COLUMBUS — A pair of new reminders greeted the Ohio State football team Tuesday as it opened spring practice at the Woody Hayes Athletic Complex.
One recognized a season yet to gain dust alongside the greatest teams in program history as OSU rearranged its claimed national title banners to make room for an eighth.
“12-0 UNDEFEATED SEASON 2012,” it read, hung high on the wall in between tributes to the 1968 and 2002 championships.
The other one was why they were there — earlier than ever for spring ball in an effort to one-up the past. They came in from the flurries outside for “THE CHASE,” as an oversized banner blared. The chase for playing time, a Big Ten championship, maybe more.
“We’re all chasing something,” coach Urban Meyer said of the team’s ubiquitous catchphrase.
And Tuesday, he was delighted to report it was something more than competence. Year 2 of the Meyer era began in a two-and-a-half-hour practice that featured little suspense but little to inspire lost sleep.
“I think the appropriate term was ‘clown show’ at this time last year,” Meyer said. “It didn’t feel like a clown show today.”
An offense that returns nine starters appeared in lockstep more often than not, with Meyer saying junior quarterback Braxton Miller had a “heck of a day,” while the picture on defense became a bit clearer.
Meyer’s biggest spring concern is replacing six front-seven starters. Though another wave of blue-chip recruits will also have a say, the Buckeyes’ first crack at it had sophomores Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence and juniors Joel Hale and Michael Bennett working with the first-team defensive line during 11-on-11 drills.
Former five-star recruit Curtis Grant, perhaps getting a final shot to impress after appearing lost his first two seasons, and sophomore David Perkins started at linebacker. Star junior Ryan Shazier was limited with a sports hernia.
“If we put together a good D-line and linebackers, I think we’re a good team,” Meyer said. “If not, we won’t be.”
The secondary is more settled with three returning starters, and it showed as junior All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby had two interceptions — including one of Miller.
One surprise was Tyvis Powell, a 6-foot-3, 201-pound defensive back who redshirted as a freshman last season. With the Buckeyes lined up exclusively in their nickel package, he started at the “star” position.
Meyer cheekily declared Powell a candidate for the team’s “Reid Fragel Award,” an ode to the former lineman who transformed from a tight end to a more-than-serviceable left tackle as a senior last season.
“Who’s going to be the Fragel?” Meyer said. “He was a very below-average football player who turned out to be a great player for Ohio State in an undefeated season. Who’s going to the Fragel? Tyvis Powell is a name.”
As are the guys vying to replace Fragel, the only loss on an offensive line led by St. John’s Jesuit graduate Jack Mewhort at left tackle. Sophomore Taylor Decker took the majority of repetitions Tuesday, but sophomore Chase Farris also saw time with the first team.
All told, Meyer called it a promising first day.
“The only thing I don’t feel great about is when I don’t see my leaders from last year,” Meyer said. “I grew to love those guys. [John] Simon, [Zach] Boren, [Etienne] Sabino, [Garrett] Goebel turned out to be as good of human beings as I’ve been around. Other than that, I feel great. I feel like there’s so much to carry over [from last year].”
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.