COLUMBUS, Ohio — With a whopping 16 starting spots up for grabs, Ohio State’s training camp offers plenty of opportunities for the numerous young players in the program.
If they can make it through, that is.
Many players with freshman eligibility have come into fall camp with a shot to earn a starting role or carve out a spot as an oft-used backup or special teamer. More often than not over the last couple years, it hasn’t worked out. From nagging injuries to serious injuries to an inability to outperform a veteran, a number of players have fallen by the wayside during the last few years of fall camp.
From the bumps and bruises suffered by Mike Weber and Torrance Gibson last fall that put them behind and contributed to redshirts, to the season-ending injuries suffered by Noah Brown in 2015 and Marshon Lattimore and Kyle Berger in 2014, there’s no question that health can play a part.
Junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan acknowledged that reality at Big Ten Media Days when asked about Weber taking over at running back in the wake of Bri’onte Dunn’s dismissal.
“Everybody’s talking about Mike Weber,” McMillan said. “He really has to get through a camp first. Last year he only made it halfway through camp. To prove it to your teammates and to me, you have to make it all the way through camp.”
And then, of course, there is the mental side of things. With practice only making up a few hours of the day, the rest is devoted to developing players’ knowledge – hours upon hours of information being thrown at the Buckeyes.
“The worst part for me coming in was meetings,” linebacker Joe Burger said. “In high school you just go out and practice. You come in here and you might have four or five hours of meetings and its right in your face and you have to be ready to answer at any given moment.
“Doing that for two weeks, it’s such a struggle.”
Head coach Urban Meyer said in July that he’s spent more time than ever this season planning practices for fall camp, and he later attributed at least part of that to the need to avoid injuries or exhaustion.
“That’s the hard part,” he said after the first day of fall practice. “It’s not just true freshmen but even redshirt guys. That’s a fine line — keep guys healthy but get them game-ready — and that’s the tough thing about football. With all due respect, it’s not shooting free throws or spiking a volleyball.
“And I love those sports, but with football, if you want to give them a game rep, its 11 on 11 with bodies going against each other full speed with one objective — knock the you-know-what out of the other guy. You have to be very efficient when you’re doing those things.”
Burger cautioned freshmen to not listen to any camp horror stories about injuries and fatigue lest it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Quarterback J.T. Barrett – who famously inherited the quarterback job as a redshirt freshman when Braxton Miller went down with an injury – said his best advice was to think about the upcoming season while trying to grind it out.
“Our camp is not easy,” Barrett said. “With that being said, you’ve got to keep fighting to get better. The hard times we have in camp right now, those are going to help us in the season. You can see it on people’s faces. Man, we just got through a hard practice. I couldn’t imagine just going at 3 o’clock about to do it again, but that’s real. That’s going to happen in the next couple days. I think just grind it out knowing brighter days are ahead, and this is going to help us later.”