Blunt appraisal now praise

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The route was a Nine. The execution was a 10.

After a rough acclimation period in the spring that Urban Meyer wasn't shy about criticizing, the Ohio State coach was looking for signs that his passing game was improved and functioning on the second day of training camp earlier this month.

With Devin Smith turning a crisp streak route down the sideline into a long reception, the Buckeyes hit the first milestone on the way to productivity. And a few weeks later, they no longer have to celebrate a perfect route by a wide receiver.

"It shouldn't be a rare occurrence, but it definitely was for a while," wide receivers coach Zach Smith said. "I know that [play], and once you saw it, it was encouraging because you can teach off of that. Any time you don't get that, now you can pull the old film up and say, 'Look, this is you doing it right. Stop, enough.'

"It was very encouraging, and it's been a much more frequent occurrence, which is a positive thing."

It wasn't just the Nine pattern that had been lacking in crispness for the targets early in the transition to the spread offense. Plenty of other parts of the playbook seemed to be tripping up the Buckeyes as they tried to fix a passing game that was among the least productive in the country last season.

The receivers spent the spring hearing about how they were thinking too much and playing too slow, then getting reminders about the team-leading total being 14 catches last year while trying to absorb concepts that would increase that total. They went to work with their playbooks and quarterback Braxton Miller to change the perception about them. And it only took two workouts to start the process.

"I remember the route," Devin Smith said. "Braxton threw it right on the money and I just ran. You know when you've got that togetherness with the quarterback, it's great. We're getting better every single day, getting timing down and I'm looking forward to the season.

"I think this whole camp we've really shown what we did this summer. We worked on routes, catching every single day after lifting and it's paying off."

The Buckeyes haven't had a chance to collect in meaningful action yet, but they could be in line for some big returns based on their most recent outing in a game-like setting.

In a scrimmage on Saturday that wrapped up training camp as Ohio State turned to preparation for the season opener, Miller and backup Kenny Guiton combined to throw for 505 yards, a figure that would have taken four full games to match for a team that averaged 127 passing yards per game last season.

The starters might have been playing against backups, the defense wasn't exactly dialing up exotic schemes and scrimmages obviously don't count in the standings. But that doesn't mean the Buckeyes didn't see yet another indicator of progress in a month that has been full of them through the air.

"Really the group as a whole has taken the right steps," Zach Smith said. "Are they there yet? No. But after practice 15, 16, they're about where they should be. We've got to get them right in the next week and a half, but they're coming. I would never say it's comfortable, but I feel good about the guys we have and where we're going to be.

"It's just a commitment to every route and really the whole philosophy of how we do things in the throw game."

It might have started with the Nine. But the other routes have followed along as well, and given the frequency of late, there hasn't been much reason to point it out publicly when they're done right.