April 22, 2012

Circle drill excites fans, players

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Follow Noon | Rowland | Givler | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Circle drill sounds innocent enough. But as 80,000-plus Ohio State fans found out on Saturday, it's anything but.

The Buckeyes perform the drill at the start of every practice to get the competitive juices flowing. It worked for both the players and the fans in Ohio Stadium. The drill consists of two players in a circle formed by their surrounding teammates. At the sounds of Urban Meyer's whistle, the two gladiators bulrush each other in hopes of driving the other back or knocking him over.

The one-on-one faceoffs pitted usual suspects like John Simon vs. Jack Mewhort, but also Braxton Miller vs. Kenny Guiton. For a steady five minute period, players collided and the crowd roared.

"Oh man, it was crazy," the victorious Mewhort said. "When Coach called John Simon, the next name I knew coming was me, so it was really cool. It was a great way to start the day, and I think the fans loved it."

The noise level was evidence of their approval. The quarterback dual, though, was clearly the crowd favorite.

"At first we were laughing at each other, like, 'Are we really in the circle drill against each other?' Miller said. "That's crazy."

Guiton used his one-inch advantage and immediately began driving a helpless Miller back and to the ground. Once the two signal-callers were down the entire team rushed over, jumping up and down cheering.

"I just wanted some good energy in there," Meyer said. "Our quarterbacks are like anybody else, they've got to put their nose on people. You have to be very careful and very smart. Sometimes I'm accused of neither. But it was fun for our fans, and our players came out of their shoes when we did that."

Even though Guiton got the better of him, Miller was able to smile after the game when the topic was broached.

"It was fun and competitive," he said. "We really got the crowd in it. We're good friends just competing. (There are) no problems."

After all, Miller is the starting quarterback.

AIRING IT OUT: Meyer said the spring game was going to feature plenty of passing. Boy, was he right.
Miller and Guiton combined to throw the ball 55 times, completing 40 passes for 443 yards.

The Buckeyes had one of the worst passing attacks in the nation last season. Meyer is trying to dramatically reverse the 115 ranking. That's where the OSU passing game stood out of 120 teams in 2011. They completed 125 passes for 1,651 yards.

Meyer cautioned, though, that Saturday's scrimmage should not be looked at as a blue print for the coming season.

"That was not who we are," he said. "I just wanted to get something done.

"What we don't know is can we throw the ball. I have a better opinion of guys."

The fall will almost certainly feature more runs from Miller. Meyer didn't want any unjust injuries, so the quarterbacks were off-limits to contact and running the football.

Miller's spring featured constant progression from his freshman season and he appeared more comfortable as the days went by in Meyer's offensive system. He completed 24 of 31 passes for 258 yards with one interception. Freshman wide receiver Michael Thomas caught a game-high 12 passes.

Miller said only 30 percent of the offense was used.

"He can pass the ball," Meyer said of Miller. "Here's the way you evaluate a quarterback. Release, I give him an A. Arm strength, I'll say a B, but I'm very critical. And accuracy, a B or a C. We've got to get him a little more accurate. But he's getting better. He had a very good spring."

Said Miller, "Last year, coming in as a freshman, there were a whole bunch of leaders on the team. I was trying to fit in and do the best I could do. This year, I have a year under my belt. I'm just growing older and more mature."

As the door slammed shut on another spring in Columbus - Meyer's first - he didn't sound the alarm bells. Instead, the ever-honest head coach gave a dash of reality.

"We identified our issues," Meyer said. "We also identified our strengths. I told them it has to be the best offseason in the history of college football. It has to happen. And it starts Monday."

INJURED OR NOT?: During pre-game warmups, the south end zone was line with injured Ohio State Buckeyes. It looked like the group was large enough in numbers to put together an entire team.

Four of the unexpected holdouts were starters: Jordan Hall, Johnathan Hankins, Curtis Grant and C.J. Barnett. Hall was out with a sprained foot, Hankins had minor arthroscopic knee surgery Friday, Grant had a pinched nerve in his shoulder and Barnett was suffering the effects of a pulled leg muscle.

Hall's absence was a letdown for fans who had heard all about his playmaking abilities this spring. Alas, they must wait until Sept. 1 when Miami University treks into the Horseshoe to his shiftiness in space.

"Jordan Hall gives us some flexibility," Meyer said. "I can see him moving out and playing in the slot. He's the No. 1 candidate to fill that hybrid position that Percy Harvin made famous."

Buckeye Nation is well-versed in Harvin's moves. He had 82 all-purpose yards and a touchdown in the 2006 BCS National Championship Game won by the Meyer-coached Florida Gators. While memories of that game still haunt fans, they now see the potential to be on the other side of the win-loss column.

Meyer said Hankins will be able to take part in off-season conditioning. As for Simon, Meyer said there was no reason for him to play. The dominant defensive lineman did all he needed to do during spring ball. There were several other starters who saw limited minutes for the same reason.

"Not many teams these days can have a spring game because you get so beat up," Meyer said. "So I thought our guys toughed it out."


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