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Ohio State

Meyer works in spread

New offense a slow process for Ohio State

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Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer watches his players during spring practice at Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus Wednesday.

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH/KYLE ROBERTSON Enlarge

COLUMBUS -- Ohio State's defensive reserves bounced along the sideline, chanting in full throat the stadium anthem "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes as their teammates prepared for the final play of an hour-long scrimmage at the end of practice Wednesday.

The cheers only intensified moments later as running back Rod Smith was stopped for a short gain.

Advantage: Defense.

In the Buckeyes' second scored winner-loser day of spring practice, the offense again stayed late to run a series of sideline-to-sideline gassers.

Their more challenging workout, however, came during practice.

As first-year coach Urban Meyer experienced when he introduced the spread at his three previous head coaching stops, the learning curve has been steep.

While the Buckeyes return seven starters on offense, including sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller, they have rarely looked the part of a veteran unit.

"We're not where we need to be," Meyer said after practice Wednesday. "I'm not upset. I just wish we'd grasp it a little faster. It's not one position. It's like offensive football, any time you install, any time you do something new, nine guys do it right and two guys do it wrong, and it looks like the most disgusting thing you've ever seen."

Meyer does not want to leave the wrong impression. Several players have shined, including junior lineman Jack Mewhort. The St. John's graduate, who started at guard last season, has moved without incident to left tackle during the spring.

"He's probably our best, most consistent lineman," Meyer said.

Meyer also spoke highly of sophomore wideout Evan Spencer and tight end Jake Stoneburner, who caught five passes during seven-on-seven drills and the scrimmage.

Miller showed flashes through an uneven day, at one point rolling right and lofting a 45-yard touchdown pass in stride to Corey Brown.

Meyer is far from satisfied with the whole.

He remains in search for playmakers, a worry he noted immediately on a team where the returning leaders in receptions -- Stoneburner, Brown, and Devin Smith -- had 14 catches last season. There are no proven tailbacks while the line is in flux after the loss of three starters. Converted tight end Reid Fragel's ability to convert to tackle for his final season is a leading spring storyline.

"We have a first-string offensive line that's adequate," Meyer said. "They're getting better.

"The backups, we've got a problem."

Meyer said he tries to keep the spring in perspective. Asked what he learned of his team during the first week of practice, Meyer replied, "They're really good people. I don't see defiant attitudes. They're very eager, really good kids."

As long as that remains the case, Meyer said he will be satisfied.

"We're a lot better today than we were yesterday," he said of the offense. "So as long as we keep doing that, it means there's still the bar is being raised."

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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