CHICAGO – Shortly after his appearance on the podium at Big Ten Media Day on Tuesday, Urban Meyer made his way to the breakaway session for another hour in front of the media.
Meyer once again had to face questions concerning Zach Smith, who was fired Monday amid allegations of domestic abuse dating back to 2009 when he coached for Meyer at Florida.
In addition, Meyer discussed the ongoing quarterback battle between Dwayne Haskins and Tate Martell, and further updated Tuf Borland's injury status as the middle linebacker eyes a return to the field this season.
Clarifying Zach Smith Comments
Following his remarks at the podium on Tuesday, Meyer was asked to clarify his comments on Smith's firing and which incidents he had prior knowledge of.
Meyer said he is not denying the 2015 allegations against Smith, but added he had not heard of that situation until Monday night.
"I can't say it didn't happen because I wasn't there. I was never told about anything and nothing ever came to light," he said. "Never had a conversation about it. The first I heard about that was last night."
Meyer added that the 2015 incident had no factor in his decision to fire Smith because he had no prior knowledge of it.
When he arrived at Ohio State in 2012, Meyer hired Smith to be his wide receivers coach after three years apart in which Smith spent time at Marshall and Temple. Meyer said he reported the 2009 incident involving Smith to his superiors at Florida, which ultimately resulted in counseling with the couple. Citing that no charges were filed and Smith's youth, Meyer said he was comfortable bringing Smith to Columbus as he took the reigns at Ohio State.
"We found out what happened according to both parties, we met with them. There were no charges. Everything was dropped," Meyer said. "It was a very young couple and I saw a very talented young coach and we moved forward."
When asked if he had any regrets about how he and the university handled the situation surrounding Smith, Meyer was adamant in his answer.
"No. We handled it the right way," Meyer said. "I've been down that road. 'Why didn't you do this, or why didn't you do that?' It's a very personal matter. Domestic issues are a lot of he said, she said. We care about people as they move forward.
"After now digesting it, praying on it and going through the typical conversations with the few people that I have, I think we handled it right."
Quarterback Battle Ongoing
Prior to Smith's exit, the biggest storyline of Ohio State's offseason was the quarterback position. Following Joe Burrow's transfer to LSU, Dwayne Haskins is the early frontrunner to replace J.T. Barrett behind center in Columbus.
However, Meyer said that with 25 practices before the first game of the season, he is not yet comfortable naming a starter and said that decision will hopefully be made two weeks prior to kickoff. Tate Martell, obviously, is the other quarterback competing with Haskins for the job.
"What has made Ohio State great in my opinion is the intense competition within positions. If someone is not performing, there is a pretty good guy right behind you," Meyer said. "That (competition is) what I hope happens in training camp."
If the season started today, Haskins would be the starter for Ohio State according to Meyer. However, Martell has impressed Meyer with his "competitive spirit." The head coach went as far to compare Martell's competitive edge to that of Tim Tebow.
"The common denominator of every great player I have ever coached if their competitive spirit. That's what made Tebow, Tebow. That is what made Alex Smith, Alex Smith. I see that in Tate Martell and so does our strength coach. I see a guy that refuses to lose and that is very appealing to a coaching staff."
Meyer added that Haskins has similar traits, but displays them in a different way.
"Dwayne has (played) in front of millions of people in our rivalry game. He has a little different way of doing it, but he has earned the respect of our players and our staff," Meyer said. "His body has changed. I don't know if you have seen him lately, but he has worked really hard."
With Haskins being the favorite, at least outside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, to win the job, how much Martell might play has plenty to do with his talent, but also the lack of depth behind him. With Matthew Baldwin coming off of a serious knee injury in high school and also being a true freshman, Meyer said he and his coaching staff have had conversations about how much to use Martell, if he doesn't win the job.
When it comes to Martell's talent, Meyer said the best players will play. At the beginning of each season, Meyer lists the top 20 players on offense and gives it to the offensive staff. If Martell is one of the top 20, then he deserves to play/get a package installed for him, according to Meyer.
"I hold (the list) over the coaches' heads to make sure those guys are playing. If Tate doesn't play well, then (he won't play)," Meyer said. "If he is one of our best players, then we have to find a way to get him in the game. We have all kinds of ideas. A guy like that is easy to get into a game."
When dealing with the competition in practice, dealing with the different skill sets of Haskins and Martell presents the coaching staff with a handful of challenges. One of them being how to call plays in practice and make the competition as fair as possible, while also getting the most out of the offense.
Meyer said that is something he is monitoring as fall camp approaches, but is something Ohio State has dealt with in the past.
“If he is one of our best players then we have to find a way to get him in the game.”– Urban Meyer on Tate Martell
"It's hard, but it is also hard for the defense to prepare for. And it is hard if they are not veteran players," Meyer said. "We are very experienced with both styles of quarterbacks. We did that with Cardale (Jones) to jump right into that (2014) run when he took over for J.T. Our staff did a hell of a job with that."
While the starting quarterback battle is a two-horse race, Meyer did rave about Baldwin, who has added weight, now checking in at 210 pounds. He added that Ohio State's wide receivers "love him."
Linebackers Coming Back From Injury
As Meyer said in his morning session, middle linebacker Tuf Borland is expected to return to the field this year after suffering an achilles injury during spring practice.
However, Meyer confirmed that Borland, who was fourth on the team in tackles last season, will not be healthy enough to compete in full-contact drills when the team opens training camp on Aug. 3.
"His name is pretty indicative of what kind of kid he is," Meyer said. "I anticipate he will be ready early in the season. He heals fast. He is a very smart player. He is a mental rep guy. He won't need many reps (to come back)."
Meyer added that veteran outside linebacker Dante Booker will also be limited during training camp as he continues to recover from a pair of shoulder surgeries. The fifth-year senior has 62 career tackles and an interception to his name.