It might have lost an unprecedented amount of talent to the NFL draft, but the Ohio State football team has begun to look toward the future as it resumed spring practice this week after taking some time off for spring break.
Much of the conversation with OSU coach Urban Meyer on Tuesday was a reflection on the future of the program as it looks to withstand the departure of 16 starting offensive and defensive starters to graduation or early entry into the draft.
Here are three key takeaways from the coach’s press conference as the Buckeyes continue to work toward the April 16 spring game.
Stability on offense
While the Buckeyes might be missing big names like Braxton Miller, running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Michael Thomas, there is still some returning talent, anchored by redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett and redshirt senior center Pat Elflein.
Meyer emphasized the importance of their return, saying a team incorporating new players at those positions has no shot.
“The fact that those two guys are back, we have a shot,” he said. “And I think we have a decent chance to be good on offense. And it’s mostly due to those two guys coming back.”
Meyer also spoke highly of Barrett’s leadership, saying that he’s one of the best leaders the team has ever had.
Joining Barrett and Elflein as the only other returning starter on offense is redshirt junior left guard Billy Price. Some players, such as redshirt junior tight end Marcus Baugh, got their feet wet as backups last season and are set to step in as starters. But other groups, such as wide receiver and the right side of the offensive line, have a lot of questions to be answered before the start of the 2016 season.
New players, new pressure
With new faces being pushed into bigger roles, Meyer also spoke to the pressures that will be on those players expected to step up.
“We try to put as much pressure on the players now because it’s not fair to put pressure on them in October,” Meyer said.
However, he added that the coaching staff can prepare a player as best as it can, but sometimes the player simply cannot handle it once things step up.
“There are a lot of great athletes who don’t respond to stress very well,” Meyer said.
With only six returning starters, a lot of inexperienced guys will be turned to in an effort to make a name for themselves in the spring. Those names range from true-freshman early enrollees to players who have been on the team for several years, biding their time to step into the spotlight.
Confidence at corner
Despite losing star cornerback Eli Apple to the NFL draft, Meyer expressed confidence in his defensive backfield in part because of cornerbacks Gareon Conley, Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward.
Lattimore, a redshirt sophomore, struggled with a hamstring injury his first two years with the team. Meyer spoke highly of the Cleveland native.
“Marshon has to stay healthy, he’s so talented,” Meyer said.
Conley is one of the few returning starters for the team, starting all 13 games in 2015 as the No. 2 corner. The redshirt junior knows better than anyone about the importance of putting on a show in preseason practice sessions, as his performances this time a year ago helped cement his status as a starter for a defending national-champion team.
Ward, who played in 11 games last season, made seven tackles, including two in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame. The true sophomore is primed to compete with Lattimore for the starting cornerback spot opposite Conley.
Meyer and the Buckeyes will continue their build-up toward OSU’s annual spring game, which is scheduled to kick off at 1:30 p.m. on April 16 at Ohio Stadium.