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COLUMBUS — More than once in his coaching career, Urban Meyer has bitten his straight-shooting tongue and waxed optimistic about an upcoming season.
“I'll fake it sometimes if you don't have a good team,” he said, smiling.
This is not one of those years — even if Ohio State’s forecast is unusually fuzzy.
The fifth-ranked Buckeyes remain in flux as they make their final preparations for Saturday’s season opener against Navy in Baltimore. Beyond adjusting to life without injured quarterback Braxton Miller, OSU has yet to determine starters at several positions, including three wide receiver spots, two on the offensive line, and one cornerback.
Yet Meyer says his team is ready. Really, honest, cross his heart.
“I can tell you this: I think we’ve got a good team,” he said.
Meyer, in fact, portrays the ongoing position battles as a marker of Ohio State’s growing depth.
“If they're bad players, you’ve got a problem,” he said. “If they're really good players and they're just battling and battling and battling, it means they're both going to play. That's kind of normal this time of year.”
With jobs still to be won and lost, this is no ordinary game week.
Meyer said Jacoby Boren and graduate transfer Chad Lindsay are still fighting at center; Billy Price, Antonio Underwood, and converted defensive lineman Joel Hale are in the mix at left guard; redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple are pushing hard at the cornerback spot opposite Doran Grant; and six receivers remain in contention for the three starting slots. They are Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson, Corey Smith, and Michael Thomas.
Here’s Meyer’s take on ...
Left guard: “Not named yet, and it's not because of ability. It's just that one guy hasn't separated himself.”
Cornerback: “Eli and Gareon, they haven't separated themselves yet either, which is a good sign. They'll both play.”
Receiver: “Couldn’t tell you the starting receivers, either. ... All of them could march in, and they all deserve playing time. So it's just a matter of who breaks the huddle first.”
Asked about the depth in the receivers room, Spencer said, "I'm so excited to see what's going to happen because I think we'll be pretty good, pushing freaky.“
As for the vacancy that is the talk of college football, J.T. Barrett has been named the starting quarterback, though Meyer said there’s “not a big separation“ between the redshirt freshman and third-year sophomore Cardale Jones. Both could play.
“It's pretty close,” Meyer said. “This was thrust upon us pretty quickly because in my heart I thought Braxton would be ready to go. I thought, ‘Man, this would be a really close battle for the backup spot.’ But J.T. is the starting quarterback.”
That’s one question answered, at least. A whole lot more clarity will come Saturday.
“I think we're pretty ready,“ Meyer said. “I like where we're at, especially after today's practice. I like how they responded to Braxton's injury, so I think we're pretty ready.“
EXTRA POINTS: Top tight end Jeff Heuerman is on course to play Saturday, though Meyer said the senior is not yet “100 percent” after offseason surgery for a sprained foot. ... Ohio State announced its five senior captains: Miller, Heuerman, defensive tackle Michael Bennett, cornerback Doran Grant, and linebacker Curtis Grant. ... Meyer said Miller is scheduled to undergo season-ending surgery today by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews will perform the operation.