If you want a quick glimpse as to how young Ohio State is going to be for 2016, all you have to do is ask strength coach Mickey Marotti how many players on the team were yet to experience his infamous mat drills prior to this offseason.
“We have 47,” Marotti said Wednesday morning.
That’s quite an alarming number, but it’s not all that surprising when you really think about it and remember what the Buckeyes lost after last season. With nine early departures to the NFL and a large senior class now gone, there was always going to be turnover.
Ohio State has seven early enrollees from its 2016 class that are already on campus. Add those to the 22 who freshmen who are experiencing their first winter with Marotti and that makes 29 scholarship guys. That’s a lot, but again, it’s not unexpected.
Working with such a young group is a different challenge for Marotti, of course, but it’s one he said he actually enjoys.
“I love this kind of group,” Marotti said, before repeating himself for emphasis. “I love it. I think it’s awesome. You see guys, you just see a different mentality from the last bowl practice at the Fiesta Bowl to here, guys grow up all of a sudden.
“There’s no more Ezekiel Elliott, there’s no more Taylor Decker and Jacoby Boren. There’s no more Joey Bosa, Joshua Perry and all of a sudden these new guys come in and you see them grow up without them even doing anything.”
Marotti was asked to single out some young guys who captured his attention thus far as Ohio State is working toward its first day of spring practice, which begins March 8.
On the offensive line, Marotti touted Evan Lisle, Demetrius Knox and Jamarco Jones. On the defensive line, it was Michael Hill, Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes who he rattled off.
Bri’onte Dunn, Mike Weber and early enrollee Antonio Williams also earned praise for Marotti, who seemed quite impressed with all three running backs. And he also discussed Dontre Wilson and his progression this offseason.
A few veterans in that mix, but a lot of inexperienced ones, too.
“I think two words come to mind for our young guys in the offseason and it's hungry and eager,” Marotti said. “We see that. We just wanted to build on it.”
Buckeyes middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who is now going through his third offseason program with Marotti after enrolling early two years ago, compared the current situation for some of Ohio State’s young guys to getting a new job.
“It’s just a lot of new stuff going on for those guys,” McMillan said. “You don’t know what to expect, you don’t know how people are going to be toward you. But when those young guys came in, they got a feel for how close-knit our team was, it started going well for those guys.”
“It’s just a culture shock and everybody around you is expecting you to compete at a high level.”
The expectations aren’t going to change for Ohio State in 2016, despite the team’s lack of experience. That’d be silly; expectations for the Buckeyes are always sky high no matter the season. They’ve actually increased somewhat since Urban Meyer became the team’s head coach.
Meyer always talks about how important Marotti and his offseason program is to his team’s success on Saturdays in the fall. It’s crucial to build strength and conditioning, but also creates a bond within the team. It is designed to put players in uncomfortable situations so that they handle themselves better come game day.
Meyer and Marotti are calling this year “the year of development.”
That’s going on right now inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. The faces are a little bit different than they have been the previous couple of years, but that’s the only thing that has changed. Ohio State is working toward competing for a Big Ten championship in the fall.
“It’s high expectations for Ohio State regardless," McMillan said. "Whether you’re young or have veterans, it doesn't matter."