Kevin Wilson was disappointed.
J.T. Barrett set the precedent for effort and execution during Ohio State's second practice of the spring. The team's new offensive coordinator and tight ends coach failed to live up to it.
“Today in our practice I could have done a better job,” Wilson said on Thursday. “I thought our players did really good, I thought I could do a better job.”
Wilson is the highest-profile assistant among Urban Meyer's latest additions to his coaching staff. The former Indiana boss is now the second coordinator working under Meyer with past head coaching experience, joining defensive coordinator and safeties coach Greg Schiano.
Brought in to enhance Ohio State's downfield passing attack and bring tempo back to the forefront, Wilson has the credentials to receive full control of the play calling duties and other nuances of Meyer's offense. He has coached stars like Sam Bradford and Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma, was instrumental in the birth of the spread offense at Northwestern and turned Indiana into a respectable program.
Ohio State led the Big Ten in total offense and finished second in scoring last season behind a strong rushing attack. But Barrett and the passing game struggled for a second straight season, so Meyer made the moves and brought in Wilson, a man he respects. But before Wilson can demand what he wants from the people he works with, he has to earn their trust first. Especially the quarterback.
“You can always tweak a scheme or an attitude but for the players who have been around and what we've done in the past, the first thing you have to do is connect with kids.”– Kevin Wilson
“As we go through, again my ability to connect with our staff, my ability to connect with our players, we have our units but as a coordinator, how do you get those guys to play together?” he said. “Working with J.T. means you've gotta bring it every day. And I am.”
Meyer wants Wilson's ideas to mesh with his power spread attack before they insert them into the playbook. Tempo is what the latter used to light up scoreboards at Indiana with far lesser talent than what is available in Columbus. It is also where Barrett is at his best, so it is no secret Wilson and new quarterbacks coach Ryan Day will use it.
“He's brought some good things to our offense,” Barrett said Thursday of Wilson. “We’re not really changing a lot but he’s bringing some good things into our offense that we’re incorporating. Same thing with Coach Day. Our offense, it's not broken but it's got things that we can update and adjust so that's good.”
Meyer wanted to refresh his program, needed following an embarrassing performance in the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson. The Wilson hire was a splash, both due to his track record and baggage he brings with him following an abrupt departure from Indiana.
Wilson addressed that on Thursday, and how his biggest focus has been getting himself acclimated with how Meyer, Barrett and the incumbent assistants operate.
“I think the first thing, in my opinion, is really getting comfortable with the way we do things and earning their trust,” Wilson said. “You can always tweak a scheme or an attitude but for the players who have been around and what we've done in the past, the first thing you have to do is connect with kids. Get those guys to play together and play hard and play as a unit.”
Barrett said the uptick in speed as the most noticeable thing in the first two days at practice. More effort, if you can believe that, also rose to the top of the to-do list for the quarterback in terms of the offense. That is Wilson's influence.
“We'll have a good effort for half a play,” Barrett said. “Trying to finish those plays and those are the things that can spring us for those 80-yard pops on one play. Or a receiver blocking downfield after a guy catches a ball. Those are the things we're focusing on this spring and I think it's going to make a difference.”
Barrett and Wilson echoed Meyer's statement from Tuesday that it isn't about changing the offense — a total overhaul isn't needed. Adding the correct and finer pieces are what is essential.
“The first adjustment is not an adjustment because we're on the same page as far as how do you want to run the offense. Maybe the language is different, maybe you emphasize,” Wilson said. “As I continue to learn and grow that, in time maybe we enhance.”
Said Meyer: “I think the key word is mesh. If it fits in conceptually with what we’re trying to get done then we’ll add it. The term we use around here is we’re not changing, we’re enhancing what we do.”
And for Wilson to do that, the players he is coaching have to buy in to what he is selling. Assistant coaches Tony Alford, Greg Studrawa, Zach Smith and Day have to also.
That happens one rep at a time.
“Talent doesn't win, it's the ability to play together,” Wilson said. “My ability to connect with J.T., it's coach Day's ability to connect with J.T. And my ability to take that, Coach Stud, Tony Alford, what Coach Alford and Coach Smith does, bring those groups together to play as an offense.”