It’s a fresh start for Ohio State.
As it turns out, a lot of the players expected to usher the Buckeyes into a new era are also just starting out — and are fresh faces.
So far, first-year coach Urban Meyer and the rest of his staff prefer effort and competitiveness over age and experience.
The young guys may run the wrong way, but they do it with abandon. The coaches love that.
“We want to see what guys have that ‘it’ to them or really that desire as a young guy to get out there,” said defensive co-coordinator and last year’s interim head coach, Luke Fickell. “They don’t slow down not understanding not knowing what they’re doing. Then you’ve got to put them in positions to do that. Hey, (even if) they don’t know exactly what they’re doing, those are the guys you really have to concentrate on and give them some opportunities.”
No fewer than 19 of the 22 full-time positions listed on the two-deep chart include a freshman, sophomore or a redshirt first- or second-year player as a starter or backup.
Several sophomores, in particular, play high-profile, high-stress, high-responsibility positions: quarterback Braxton Miller, receivers Devin Smith (Massillon) and Evan Spencer, linebackers Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant and cornerback Bradley Roby.
On top of that, first-year coach Urban Meyer says youngsters will get playing time immediately when the games begin on Sept. 1.
“The best players are going to play,” he said after the first full team practice. “From what I’ve seen so far, there’ll be a bunch — maybe not a bunch, but a good chunk — of freshmen who’ll play in that first game.”
Ohio State is trying to turn the page after an awful 2011. First, there were the NCAA scandals that led to 10-year head coach Jim Tressel being forced to step down. The memorabilia-for-cash violations meant vacating the 2010 season, NCAA probation and a bowl ban after the 2012 season.
On top of all that, several suspensions and the premature departure of three-year starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor resulted in Miller being thrust into the starting role before he was ready. The Buckeyes struggled — on both sides of the ball — while sagging to a 6-7 record, losing their final four games.
So it’s no wonder that, in order to turn things around, Meyer and his staff aren’t closing the door on playing anyone who is enthusiastic and talented, even if they’ve never played a college game before.
“I feel like a lot of (the young players) are stepping up,” starting center Corey Linsley said. “You see guys that the Coach is calling out all the time. They’re moving up on our academic boards, they’re moving up on our weight-room boards. You see it transfer from the weight room and the classroom and off the field to on the field.”
Several positions are manned almost exclusively by relative newcomers.
For instance, there are no senior wide receivers on scholarship. So juniors such as Brown have taken on the role of paternalistic teammate.
“We have a lot of young guys,” he said. “Having a new offense, I’m just trying to get in there and learn the offense and then share my knowledge with the young guys.”
Sophomore Michael Bennett is in the mix on the defensive line. He’s been impressed with what he’s seen out of the freshmen.
“We definitely have a decent amount of younger guys who can step up and be playmakers on this defense,” he said.
One of them is Shazier, an acclaimed recruit out of Plantation, Fla., who saw more and more action as last season unfolded. By the end, he was one of the top defenders on the team.
He welcomes the opportunity to play a major role so soon in his college career.
“We have a young team and we still have experience,” he said. “Even when we mess up, we still have the older guys to look over us and tell us what we do wrong and what we do right.”
So far, they’ve done a lot of things right.