Urban Meyer hasn’t reached the top of his profession by accident. The Ohio State coach has learned over time how to navigate various situations.
Knowing he’d lose a lot of talent to the NFL after 2015, Meyer named veterans Pat Elflein, J.T. Barrett and Raekwon McMillan captains immediately after the Fiesta Bowl. They led the Buckeyes through offseason preparation.
Meyer then allowed the players to vote for captains. They chose Joe Burger, Billy Price, Gareon Conley and Tyquan Lewis.
The Buckeyes produced seven captains for a relatively inexperienced team. They lost 12 players in April’s NFL Draft, 11 of which were selected among the first 102 picks.
“I like more than less. Obviously over the years you can see that,” Meyer said of his team’s leadership. “That doesn’t mean (Craig) Fada and those other guys aren’t captains, because they’re certainly going to be leaders.”
“I think Mike Vrabel said it best, even when we had this conversation when he was here, he was not elected captain, but he certainly was a captain. So that’s a big part of our program and our culture and we need them to step up.”
The Buckeyes open the season Saturday (noon Eastern, BTN) against Bowling Green at Ohio Stadium. They then host Tulsa before heading to Oklahoma for a showdown with the Sooners.
Meyer’s first college head coaching job came at Bowling Green. He ran the program from 2001-’02 before leaving for Utah.
“Shelley (wife) and I were talking about this the other day. It’s probably the closest… I’m still extremely close with those (Bowling Green) players. We had a little reunion up there last year, a fundraiser, and a lot of guys will show up at practice still. And I keep in touch with them,” Meyer said.
Ohio State returns just six starters. Barrett, McMillan, Elflein, Price, Lewis and Conley. That leaves a whole lot of unknowns.
Meyer believes his squad is ready. That doesn’t mean he’s without questions.
“How the players react to the environment of 110,000 (people), 108,000, whatever it is. The loud crowd, I’m sure it’s going to be hot. And how they react — not Pat Elflein and J.T., but how the Austin Macks of the world and Malik Hooker is going to respond, because they’ve done really well the last few weeks,” the coach said.
Barrett, who was the Big Ten’s quarterback of the year in 2014 before suffering a season-ending injury, entered this offseason as the unquestioned starter. Gone to the NFL were his recent competitors at the position, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller.
Jones began last season as the starter with Miller moving to receiver and Barrett coming off the bench. Barrett eventually won his job back.
Barrett (6-2, 222) pressures opponents with his dual-threat ability. Meyer would like his signal caller to rely more on his arm than he did last fall, when he averaged more than 18 rushing attempts during the final four games. Barrett’s coach prefers the number to be around 10 to 12.
“Direct quarterback runs, where we call it, five to seven, eight, maybe, depends on the game. And then he’s a natural scrambler. When things break down, I think that’s one of his strengths. He’s one of those quarterbacks that’s very rarely takes a sack. He’s always getting that plus yardage. When you start hitting the 20, 25, that’s too many.”
The Buckeyes are relying on redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber mitigating the loss of all-American Ezekiel Elliott. Weber will get help from Curtis Samuel, who can line up at multiple spots.
“Curtis is a very skilled athlete, a very elite player with the ball in his hands, so we are just going to try to find as many ways to use him as possible,” offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. “He can do great things at wide receiver or with the ball in his hands at the running back position, so we will see how it goes. I’d love to see Curtis touch the ball 10 to 15 times a game.”
Much of the offseason mystery in Buckeye country will be brought to light on Saturday. Meyer can witness the impact of going with seven captains on a green group.
“I think there are a lot of leaders on this team and a lot representative leadership amongst all the position groups,” said Price, one of the voted-in captains who received the support of his teammates.
“It’s been pretty cool to have two offensive captains the past few years. Just trying to continue that legacy and put forth what we represent.”