I believe on August 6 when we report. I’ll answer questions.
Q. Obviously news came out last week about Bri’onte Dunn. Just two parts to this question: First of all, is the door open at all for him to come back? And secondly, failing that, what is the situation — will you be moving people over to help Michael Weber and Tony Williams, whoever else you have lined up there? How is that going to shake out?
COACH MEYER: There’s no chance that Bri’onte will come back. Depth is a concern, however you have — you want four bodies in the tailback position, and I count Dontre Wilson and Curtis Samuel in the mix. So we have Demario McCall, Antonio Williams and obviously Mike Weber. So that is a concern.
How we manage practice, because that’s a very physical position, and how many times we have Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel get hit throughout training camp, those are all things remaining to be seen, but I’ll watch it very closely.
Q. Following up on that, do you think Mike Weber will be the starter at running back?
COACH MEYER: I think so. His performance in spring, his issue is he has to stay healthy. I like where he’s at. I don’t like, I love where he’s at as far as what kind of physical condition he’s in.
And I anticipate he’ll be the starting tailback, but that’s why we have training camp.
Q. What is your biggest concern as you look at your team this year, from a personnel standpoint or just what is your biggest concern entering this season?
COACH MEYER: Just reaction to game, to running out into the Shoe in front of 110,000 people. And good thing is at Ohio State we already had the 100,000 people for a spring game. And just the experience factor. How do you get them — how do you stay healthy yet put them in game-like situations as much as possible during training camp. That’s what is keeping me awake a little bit right now. And Coach Marotti, obviously that’s my go-to on those types of things. And how do you let them experience third down and six at full speed, full reps and still have a healthy team by the time you get to September 3rd.
Q. Any comparison in your career, have you ever had a year like this where you have so few experienced guys coming back?
COACH MEYER: We lost — I was looking back, I think we lost six players to the NFL draft in 2008. Excuse me, in 2010, after the 2009 season. We lost nine this year. So not as many lost. However, I can’t recall a time where you’re talking about a very, very talented group of players that have waited their turn and are a very talented group that got there in June. If we’re going to play — my goal is to play every freshman. I know that doesn’t happen, but we want to play the freshmen as soon as we can.
So to answer your question, a couple times close, but nothing like this.
Q. Since the spring, what have you seen that’s given you the most optimism about 2016 and maybe the most pessimism?
COACH MEYER: Our strength coach, that’s where I kind of hand the team to him, where I follow in spring practice. And, for example, I can’t wait to watch our offensive line. Michael Jordan is probably going to be — a true freshman — will be in the starting lineup. What I’ve seen from, his development since he got here in January is outstanding.
Just the development of a very young team that our strength coach is very excited that the speed and athleticism of this team, he’s not sure he’s ever seen one like this. So now we just have to get it football ready or game-ready.
Q. People are still trying to pick you guys to win the Big Ten and be a contender in the college football playoff. Is that a little out of whack early right now or do you see that potential in this team?
COACH MEYER: I see that potential. I see I think 2014 was the template that everybody wants. J.T. Barrett was buried in the depth chart, Darron Lee, Eli Apple, Zeke Elliott, Mike Thomas — those guys were no-names, and they became very good throughout the course of 2014. And another guy, Cardale Jones, was buried in depth chart.
A lot of pressure on our coaches, assistant coaches and myself, to get them game-ready. I would say going into this this is as talented a group top to bottom as we’ve had. Now how do we get them game-ready?
Q. With that young team like you mentioned, some coaches might not want to take them to a place like Oklahoma but for you, what kind of test does that pose, as a coach do you like it and embrace it?
COACH MEYER: I don’t have any choice to say I like it. I’m not sure I really like that. But I’ve never been there. I’ve watched them on film. I have great respect for Coach Stoops. He’s a good friend of mine.
It’s there. We know it’s coming. I’m glad we have two games to get a little bit underneath our belt. It would be hard to take a completely green team into a game like that. But we’ll be ready. We’re going to, we’ll practice in noise early and training camp. We’re going to try to get that mindset very early because we see what’s on the horizon.
So it would be a mistake if myself and anyone to overlook our first two games. We’re talking about games that have not played in a major college game. And Bowling Green has a, had a very fine last two, three years, Tulsa a electric team returning quarterback that scores a great deal of points.
So it’s there. However, I gotta make sure we stay focused on the task at hand and that’s get them ready for the first game.
Q. Some can say that the rivalry with Michigan and OSU has been kind of restored since the return of Harbaugh. After losing the starters you did how big of an impact are the recruits going to make and is it enough to beat that team up north?
COACH MEYER: That’s a long ways off. It’s a rivalry, and everyone knows how we treat that rivalry at Ohio State. Very serious. It’s every day we — it’s there every day. Are we going to be ready, that’s — the health of your team, the development of your team, that’s so far off.
