COLUMBUS -- Pity the tackling dummy that made the acquaintance of Ohio State defensive end Nathan Williams on Tuesday.
As the senior's teammates on the line mashed helmets during live drills on the field, Williams spent the final period of the Buckeyes' practice exploding into a floppy-armed red stand-in. Think he was raring to return?
"Your heart bleeds for a guy like Nathan Williams," coach Urban Meyer said. "I'm starting to really know that guy. Taking football away from him, he lives for it. It's been hard."
As it stood, the sight of Williams in a helmet and shoulder pads participating in individual drills was a welcome sight for OSU. Meyer said Williams is on course for an early-season return from the microfracture knee surgery that cost the veteran pass-rusher the 2011 season.
Coaches hope Williams will reclaim his starting spot on the edge opposite All-Big Ten senior end John Simon, adding further depth to a line already considered the strength of the defense. Junior Johnathan Hankins will anchor the interior while the two five-star headliners from Meyer's first recruiting class -- ends Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence -- are both in the mix for early playing time.
Meyer knows what the return of a player with next-level potential means to the defense. He is on board with the training staff's conservative handling of Williams.
"We can't have a setback," Meyer said. "I asked the question Friday, 'Why didn't he do this individual drill?" [Our medical staff] is doing a good job. They're keeping a governor, because he'd do it all, and all of the sudden, you have a setback. They told me it would be 10 days backward. We can't have that."
Williams ranks second among current Buckeyes with 10 career sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss.
TWO-WAY STAR? Bradley Roby insists he does not read the preseason publications touting him as the Buckeyes' next shutdown cornerback.
"But whatever they're saying, that's exactly what I believe," the sophomore said with a smile. "And I was the first one to believe that. Now y'all are seeing it."
How confident is Roby?
He wants to be the Buckeyes' next two-way star (Think Chris Gamble). Roby hopes to try his hand at receiver too and has spent the summer lobbying his coaches for the chance.
"One of these days," he said. "They're going to put me on the other side."
Roby's boldness is not unfounded. He was the team's top corner last year, ran the 40-yard dash in a team-best 4.31 seconds, and showed his receiving abilities when he intercepted a deep sideline pass from quarterback Braxton Miller late in Tuesday's practice.
But his coaches are less enthused by the idea.
"That's the confidence I'm talking about. I love that in him," co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "Let's be great at one thing before we become a jack of all trades and a master of none."
NOT SO FAST: Offensive coordinator Tom Herman on Tuesday echoed Meyer's upbeat assessment on the post-spring improvement of the passing game.
"We're light years better," he said. "We actually can throw and catch a football. If we were at a two coming out of the spring in terms of throwing and catching, we're up to a four. We're still not real good, but we're a lot better than we were."
Herman said he expects that evolution to continue leading into the season.
"We try to throw everything at them in the first six practices, then we'll go back and reteach the finer points of everything," he said. "The retention has been better than expected, but still it's hard to watch at times."