Against custom, the Ohio State football team did not include a depth chart as part of its Monday gameweek media release, but that doesn’t mean the Buckeyes are far away from knowing the players who will take the field in Saturday’s opener against Buffalo.
The fact that a depth chart isn’t out yet is simply because there is still some practice time to go, and a two-deep is still expected later this week.
“There’s still a chance we change because we still have three days (of practice),” head coach Urban Meyer said.
But many of the positions were sorted through as part of the first press conference of the season held Monday afternoon at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, with Meyer, offensive coordinator Tom Herman and defensive coordinator Luke Fickell talking about the depth of the 2013 Buckeyes.
One of the biggest winners, per Meyer, is the offensive line. Not only do the Buckeyes have a set starting five in Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall and Taylor Decker, but the head coach is excited about the backups at the position. Chase Farris, who lost the camp battle with Decker for right tackle, is joined by Jacoby Boren, Pat Elflein, Kyle Dodson and Darryl Baldwin as players who have the trust of the coaching staff to step on to the field and play well.
“Offensive line I feel very good about,” Meyer said. “We’re much deeper.”
On the other hand, the biggest trouble spot is linebacker, where the Buckeyes boast only six scholarship players. Position coach Fickell said the starters will be Ryan Shazier at weakside linebacker, Curtis Grant in the middle and Joshua Perry at Sam, but the relative youth at the position is concerning to the head man.
That’s especially true as the Buckeyes deal with a concussion that kept Grant out of a lot of camp, though the one-time five-star prospect seems ready to go against the Bulls.
“The area that we’re still trying to solidify is linebacker just because there’s some young guys, and then also Curtis Grant hasn’t played a whole lot of Mike linebacker,” Meyer said. “He’s catching up quick … (but) that’s the one area we’re really behind.”
Boasting one of the best freshman classes in recent years according to reports, there are a few first-year players who seem destined to play on Saturday. Meyer mentioned Dontre Wilson (who will start at kick returner) and fellow running back Ezekiel Elliott as guys who will see the ball on offense, while five-star prospect Joey Bosa will be in the defensive line rotation where he will hopefully be joined by Michael Hill. The team’s punter will also be a freshman, albeit a 21-year-old in Australian Cameron Johnston.
Wilson – who has a small package in place for him – and Elliott will also be part of the running back rotation, though it appears Jordan Hall will be the starter there and be backed up by class of 2012 members Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball.
At wideout, Herman said the team has four players it considers worthy of being called starters in seniors Corey Brown and Chris Fields as well as junior outside receivers Devin Smith and Evan Spencer. Depth at what Meyer called “the most improved position on the team” will be provided by Michael Thomas, Corey Smith, James Clark and Wilson, with true freshman Jalin Marshall limited by the concussion he suffered early in camp.
Ohio State will practice in full pads today, with the team donning “Buckeye gear” the next two days before undergoing a typical Thursday gameweek practice. Captains will also be announced later today, as the team will vote in the 2 o’clock hour.
Leadership continues to be one of the big questions facing Ohio State, as Herman said the Buckeyes have eight to 12 players who can step up and do the job well but still need those players to make the next step.
Saturday will also be a bit of a learning piece for the Buckeyes, as the current climate regarding player safety means there simply wasn’t as much hitting in camp. Though both Grant and Marshall suffered concussions – certainly a buzzworthy topic these days in football circles – the Buckeyes didn’t do much tackling this fall in hopes of putting the players in the right spot to be able to play come the season.
“We were very smart this year as far as the way we prepared,” Meyer said. “It depends on how we play coming up here, but I really like the way Coach Marotti and myself – we spent an inordinate amount of time with our trainers just making sure we were doing it the right way, and I feel very good about where we’re at.”
When all was said and done, Meyer seemed excited about seeing what his team would bring to the table Saturday in the Horseshoe, at one point uttering seven words that surely every Ohio State fan agrees with.
"I just can't wait to play football,” he said.