COLUMBUS -- 'Twas the night before training camp, and the Ohio State football team was stirring.
Cornerback Bradley Roby could not fall asleep until 1 a.m. Quarterback Braxton Miller was already up and brushing his teeth when a coach called at 4:40 a.m.
As the Buckeyes reported for their first preseason practice under coach Urban Meyer at 5:45 a.m. on Friday, a common theme rang from the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
"It's great getting back to football," Miller said.
Whether he feels the same when the sun-scorched dog days arrive is another story. But players reported an energetic opening act to what Roby called a "redemption year."
Everything was new. The offense. The coaches. The pace.
"It's totally different than coach Tress," Roby said, referring to former coach Jim Tressel. "The whole intensity of practice is just way more urgent. There's more intensity."
The players said even their bodies felt new. In a team meeting Thursday, strength coach Mickey Marotti told Meyer, "I hand you the 2012 Ohio State football team." And, on Friday, the fruits of Marotti's demands were apparent. Roby said he gained five pounds over the summer yet dropped a tenth of a second in his 40-yard dash time.
"I ran an 4.31 and ran it twice," he said. "It wasn't a fluke."
As for how the team looked, practice was closed to the media and public. But players said the offense did not resemble the Meyer-labeled "clown show" from early in the spring.
"We had a better feel for it," junior running back Carlos Hyde said. "The first day of spring, we had no clue going out there. Today, we felt good and came out executing."
That included the passing game, which remains the biggest question facing the Buckeyes. Roby said the offense looked "crisp," though he didn't feel qualified to give a report on Miller.
"He doesn't really pass it to my side," Roby said. "He's smart."
GO TIME: Count Hyde as the latest subject of Meyer's no-nonsense public declarations.
"This is the defining moment of Carlos Hyde's career," Meyer said. "It's either yes or no. There can't be any more gray area. He's had too much gray in his career."
Hyde is coming off a sophomore season that began with him rushing for 400 yards over Ohio State's first six games but ultimately ended in disillusionment. The beginning of the end of his year came the week after Hyde ran for 104 yards against Nebraska, when he took to Twitter to vent over a lack of carries against Illinois.
"I never considered leaving. I was just really down about it," said Hyde, who finished the year with 566 yards rushing as senior Daniel Herron returned from suspension and reassumed the bulk of the work load. "I was coming off a good game against Nebraska, so I thought I would be fine. I thought I would be in the rotation way more than I was. It just taught me be patient."
This year, he said Friday, "my time is now." That goes double with the uncertain status of starting running back Jordan Hall, who is expected to miss preseason camp as he recovers from a torn tendon in his foot.
Meyer believes Hyde could fill a rarely utilized role in his spread offense: the workhorse back.
"I'm hoping. It's been a while since I've had one," Meyer said. "But the body type is Carlos Hyde. The talent is Carlos Hyde. It's time to go get it. It's not the previous coaching staff's fault. It's not the offensive line's fault. It's not the dog ate his homework."
WELCOME BACK: Left tackle Jack Mewhort, a St. John's Jesuit graduate, and tight end Jake Stoneburner rejoined the team for Friday's practice, a team spokesman confirmed.
The two starters were suspended from team activities and taken off scholarship for the summer academic session after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct in June.
"At first it was hard, especially for Jack," senior fullback Zach Boren said. "Jack is an amazing football player and an amazing leader. So is Jake; he has a lot of pull around the program. But coach Meyer and coach [Marotti] were really good about it. They paid their dues for a while. But then they started bringing them back a little bit, and had them working out with the freshmen.
"They were still staying away from us a little bit, which hurt them, but they were able to lead the younger guys. ... By putting them with the [freshmen], it made them be able to lead again and made them get a sense a pride about themselves."
Kenny Hayes is leaving OSU after the former Whitmer star asked for and was granted his release, a team spokesman told The Blade on Friday.
The redshirt freshman defensive end is free to transfer to any school, though his plans are unclear. Messages to Hayes and his parents were not immediately returned.
Hayes was a heralded recruit when he became the Buckeyes' first commit in the Class of 2011. He earned first-team All-Ohio honors as a junior, recognition on the second team as a senior and was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 68 overall prospect in the nation.
But he redshirted as a freshman and missed most of the spring practice with what the team called recurring headaches. He was not listed on Ohio State's two-deep spring depth chart.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.
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