Back From Break, Stage Set For Questions to Be Answered At Ohio State As Spring Practice Intensifies

By Eric Seger on March 21, 2016 at 8:35 am
Ohio State returns to 2016 spring practice in earnest this week.

When Urban Meyer addressed the local media for the first time following his team's initial on-field workout of the 2016 spring slate, he didn't waste time commenting on how he saw what he expected in terms of effort from his new team on that particular day.

"Day One Spring 2016, I told them it's not that big of a deal so don't expect a word of encouragement yet because it's easy, it's fun," Meyer said March 8. "You just got beat up in the offseason program for six, seven weeks. I was expecting high energy and that's what we got."

The 2016 version of the scarlet and gray is extremely young, with 45 players owning four years of eligibility ahead of the season opener against Bowling Green at Ohio Stadium Sept. 3. With only six seniors on roster, growing pains are expected throughout the maturation process, especially with 18 true freshmen scheduled to arrive to campus this summer.

The seven early enrollees and holdovers from 2015 endured what Meyer dubbed "the winter of development" with strength coach Mickey Marotti after the Buckeyes defeated Notre Dame 44-28 New Year's Day in the Fiesta Bowl.

The Buckeyes practiced twice in their first week — both without pads — before taking a hard stop as the university calendar hit spring break. This season, Meyer and his staff can dive headfirst into the on-field development the team needs. Starting Tuesday, the team is slated to practice three times a week over the next month, culminating with the annual spring game April 16.

"Our whole focus is on 4-6, A-B, which is relentless effort, I don't care if you make mistakes," Meyer said. "The whole culture around here is effort overcomes mistakes anyway. We have to teach you how to go hard and then gotta move on and if you're at Ohio State if you make mistakes, that's our job to coach you."

“Those are the kinds of groups that really, to be honest with you, they're really exciting to coach.”– Luke Fickell

Greg Schiano, Luke Fickell and Ed Warinner each spoke to reporters two days after the second day of drills. Youth is the name of the game this spring at most positions, meaning March 10 to be way too early to piece together a plan for any sort of depth chart.

"Too soon. I think it's a very impressive group as a whole, and I love the fact that they compete. I could say that about this whole program," Schiano said. "It's probably the most competitive program I've seen — not probably, it is the most competitive program I've seen."

Schiano is the latest addition to Meyer's staff, a replacement for the departed Chris Ash, who is now the head coach at Rutgers. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rutgers head coach, Schiano is tasked with finding the right duo to step in for Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell on the back end of Ohio State's defense. He couldn't do that in two days, especially with guys like Cam Burrows and Erick Smith on the mend from injuries.

The same goes with wide receiver, where Zach Smith needs to mold the wealth of talent in his room to pick up the slack for Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller who are working toward the NFL.

Ed Warinner needs to find out who will be the second tight end behind Marcus Baugh.

New offensive line coach Greg Studrawa is staring at three open starting positions with Jacoby Boren, Taylor Decker and Chase Farris gone.

Tony Alford needs to figure out the best candidate to succeed 2015 Silver Football winner Ezekiel Elliott.

The list of questions isn't short this spring in Columbus.

"We got a lot of work to do," Meyer said.

The head coach and his staff recruited well since he arrived ahead of the 2012 season, setting the table for the 2014 Big Ten and national title run. The bulk of that team returned a year ago and submitted a 12-1 season, but is mostly headed to the professional ranks.

"Some of these units were decimated by people leaving," Meyer said.

What's left is a flock of talent and inexperience.

"This group, I think there's a lot of talent. There's tons of talent. We're not short on talent," Fickell said. "But it's going to be one of those groups that you love to coach because they've got something to prove. They got a chip on their shoulder. They're not Joey Bosa. They're not Vonn Bell. They're not Darron Lee. But they're really, really, really good. We just haven't proven it yet.

"Those are the kinds of groups that really, to be honest with you, they're really exciting to coach."

Whether or not the proper steps are taken in the next month before the spring game starts to be determined this week — especially when the young players Meyer and his staff will count on this fall get drained from the drills that could soon feel like a chore.

It will go a long way to dictate how quickly Ohio State will compete among the nation's best once again.

"I think it's just survival right now. You've got a bunch of kids that haven't played," Meyer said. "I'm hoping it turns out a little bit to be like that '13 class, that you just didn't know what you had until 2014. We're all hoping that."

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