With just six starters returning in 2016, the margin of error for Ohio State and head coach Urban Meyer is considerably smaller than past recruiting classes might suggest.
The Buckeyes have stockpiled talent with the best of them over the last five years, but a roster in which half the scholarship athletes have never played a snap has complicated the preparation as OSU opens fall camp. The fifth-year head coach said at Big Ten Media Days that his focus during this August will be drastically different than the one last fall.
After returning nearly the entire core of the Buckeyes 2014 national championship team, Meyer said his goal for last year’s camp was simply to exit with no significant injuries. This year, however, the OSU staff has to prepare nearly the entire team for scenarios they’ve yet to experience. Meyer said he’s spent more time than ever just trying to design practices, noting that he’s looked at the layout of each one up to seven times to make sure they’re maximizing the efficiency of their instruction.
“You have your situations like second-and-long plays, cluster formations, the tight formations, you scrimmage those situations,” Meyer said. “In the past, Darron Lee had plenty of that, so we didn’t scrimmage those situations. Where I’m going through and saying, ‘Okay, what other situations do we have? Okay, run game against zone pressures.’ There are guys on our offensive line that have never done that, so I have to create that. If you have 11 bodies going at it full speed in live situations, there’s a risk. So I’m trying to prioritize whether we have to get this situation or we don’t.”
Because it’s impossible to squeeze all of the necessary preparation into a one-month period, Meyer is examining the schedule to determine what packages could wait until later in the season.
“We don’t play a two-tight Michigan State, Wisconsin-style team until later on, so I’m evaluating do we do that?” he said. “I’m just giving you examples of what goes through my mind to get them ready.”
All of the aforementioned preparations are complicated by the fact that the coaches are still in the process of determining which players will start at several positions. Outside of Jamarco Jones being named the starter at left tackle, spring practice yielded no official definitive winners of the numerous position battles. In an attempt to mitigate problems caused by that uncertainty, Meyer is on his assistants to sort out a starting lineup as expediently as possible.
“I’m giving them a line of demarcation where they have to name a starter,” he said. “At some point you’ve got to say, ‘This is our guy.’ Jamarco Jones is the only guy that we’ve done that with. So I’ve put a lot of pressure on our coaches, too, that I need to know by this scrimmage who is our starting outside linebacker. Is it Chris Worley or is it Jerome Baker?”
Throughout the conversation, what might seem like a looming headache was presented more like a puzzle that Meyer was itching to solve.
“Those are great conversations to have,” he said, and his smile suggested he meant it.