In five days, Ohio State will plunge into its 2014 campaign with a band of new faces and without star quarterback Braxton Miller, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last week.
Rather than a crushing blow to its Big Ten and national championship aspirations, the No. 5 Buckeyes insist his absence has become a rallying point. Head coach Urban Meyer met with the media Monday. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Ohio State likes to talk about its team-wide depth, but has yet to name starters at a bevy of positions including left guard, center and cornerback. And on an offense that’ll charge forward without the talent and experience of Miller, the back-to-back Big Ten Player of the Year, that might be additional cause for concern. Meyer said it’s not.
“If they're bad players, you've got a problem,” he said. “If they're good players then they're just battling, battling, battling because they both can play and that's kind of normal this kind of year.”
Billy Price, Joel Hale, Antonio Underwood find themselves in a scrum for left guard while Jacoby Boren and Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay tussle at center. “It's not because of ability,” Meyer said, “it's just we haven't found a guy that's separated himself.”
The second cornerback position across the field from senior Doran Grant is between Eli Apple and Gareon Conley. “They haven't separated themselves either,” Meyer said. “They'll both play.”
Ezekiel Ellliot, who Meyer said is fully healthy after wrist surgery during fall camp, will take reps at running back along with Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Curtis Samuel. Warren Ball has missed practice with a concussion. At wide receiver, Meyer said the group "six-deep" in who will see playing time (notably, Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas and Corey Smith).
2. J.T. Barrett is Ohio State’s top choice to replace Braxton Miller, but don’t overestimate the gap between him and Cardale Jones.
“It's pretty close, it was thrust upon us rather quickly,” Meyer said. “In my heart, I thought Braxton would be ready to go -- I didn't envision this. And so I thought, man, this is going to be a really close battle for the backup spot … J.T. is the starting quarterback, but there’s not big separation. ” It’s why Meyer won’t rule out using Jones – a 6--foot-5, 250-pounder with a cannon for an arm – as a complement to Barrett.
3. Speaking of Miller, Meyer confirmed the senior will have shoulder surgery Tuesday and renowned sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews will perform the procedure. Meyer added Miller will not travel with the team to Baltimore.
4. Meyer’s favorite word to describe Barrett? “Guiton-ish.” But to be sure, we don’t really have an idea of what Ohio State’s getting with Barrett until Saturday.
“We all know what's coming down the barrel,” Meyer said, “but he's handled (the pressure) very well.” Added Meyer: “He’s a calm guy that had a very good practice today. (He’s) very business-like about his approach. He's not somebody I have to watch to see the demeanor because it's the same as it was two weeks ago.
5. Jeff Heuerman is less than 100 percent after foot surgery sidelined him for part of spring ball. Meyer expects the senior tight end and captain to be ready to go against the Midshipmen. “It's just volume (of reps), that's what we're dealing with right now.”