In coach Urban Meyer’s third season with the Buckeyes in 2014, there was a substantial number of starters who had a limited sample size of playing time leading into the season. Albeit mostly redshirt freshmen at the time, including now redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett, those newcomers seemed to capitalize on each and every opportunity on their way to a national championship.
The 2015 freshmen were a little different, Meyer indicated during a press conference on Monday. He said that last year’s group saw “a monster” in front of their depth chart which may have impacted their attitude.
“Last year’s group was not very mature for whatever reason. And there a lot of reasons because they’re not bad people,” Meyer said. “Once human nature thought, ‘well, I’m not going to beat that guy out, I’m going to act like an 18-year-old.’
“I think this is a more mature group because they see this as open season. Go beat someone out.”
Ohio State opened fall camp on Sunday with the freshmen practicing separately from the upperclassmen. However, a trio of freshmen—wide receiver Austin Mack, offensive lineman Michael Jordan and running back Antonio Williams—practiced with the older guys. Those three enrolled in the spring.
Meyer is in his fifth season with OSU collecting at least 12 wins each year on the sidelines of the Scarlet and Gray. In order to reach or surpass that number in 2016, the development of the first-year players will be vital.
Last year’s mantra, “The Grind,” couldn’t produce a championship with arguably the most talented team Meyer has ever had. This edition of the Buckeyes hopes to kindle an elite mentality with “The Edge,” which could start with the ability of the freshmen to come into the program and compete for jobs. But first thing is first, Meyer must acclimate his young guys to the culture and demands of college football.
“That’s the hard part. It’s not just true freshman, it’s redshirt guys,” Meyer said. “Keep guys healthy but get them game ready, that’s the tough thing about football. (There’s) more time spent on that than making practice schedules.”
Having three freshmen who practiced with the upperclassmen on the first day of camp is an indicator of what Meyer and the rest of the staff think of the trio. Barrett will ultimately be the one getting the ball to his young playmakers like redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber and Mack at wide receiver, so he sees “The Edge” as an important visual for the inexperienced players to grasp the reality of Buckeye football.
“Being a young team … a lot of those guys, they haven’t even played a snap, so let alone where we’re on the road in overtime and down by seven, you try to create those situations in practice,” Barrett said. “When it comes game time … we have to make sure they’re ready.”
Barrett said that the approach this season hasn’t been any different despite the youth. For Barrett himself, he doesn’t have to worry about another quarterback breathing down his neck for the job. His only concern this year is gelling with his new targets in the passing game and cohorts in the backfield, but he’s confident there won’t be much of a learning curve outside of camp.
“I think especially the way we practice it’s not easy by any means,” Barrett said. “The guys are going to stand out there on the first snap against Bowling Green and I’ll have confidence in them. It’s just different faces, different numbers.”
“Every year is different, but it’s exciting,” Meyer said after Day 1 of practice. “It would be depressing if we came in here and we weren’t very good. I think we have a chance to be pretty good.”