COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State opened camp Sunday with immense pressure on some inexperienced players.
The departure of 16 starters — including nine juniors who bolted early for the NFL — has left fifth-year coach Urban Meyer with the least experienced team he’s had during his time in Columbus — and one of the least experienced in the country.
Look at the numbers: 46 of Ohio State’s 85 scholarship players are redshirt freshmen or true freshmen who have never played for the Buckeyes. Meyer and his staff have work to do and questions to answer.
A redshirt freshman likely will replace NFL draft first-rounder Ezekiel Elliott at tailback, and the only receivers with some game experience are returning from injuries. There are starting spots just about everywhere else up for grabs.
“I’m counting on about practice 12 (being) that line of demarcation where I’ll tell you what kind of team we’ll have,” Meyer said. “If we see some guys step up like we did in ‘14 and last year, then we have a chance to be special, because athleticism is not an issue. Chemistry, toughness, those kinds of things, I just don’t know yet.”
Lucky for Meyer, one of his returning starters is quarterback J.T. Barrett, who has attained legend status at Ohio State even though he’s only a junior. He came on in the wake of Braxton Miller’s injury in 2014 to lead the Buckeyes to an 11-1 record before breaking his ankle in the Michigan game and giving way to Cardale Jones, who led the team to a national championship. Last year he took over for Jones as the starter in the eighth game and led the Buckeyes to a 12-1 finish and No. 4 national ranking.
Barrett said that despite the unsettled depth chart and many new faces, the first day of camp on a sunny, steamy afternoon felt familiar.
“I don’t think it feels crazy different,” he said. “Even with the guys we had last year, it wasn’t like the approach was any different. We still had the same type of install with our basic plays, making sure we get really good at those plays, so that’s the same thing we did here. With the experience we had last year, it wasn’t like there was a different approach. And we still have the same feel. Everybody came out there juiced up and ready to go. There’s just different numbers, different faces.”
Center Pat Elflein and right guard Billy Price return as starters on the offensive line, with Jamarco Jones already penciled in at left tackle. Raekwon McMillan is set at middle linebacker, and the same with Gareon Conley at one of the cornerback spots. Redshirt freshman Mike Weber, a four-star recruit from Detroit, is expected to start at tailback replacing Elliott, who was one of the greatest Buckeyes running backs of all time. Starting jobs just about everywhere else will have to be earned in the next few weeks.
Ohio State began drills with freshmen and other newcomers on Sunday morning, and with veteran players battling through a workout in the afternoon heat. They will practice 28 more times before the opening game Sept. 3 against Bowling Green at Ohio Stadium.