There was something strange about the Ohio State practice that former college coach Gerry DiNardo watched Tuesday: Even without coach Urban Meyer not on the field for the first time in seven years, things seemed the same.
“I was expecting to see something different about it, and I honestly can tell you that there was absolutely no difference,” said DiNardo, an analyst for the Big Ten Network.
He and the BTN crew were in town on the second stop of their tour of league preseason camps. The Ohio State special had its first airing Tuesday night.
>>Ohio State fans rally for Urban Meyer as Powell police correct the record
>>Woman leading investigation into Ohio State’s Urban Meyer is familiar with high-profile cases
>> Read more: Complete coverage of the Urban Meyer investigation
Meyer is on paid administrative leave while the university investigates what he knew of domestic-abuse allegations by Courtney Smith, the ex-wife of fired assistant coach Zach Smith. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day is the acting head coach, but DiNardo indicated the spirit of Meyer in the practice was unmistakable.
“I went in thinking practice was going to be different. It wasn’t, and that’s a credit first to Urban that he’s built this program this way,” DiNardo said. “I think it’s a credit to his assistant coaches who have adjusted to the change. And I think most of the credit goes to the players for just totally buying in to it.”
When referring to what Meyer has “built,” DiNardo was talking mostly about the talent that Meyer and his staff have accumulated through recruiting. He used the defensive line as an example.
“If I’m a defensive lineman and I go to that individual drill and look around and see big, fast, talented guys just like me, and I want to play? I’ve got to be as big, as fast, as talented. I don’t care about anything else (such as Meyer’s current problems). I’m in this little bubble of defensive linemen with coach Larry Johnson, and nothing else really matters.
“Why I thought it would be different, I miscalculated.”
The practice plans likely were drawn up long ago, well before Meyer was asked to step aside last Wednesday, DiNardo said.
“But it’s the execution of those plans, the enthusiasm, the energy that stood out,” he said. “And I think there has been a concerted effort to get the players involved by saying, ‘Hey, we need good leadership. We need everyone to get through this situation we’re in.’ … I ran into a (NFL) scout who was there, and he said it was the best practice he has seen in a long time.”
What stood out to DiNardo about the team in its fourth preseason practice included the offensive line, which appears to be the deepest under Meyer. He said the defensive line is not quite as deep as recent years, but with Nick Bosa and Chase Young at the ends, and Dre’Mont Jones at tackle, it has some star power. And he was impressed by the passing of new No. 1 quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr.
In regards to a surprise, DiNardo brought up freshman receiver/hybrid back Jaelen Gill of Westerville South.
“He didn’t really look like a freshman,” DiNardo said. “He looked like someone who has been here for a while. He must be a fast learner.”