To many, that seed was first planted at Notre Dame when Meyer was the wide receivers coach under Bob Davie. There’s a now-famous story about Meyer seeing star wideout David Givens in tears after a loss during the 2000 season and asking what was wrong.
When Givens replied that he hadn’t touched the ball during the game and as a result felt like he hadn’t helped the team win, Meyer was floored that the team’s offensive plan had failed in that regard.
He swore that kind of thing would never happen again, so Meyer started kicking around in his head an offense that would be players than plays. “Plays are good because of guys” became his mantra, and in many ways, that was the seed of the spread offense.
Of course, no one would argue with Meyer’s success. In his tenure, his teams have 37.4 points per game. He’s won three national championships in 13 years as a coach and had two other undefeated campaigns. Five times, his quarterbacks have finished in the top five of the Heisman voting, and his last two Ohio State teams are now first and second all-time in scoring at the prestigious school.
In other words, his system works. And to the head coach, it’s about having an identity, having a balance and having something you believe in. But mostly, it’s about having good players.
It’s about having playmakers.
So when the head coach approached putting together his Ohio State team, he was looking for guys who could go the distance. Every play in the offense is designed to go all the way if each person does his job and the playmaker makes a guy or two miss, one reason the Buckeyes tied for the most 40-plus-yard plays in the nation last year with 28.
He inherited a team short on playmakers – he jokes that the offense in 2012 was “Braxton left, Braxton right,” so named for quarterback Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes have searched for players at the “H” spot that can turn a good offense into a great one, and he’s recruited to add depth at running back and wide receiver perhaps like no other positions.
When it comes to finding players who fill those roles, the Buckeyes aren’t looking for a particular body type. They’re looking for someone who has skill, of course, but who mostly wants to make the most of every opportunity.
“There’s three characteristics,” Meyer said this spring. “Competitor is No. 1, tough is No. 2 and go-hard. Obviously there is the God-given skill or we wouldn’t be talking about him, but if he has those three characteristics, we’re recruiting him.
“Noah Brown is a great example, he lost 24 pounds since he got in here. He’s a competitor, he’s a tough guy, you saw that last year as a true freshman blocking, and he goes hard. ... He’s doing really well because he has those qualities. It’s up to us as a staff to figure it out, change the offense (to fit what we have).”
In many ways, playmaking is where natural skill meets hard work. The Buckeyes wouldn't recruit players at the skill positions if they didn't have traits like speed and agility, but those can only reach their maximums when combined with technique work and time in the weight room.
There's also an inherent competitive level within each player, but the Buckeyes spend an inordinate amount of time trying to hone those qualities in their athletes as well. Then there's the fact the Ohio State playmakers must put in the work to show they can get the job done while the lights are low before doing so when they are at their brightest.
“There’s a magic potion we give out,” wideouts coach Zach Smith said while laughing. “No, it’s really just teaching them how to run a route, teaching them a concept. Once they understand the offense and defense they just kind of have to go execute and then it’s a matter of when the bright lights are on you know it’s your time to make a play, do you make a play? If you can’t do it in practice when you know it’s coming and the spotlight is one you, you aren’t going to do it in the National Championship Game or the Big Ten Championship Game.
“You’ve got to see it there first. So it’s really just the opportunity. Give them an opportunity to try to see them shine. You do that and then you start to see it more consistent and then all the sudden you feel like they are ready to go out in prime time and do it. So we’ve got to see it here first. It’s more opportunity than anything. Certainly they have to be coached how to do it and understand when it’s there time to shine, but once that’s done you have to see them do it. Put them in a situation to sink or swim.”
So which players sank or swam this spring? Names like Brown, Parris Campbell, Mike Thomas, Brionte Dunn and more were at the forefront of spring names, but Meyer feels good that the Buckeyes now have depth when it comes to getting players the ball.
“If you go back three years ago to now and you say who are your playmakers one through 10, you’re fortunate to have 10,” Meyer said. “Last year we had 10, we pushed it a little more than that. This year with Evan Spencer and Devin Smith gone, who are those guys and what order do they touch the football?
“Mike Thomas is certainly in there, Jalin Marshall is in there and then you start, where does Nick Vannett fit in? Does Marcus Baugh step up? Obviously Zeke Elliott is way high up the list, but Curtis Samuel is not far behind so we have to find ways to get the ball in his hands. Noah Brown ... has moved from 15th to wherever. At the end of spring I’ll have that, what order they are going to touch the ball.”
Meyer never did give that order, but his public comments and the observations of the media throughout spring have helped clarify the list.
With that in mind, today BuckeyeSports.com begins a daily series ranking Ohio State’s top 10 playmakers, in our minds, after spring ball. Any running back, wideout, slot player and tight end is eligible, leaving the three quarterbacks off the list because they get the snap on each play so no effort really has to be given to get the ball in their hands.
These are the 10 players the BSB staff – Jeff Svoboda, Ryan Ginn and Blake Williams – believes have the most potential for those quarterbacks to get the ball to throughout the season.
The series starts with No. 10 on the list, redshirt freshman wideout/H Parris Campbell, and will count down each weekday to our top playmaker on the list.
Some good players were left off the list, showing the Buckeyes are where Meyer wants them to be when it comes to playmakers. For their part, those players believe it to as they each compete to be the ones who most get the ball for the defending national champs in 2015.
“It’s not a matter of making us all happy, we’re all here for each other,” Brown said. “We’ve got some dangerous talent. I think it’s a great thing to have and we’re all unselfish, just pulling for each other trying to make each other better.”