When Urban Meyer peeled his eyes across the field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center Tuesday, he took another leap toward the reality of just how different his team will look this fall as opposed to a year ago.
"I counted 16 at least, guys that moved on to the NFL, or maybe more even," Ohio State's head coach said after practice. "I think we have 11 right now, guys that we're counting on that can't go full speed."
The Buckeyes lost nine underclassmen to the NFL following a 12-1 season, one that culminated in a 44-28 victory against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. They also said goodbye to a senior class that served as the base for 50 wins in four seasons, in addition to Big Ten and National Championships.
"I just love guys that come back. Give me a big hug, a smile and say 'thanks for everything,'" Meyer said. "We just had a mural put in down the hallway, just a tribute to what was done here the last four years. Pictures of every senior that was involved in those 50 wins and two or three big-time bowl wins."
“This is uncharted waters for me too. You'd like to, but I don't think so. With 11 guys out, that's the thing that kicks you in the teeth. If everybody's ready to go, I think you could do that. But we're not.”– Urban Meyer
Now, they're gone. Meyer and his staff trotted out essentially a brand new team Tuesday — and two new coaches in Greg Schiano and Greg Studrawa — for the first set of drills, which the head coach said resulted in plenty of energy.
But it was supposed to. Tuesday was a reward for getting through winter conditioning, yet the reality is 45 players on roster have four years of eligibility remaining.
That's what happens when you essentially have the same roster the year after reaching college football's apex.
What's left following the 2015 exodus is a slew of young, eager talent anxious for playing time this fall, although Meyer noted the 11 players Ohio State will look to for production in 2016 that can't do everything he'd like due to injuries.
As a result, it won't be easy to churn out a depth chart (read: get a sense of who will play key roles this fall) by the Spring Game April 16.
"I'll let you know as we go along the journey here. This is uncharted waters for me too. You'd like to, but I don't think so," Meyer said. "With 11 guys out, that's the thing that kicks you in the teeth. If everybody's ready to go, I think you could do that. But we're not."
Meyer said Ohio State's three top receivers — Corey Smith, Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown — aren't 100 percent because of various ailments. Safeties Erick Smith and Cam Burrows are working their way back. Tyquan Lewis, Tyler Gerald, Malik Barrow, Nick Conner, K.J. Hill, Damon Webb — the list of players out for spring or doing everything but contact is lengthy.
"Erick Smith, Cam Burrows is close, Corey Smith, Noah Brown, those are guys that are examples that we're really counting on but just can't with injury," Meyer said. "They can't go full speed.
"(We've) got a lot of work to do."
It's why Meyer dubbed the time after the Fiesta Bowl win "the winter of development." He needs to see a step in the right direction from those who stood on the sidelines a year ago, and needs to see it in the month and a half the Buckeyes work out this spring.
Meyer blamed himself for Ohio State being in this position, but admitted again it was hard to maneuver last season with so many seniors and so many guys on the cusp of being NFL players.
"We had such depth and I hate wasting people's year of eligibility. So does our staff," Meyer said. "That's a little imbalanced, but it's going to be good news around here in two years."
That is beyond the scope of 2016, but after one practice in early March Meyer's expectations are simply getting an idea of who will play key roles to try and get Ohio State back atop the Big Ten East.
"I think it's not as simple as when you have this many new people. Obviously, develop the depth chart. Schematically, we're not going to change much," Meyer said. "I think Coach Schiano is going to bring some new stuff, and offensively we're not going to change much at all. I'm not worried about that, I just want to see somewhat of a depth chart by the time we leave."