August 23, 2012

Meyer strives to bring NFL atmosphere to Columbus

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -Throughout its first fall camp under head coach Urban Meyer, the Ohio State football team had its every move documented by ESPN for its All-Access: Training Days TV show. But perhaps HBO's Hard Knocks, would have been a more fitting program to capture what's been taking place in Columbus over the past month.

Whether it's been their extensive training regimens, the coaches' intensity, or practices being held at an off-campus location, Meyer's first fall camp in Columbus has resembled more of that of a professional football team than anything suited for a show about amateur athletics.

"We're going to try to treat these kids like professionals. And I didn't say professional football players, but professionals," Ohio State defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said. "When you do the right things, and you work hard at something, you get rewarded."

A veteran of 14 NFL seasons, Vrabel knows a thing or two about being a professional. And the former Buckeyes defensive end said that he sees many similarities between his current boss in Meyer and his former one in New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

"They want a prepared football team for the games and what you're going to face in the game. He's willing to do whatever it takes to get his football team prepared. Whether that's re-play a down, re-play a series if it's not right," Vrabel said of Meyer. "No different than what Coach Belichick used to say: let's not confuse activity with achievement. You know, go out there and break a sweat and you may not necessarily be getting anything done. We're going to go out there and we're going to work for two hours, and it may take us three hours, but we're going to get two hours of good work in."

The new "NFL-like" atmosphere around the Ohio State program was apparent in just where Meyer held his first fall camp. Where in previous years, the Buckeyes would typically stick to practicing at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, this year Meyer held several practices at fields further down Ackerman Road. In doing so, Meyer hoped to simulate a training camp similar to the ones held in the NFL, where teams will usually travel to a college campus or nearby town to create a new home away from home.

Meyer's message in moving the camp site was not lost on his players.

"Coach Meyer told us, 'Be a pro.' He tells us that every day to take care of our bodies and eat the right things and he just tells us to take care of our bodies and that's one of the big reasons why we went over the Ackerman fields to practice," sophomore receiver Devin Smith said. "It was a little different. You're always practicing here. Going there and practicing, it was a lot different. It was fun, a lot of guys enjoyed it."

It wasn't just a change in location that made the Buckeyes' camp feel like one made for adults and not college kids. Placing a black piece of electrical tape on each true freshman's helmet, Ohio State's newcomers were forced to 'officially' earn their way onto the roster through their play.

Vrabel said that the rite of passage of having players earn the right to remove their black stripes isn't any different than similar programs that occur at the next level.

"You'll know when a rookie's arrived. They'll have that moment in training camp when they go against a veteran, and they do well. That's their kind of 'welcome to the NFL moment,'" Vrabel said. "It should be an honor and a privilege to play for Ohio State and those guys that are coming in are fighting like heck and I think that the kids think that it's a really big motivation to get that stripe off."

Having spent time in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, and Kansas City Chiefs, Vrabel said he's also noticed similarities between his old teams and one he current coaches for in the way that they prepare for games.

"The attention to detail, the competitive excellence. Not putting a kid out there who's not ready for the game. That's not fair to them. It's not fair to this team," Vrabel said. "That's one thing we want to strive on is making sure our players are game ready."

So with a little more than a week to go until the their season opener against Miami (OH), are these Buckeyes game ready?

"At times they look like they are, and at time, they're far from it," Vrabel said.


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