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Published: 8/7/2012

Ohio State looks to better air game

Meyer sees improvement among young wide receivers and QB Miller

BY DAVID BRIGGS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Ohio State's Devin Smith, right, catches the game-winning touchdown as Wisconsin's Marcus Cromartie defends. Ohio State's Devin Smith, right, catches the game-winning touchdown as Wisconsin's Marcus Cromartie defends.
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COLUMBUS -- A clown show. Nonfunctional. Unprepared.

Urban Meyer called Ohio State's passing game -- and, specifically, the receivers -- all of the above and perhaps worse this spring. On Monday, as the Buckeyes held their first full team practice, Meyer gladly took an eraser to his early grades.

The timing was improved, the routes were crisper and, for the first time in his quest to identify a game-changing playmaker on the outside, Meyer found himself saying, "Wow." The moment came on a blistering deep pattern by sophomore wideout Devin Smith in an otherwise ordinary no-contact passing drill.

"Ran a nine route," Meyer said of Smith, who also competed for OSU's track team last year. "It was ridiculous."

In short, the new coach saw signs a team that ranked 115th nationally in passing offense last season was coming together in his vision. Sophomore Evan Spencer, who Meyer said ran the 40-yard dash this summer in 4.4 seconds, and junior Corey Brown also practiced with the top group of receivers. Freshman Michael Thomas, who had a team-high 12 catches in the spring game, worked with the second team.

"I think there's enough here where I'm hoping to get wowed a little bit," Meyer said.

On sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller and his targets, he said, "I can tell you this: They did something this summer. They sure did."

The evolution of OSU's passing game was among Meyer's many questions as he began his first camp in Columbus on Friday.

Another issue that came into focus Monday was working in a highly regarded freshmen class that is sure to shake up the depth chart by the Buckeyes' opener against Miami. (The freshmen worked out separately from the veterans on Friday's opening day of camp.)

"The best players are going to play," Meyer said. "If someone beats somebody out, they'll get it. There will be some freshmen from what I've seen so far. There will be a good chunk of freshmen playing in that first game."

Meyer said OSU's coaches have made an effort not to unload too much of the playbook on their new additions. For now, he wants his first-year players worried less about thinking and more about getting from 'point A to point B as fast as you can.'

Meyer singled out freshman linebacker Jamal Marcus.

"He doesn't know which way up is right now, but he knows point A to point B, and he'll run over anything in his way to get to point B. We'll find a way to get him on the field."

Whether a majority of his teammates are of the same hard-driving ilk remains another one of camp's unanswered questions. Meyer began Monday's practice instructing his players, "Go plus two and finish your drills."

"If we ask you to go 10, go 12," he said. "If we ask you to go six, go eight. A lot of times you'll see teams play slow because they anticipate the whistle. We want to run through the whistle. Two steps. It's all two steps. Keep going.

"I've had some teams play like that, and this team doesn't play like that yet."

BACK IN ACTION: Left tackle Jack Mewhort, a St. John's Jesuit graduate, and tight end Jake Stoneburner worked out with the first team Monday in the first practice open to the media. Meyer said the two starters, who were taken off scholarship for the summer academic session after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct in June, are on pace to regain their scholarship for fall semester.

Meyer said he never questioned the players' dedication.

"They're great students," he said. "They're leaders. They were on my leadership committee. ... If this was a 'bad guy' situation, they wouldn't be playing."

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



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