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CHICAGO, Ill. -- Yesterday's press conference format of Big Ten media days took a back seat on Thursday, in favor of the much more informal setting of table interviews. Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller, Jack Mewhort, and Christian Bryant each spent two hours meeting with the media inside of the Hilton Chicago hotel on Thursday morning, to discuss the latest happenings around the Buckeye football program.
Whereas yesterday was spent focusing on the current distractions and legal issues that currently surround Ohio State, Wednesday's interview session was much more focused on football, much to the delight of Meyer. The second-year Buckeyes head coach provided an update on a number of player personnel-related topics, including the offseason battle at right tackle to replace Reid Fragel.
"I'm hearing great things about Taylor Decker. He's a big guy and a talented guy," Meyer said of the 6-foot-7, 315-pound sophomore. "If we started tomorrow, he's the starting right tackle."
An offensive lineman himself and the Buckeyes' starting left tackle, Mewhort said that Decker has the talent to step right in on a unit that helped pave the way for the nation's 10th-ranked rushing offense a year ago, but still has some developing to do.
"Taylor's big and athletic," Mewhort said. "He's just a young guy who doesn't have a lot of experience, but he's definitely got the mental side of it. He's a really bright kid ... he has all the tools, he just has to add that edge and realize that he's playing in the Big Ten."
After finishing fifth in voting for the award a year ago, Miller enters 2013 as one of the top candidates for this season's Heisman Trophy. The Ohio State signal-caller didn't shy away from stating that winning college football's most prestigious awards is one of his goals for the season, but knows that it's something that he can't accomplish on his own.
"There's 10 more guys on the field, so they always help. We all depend on each other and they depend on me to make plays," Miller said. "At the end of the day, if we put up big numbers as a team and it works out well, I'll be fortunate to be involved in that type of talk."
Having coached a Heisman Trophy winner himself in Tim Tebow at Florida, Meyer said that Miller clearly possesses the ability to take the center spotlight in New York this December. The Buckeyes head coach, however, said that the key to his development and getting there will be how he advances as a passer this season.
"Our goal is to make him a quarterback that can be a good athlete. Not be a ridiculous athlete that happens to play quarterback," Meyer said. "It's a fine line there."
Earlier this summer, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner made headlines when he told a Detroit radio station that he was on "a championship-caliber football team that will win in the Big House against Ohio State." While media and fans alike ran with Gardner's statement as a guarantee of sorts, the Wolverines quarterback used Wednesday to explain his stance, which is one that he stands by.
"I didn't ever say the word 'guarantee' or 'promise' or anything like that. I just shared that I was very confident in my team and that we would win when asked if we would win," Gardner said. "I don't feel like that's wrong in any way."
Gardner's signal-calling Ohio State counterpart said that he and his teammates were aware of the Detroit native's prediction, which made the rounds on social media.
"It made Instagram," Miller said. "So, guys took that but, I mean, we can't really say anything until we actually play."
With Ohio State again eligible for the postseason -- and both the Buckeyes and Wolverines expected to be atop their respective Big Ten divisions -- the possibility exists that OSU and Michigan could play each other in consecutive weeks by matching up in the Big Ten Championship game a week after their regular season meeting. That's just fine with Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke, as long as the ball bounces in his team's favor.
"I think it would be fun as long as you win," Hoke said. "Playing in that game, you know what the next game is. I don't see it being a problem. It's still Ohio."
With OSU and Michigan slated to join the same division in 2014, this year marks perhaps the final chance for the Buckeyes and Wolverines to square off two weeks in a row. Bryant said that he's thought about that possibility, and the effect that it could have on his team's season.
"I feel like the second game would be a lot more intense, because we would know exactly what's on the line in the Big Ten Championship. Knowing that that would determine if we maybe go to the National Championship Game or the Rose Bowl," Bryant said. "I feel like both teams would come to play. With Michigan, it's a rivalry game, and they're not just going to sit down and let us run all over them."
With John Simon, Zach Boren, Etienne Sabino, and Garrett Goebel all having moved on to professional careers, Meyer and his staff will be attempting to replace four captains from their 2012 squad. According to to Meyer, that's a bigger deal than you might think, as he feels that leadership is an ingredient that often goes under the radar.
"If I was 30-years-old and you said, 'Let's start talking about leadership,' I'd say, 'Let's talk about 40-yard dash times or let's talk about throwing the post route,'" Meyer said. "I learn something every year from teams. And what I've learned over the last decade is that the common denominator of every great football team isn't the style of the offense, it isn't the speed of the team -- those are all contributing factors -- it's the leadership of the team. Because every team will get punched right in the mouth. Every team. Something's going to happen ... the leaders are the ones who control that."
All three OSU players in attendance in Chicago this week have been thought to possess the abilities to take on leadership roles on this year's team, with Bryant, Mewhort, and Miller having all participated in weekly leadership classes throughout the offseason. Bryant said that being a leader is something that he takes very seriously, as he knows that it could define his career in Columbus.
"I'm trying to be more vocal and show these younger guys and some older guys who just haven't played yet, I'm trying to show them the way. The leadership role I'm taking on, it's a great deal. I'm taking full advantage of it," Bryant said. "Being a captain would mean the world to me."
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