Ohio State coach Urban Meyer says he’s a little surprised the Buckeyes’ defensive backs have struggled at times this season.
But he’s not startled to be surprised because every season brings something that was unexpected.
“Always,” Meyer said on Monday at his weekly press conference about how many seasons he has been surprised by some aspect of the teams he has coached.
“In 2015 after we won it all in 2014, you kind of had an idea. The year after that, you had no idea because they were all new players. This year, once again, our friends left early for the NFL and you get guys in the back end of our defense where you just don’t know,” he said.
Ohio State had to replace three starters in the defensive backfield for a second season in a row this year.
“They have to develop and grow. I thought we’d be a little further ahead in pass defense. I thought our corner development would be a little further ahead. But they are making strides,” Meyer said.
Weber ready to return: Running back Mike Weber, who has had only seven carries in OSU’s first four games “is cleared and he will play,” Meyer said as he looked ahead to OSU’s game at Rutgers on Saturday night.
“Joe Burrow is cleared. Chris Worley is ready to go. I’ve been told he is probable. And (Robert) Landers is ready to go.”
However, defensive tackle Malik Barrow is out for the season after suffering a torn ACL during the UNLV game. Barrow, a redshirt freshman has now torn the ACL in both of his knees.
Offensive line improving: Meyer said OSU’s offensive line is moving in a “very good” direction.
“We are an offensive line driven program. Our first season here we went 12-0 because of Braxton (Miller) and the offensive line and a pretty salty, good defense, not a great defense.
“I think any coach would stand in front of you and say if your offensive line becomes the best in the conference, you’re going to win the conference. And last year we were not and we did not,” Meyer said.
Hill’s status still uncertain: Defensive lineman Michael Hill’s suspension, which was described as indefinite when it was imposed before the season began, remains in place.
“I’ve been saying one week at a time. He won’t play this week,” Meyer said. Asked when Hill might return, he said, “It is still to be determined.”
Prince shows improvement: Right tackle Isaiah Prince, often criticized as the weak link on OSU’s offensive line the last two seasons, was named Ohio State’s Offensive Player of the Game in it 54-21 win over UNLV.
“He had his best week of practice and played very well,” Meyer said. Defensive linemen Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones were the Defensive Players of the Week.
Meyer on Ash: Meyer said he knew right away Rutgers coach Chris Ash was a potential head coach when he was an OSU assistant in 2014 and 2015.
“Chris was one of the best we’ve had here. He was an impact coach for us and I could tell right away,” he said.
Meyer said the two most important things to look for in future head coaches is being a “big picture guy” and being a great recruiter.
“They can’t be just good, they ought to be your best recruiter or they’re going to fail. Big picture and great recruiter. There are other things but those are the big two,” he said.
Growing up: Kicker Sean Nuernberger is 7 for 7 on field goals this year after losing his job to two players who had never attempted a field goal in college the last two seasons.
Nuernberger was the No. 1 kicker on OSU’s 2014 national champion team. But in 2015 he was replaced by Jack Willoughby, a transfer from Duke who had never kicked a field goal in a game for the Blue Devils.
Last season he was limited by a groin injury and was replaced by walk-on Tyler Durbin, a former soccer player.
“He’s a grown man. He was a little boy when he first got here. He acted like a little boy and didn’t prepare like a grown man. I think his family and this program have done wonders for him,” Meyer said. “He’s hitting it now. He hit a 57-yarder in practice the other day.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.