Asked a question about lofty preseason rankings and high expectations, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer jokingly threatened to pull the reporter’s season credentials.
Laughing, he said he only wanted to discuss the first game against Navy on Aug. 30.
But then he confirmed that even he is impressed with what he’s seen so far out of the Buckeyes.
“If you had to say what’s the difference between this team and last year’s team, we’re faster,” he said. “It does have the feel of a very good team.”
The Buckeyes are seven practices into their preseason camp. Yes, the offensive line and pass defense are still a concern. Star quarterback Braxton Miller is still taking days off because of soreness in his throwing arm after shoulder surgery last spring. And Ezekiel Elliott, the first choice to replace brutish tailback Carlos Hyde, is out for a few days after minor surgery on his left wrist.
But, by and large, Meyer is enthused and encouraged as Ohio State heads into the brunt of its camp.
“This next week is real hard,” he said. “There’s a lot of practices in the next five or six days. That’s when the home sickness sets in, and you start feeling real sorry for each other, and you start finding out what kind of team you have. At the end of next week, I will know what kind of a team we have.
“This will be the toughest week that they have all year.”
Miller was held out of a scrimmage on Saturday to save the wear and tear on his right shoulder.
He said the week ahead would mean long days — and rapid improvement.
“You just have to go out there like you’re ready for a game,” he said. “You have to have a mentality, too. You want to go out there and get yourself better and your teammates, too.”
With the senior signal-caller watching from the side, the Buckeyes have relied on sophomore Cardale Jones and freshmen J.T. Barrett and Stephen Collier getting most of the snaps.
Elliott fell on the ball awkwardly during a seven-on-seven drill and injured his wrist. It’s wrapped in an elastic bandage and he’s unlikely to join the action on the field until perhaps Thursday.
“It’s definitely tough to go and see my brothers battle without me,” he said. “I’m just going to be there. I’m out there, helping as much as I can, coaching them up as much as I can.”
The Buckeyes are also without sophomore running back Warren Ball, who injured his foot last week. The only healthy veterans at the position are Rod Smith and Bri’onte Dunn.
Meanwhile, the offensive line — where four of the five starters are gone — is taking shape.
“Everyone’s getting better,” guard Pat Elflein said. “Coach [Ed] Warinner is pushing us really hard. We’re a motivated group, too. We want to get better and we’re ready to go.”
People are even feeling good about the pass defense — which was completely dismantled and then rebuilt after allowing 35 points a game as the Buckeyes lost two of their last three games last season.
“We kind of blew everything up and started from scratch,” lineman Tommy Schutt said. “Throughout the spring and so far this camp, it seems to be working pretty well.”
Now, of course, is the time for optimism at campuses across the country.
Oh, and focus on that first opponent.
Meyer was asked about the new proposal to provide stipends to scholarship athletes at the major colleges.
“Beat Navy!” he said in mock disgust.