Urban Meyer is not ready to anoint his 2017 team as a great one, but the Ohio State coach has consistently heaped praise on the Buckeyes’ veteran leadership.
"I like our team,” he said Monday in his weekly news conference. “I hate to be redundant — my wife calls it coach-speak — but I really like our older players.”
That was reflected in the announcement of team captains Monday night. The Buckeyes will have nine captains. That’s the most in program history, according to team spokesman Jerry Emig.
That includes quarterback J.T. Barrett, who is a captain for an unprecedented third time. Center Billy Price and defensive end Tyquan Lewis became two-time captains. The other six are defensive ends Jalyn Holmes and Sam Hubbard, defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle, middle linebacker Chris Worley and receivers Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin.
With that piece of business done, the Buckeyes have now eased out of training camp and begun preparation in earnest for next Thursday’s season-opener at Indiana. Shortly before Meyer spoke Monday, the Associated Press preseason rankings were released. The Buckeyes are No. 2 behind Alabama.
Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
Meyer dismissed the significance of that lofty ranking. Though he has a loaded roster, many questions persist. Certain position battles are closer to being resolved, but Meyer wasn’t definitive about any of them.
At right guard, what had been a seven- and then four-player battle is now almost settled. A darkhorse at the start of camp, Branden Bowen is gaining steam in pursuit of the job.
“Bowen, if you’re singling out players, would fall into that category of really, really improved,” Meyer said. “I’ll put (left guard) Michael Jordan in there, as well. He's really improved as a player.”
The offensive line entered camp as one of the team’s biggest question marks. The optimism about that unit is now palpable.
“It’s night and day compared to last year,” defensive tackle Robert Landers said. “If you don’t bring your ‘A’ game to practice every day, you’re going to have a rough day.
“They’re a lot more comfortable. They’re closer, they’re faster, they’re stronger. Every aspect of our offensive game, especially up front with the O-line, is enhanced so much. Everybody across the board has excelled to a whole new level.”
At safety opposite Damon Webb, Meyer said that Jordan Fuller and Erick Smith are still fighting for the starting spot.
As for the backup quarterback competition between Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins, Meyer shed little light about how it stands heading into the opener.
“We'll have a plan,” he said. “It's not been finalized yet.”
At kicker, veteran Sean Nuernberger, who missed last season with a groin injury, is trying to fend off freshman Blake Haubeil.
“Blake is a pretty good player,” Meyer said. “Right now, Sean is ahead of him, but not by a very far margin.”
The Buckeyes got some good news on the injury front. Meyer said that running back Mike Weber went full speed in practice Monday. He has been taking it slowly because of a hamstring injury sustained in summer conditioning.