Time for Buckeyes' leaders to step up

Rob Oller
Leadership is usually one of Urban Meyer's favorite subjects, but he has spoken on it less this season than in any other in memory. [Jonathan Quilter/File photo]

It’s time to pivot on Ohio State football, from the questioning of coaching decisions to wondering whether these players have what it takes to win out and possibly make the College Football Playoff.

I’m not talking just talent, but the whole package. Are the Buckeyes mentally tough enough? Where is the leadership that Urban Meyer demands?

First, regarding the talent: Ohio State has eight former five-star recruits, more than any other Big Ten school, so the cupboard is hardly bare. It is more that the finest china has departed early for the NFL.

“That’s something that happens when you have guys leave early, to be able to get that next guy ready to go,” Meyer said on Monday. “But that’s not the glaring issue right now. We certainly have enough talent to play better.”

Video: Meyer addresses lack of leadership

So lack of talent is not the reason Ohio State struggles to run the ball and play defense. The Buckeyes might not be as gifted on the offensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary as in recent seasons, but they still should execute better.

Regarding leadership: It usually is one of Meyer’s favorite subjects, but he has spoken on it less this season than in any other in memory. Some years, his praise of leaders goes beyond the pale. Some years, he calls out the team for a general lack of leadership.

This year, it’s mostly silence. Parris Campbell has been mentioned as a strong leader, as have several other receivers. Right tackle Isaiah Prince also received Meyer platitudes early on, but not so much lately.

Certainly, Meyer does not gush about this group’s leadership like he did in 2014 and again last season, when he heaped praise on quarterback J.T. Barrett and center Billy Price.

Do these Buckeyes have enough leaders?

“Sure we do,” Meyer said, before curiously adding, “That’s an obligation of the coach — (the) unit leader — to develop that. It’s something we work on very hard around here. We’re not where we need to be, obviously, but we’re working really hard at it.”

I read that as Meyer being unsatisfied with Ohio State’s leadership. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. displays a leadership style that differs from that of Barrett, who was Tebow-esque in the way he challenged teammates. Haskins takes a more chill approach, which does not automatically disqualify him as an effective leader, but raises suspicion that the offensive line takes its cues from its mild-mannered QB.

There also is this to consider: Could it be that a profound leadership glitch occurred when Meyer was placed on paid administrative leave before preseason camp, resulting in his voice going unheard in the weeks leading up to the opener?

Meyer’s style is to keep assistant coaches and players on edge and uncomfortable, which he thinks guards against complacency and builds a tougher team mindset. Offensive coordinator Ryan Day did an admirable job filling in for Meyer during his leave and three-game suspension, but still, Day was a substitute teacher. And when the cat’s away …

Maybe the leadership void largely went unnoticed as the Buckeyes won their first three games without Meyer on the sideline, but could be catching up with them now.

You know that feeling when the regular teacher returns? There’s a sense of security and return to normalcy mixed with the realization that recess is over and it’s back to the grind. The opportunity is there, at least, for bad habits to develop.

Well, the off week is over. Ohio State returns to action on Saturday at home against Nebraska. Another test awaits. Will leaders lead?


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