But you made a comment about the recruits and this is we’ve had very, very good recruiting classes over the last three, four years and I see it. There’s been examples throughout the years for years guys supposed to be a great player are supposed to be but I don’t feel that way I feel they had to wait their turn because of what was in front of them and the chains come off pretty soon and we’ll find out what you got. I can’t wait for the first practice because there’s a few guys. And there’s a guy that has Zeek Elliott in front of him may not have the urgency that he has he sees his show. I see that completely throughout our program guys who have been waiting for the opportunity and now the opportunity is there.
Q. James Franklin speaking to the Reading Eagle said that Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan have been negatively recruiting against Penn State. In fairness, I did not get a chance to ask Harbaugh but I did Dantonio. Could you address that? Is that something that Ohio State does?
COACH MEYER: Absolutely not. And that’s the first time I’ve heard that. I’ll address that with Coach Franklin if that is an issue. That’s a pretty strong allegation that I’ve not heard yet. So that’s not been presented to me until this moment. Absolutely not.
We’ve got a great deal of respect for every school in our conference. And we don’t worry about that stuff. I’m glad you told me that. If that’s true, I’ll address that.
Q. Talking about a lot of new faces and young guys but how much more comfortable are you heading into a season like that with J.T. Barrett back and his leadership?
COACH MEYER: There’s three people that we named captains immediately after the season and that was I can’t imagine going into this without J.T. and without the other guy Pat Elfein. Pat Elfein, in my opinion, is the best center in college football. And a little bit like the baseball metaphor, you need to be strong up the middle. We’re very strong. And that’s all eyes will be focused on the center and the quarterback. And if I had my draft picks those are the two I’d pick. The same on defense. All eyes are on the center of your defense and that’s the middle linebacker.
And Raekwon — they, all three, we’re fortunate they all three have incredible leadership skills you want that in the middle of your defense because you raise the level of play around them and so does J.T. and Pat.
Q. What can you say about Lovie Smith and what he brings to the Big Ten Conference?
COACH MEYER: Instant credibility and name recognition. I don’t know Coach Smith. I met him yesterday. I think we met a couple times throughout our journeys. I know people have worked for him and with him. And I know people who played for him. I think it’s great for our conference, great for Illinois. Anxious to see what he does. But a lot of respect for Coach Smith.
Q. On the topic of comfortability, with not as much of the quarterback hoopla surrounding this offseason with Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, it’s more the center of J.T. Barrett, do you feel that relieves pressure for him and allows him to perform at a better level?
COACH MEYER: Great question. And I think so. Remains to be seen. He did not have a great training camp last year for whatever reason. We had a great conversation, actually drove him to the airport on the way here, talking about that. And there was a lot of distraction with Cardale, with who is going to be playing quarterback. And he was still overcoming a pretty serious injury that took a long time to heal. So he didn’t have the spring reps that he needed. He did this year. And I anticipate he’ll be as good a quarterback as we’ve had. It’s his show and he knows it and he’s prepared.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about what Greg Schiano has brought to your staff and how the dynamic is between the two of you since obviously he’s been a pretty successful head coach for a long time, and now he’s got a boss for the first time?
COACH MEYER: I try to stay away from hiring friends. As a matter of fact, I haven’t for most of my career. And he was an exception because we’re that close, we’ve been good friends for 20-plus years. We share very similar philosophical views on how to run a program and how to treat players and what to expect out of your coaching staff. And he’s been a gold mine for me. And him and Coach Fickell are two high, high-end character people that get along very well.
So it’s been, I’m not sure perfect is the right word but it’s been exceptional. And it’s great to have him on the staff. I just admire the guy. There’s been Dan McCarney. I hired him when he was a very successful head coach. I wondered how that would work. I was very skeptical — how do you go to not be the head coach.
And Greg is like Dan McCarney, he’s such a good coach that he just picked up right where I imagine he left off when he was a fantastic assistant coach before Rutgers.
Q. Receivers seemed to take a big step in the spring game, especially Noah Brown coming back from injuries?
COACH MEYER: Receivers, top to bottom, are as good as we’ve had talent wise and speed-wise, athleticism. They did take — Parris Campbell had an incredible catch, did some things that I hadn’t seen. K.J. Hill is an unknown name that I’m excited to watch and there’s many more. Noah Brown was going to be a starter when he had that tough injury a week before our first game and he’ll be a starter this year.
You have Corey Smith also, who started for us and played a lot of football, then had a tough injury a year ago as well. Got a sixth year. So talent shouldn’t be the issue. It’s consistent performance and playing when it’s show time is going to be the key. The talent and speed and athleticism will not be an issue. It’s how they perform. That’s where J.T. is going to be so critical because you’re going to see a lot of wide eyes. A lot of those guys have not played.