Whether a player isn’t big enough, good enough or mature enough to play right away — or if there is simply a more experienced player ahead of them on the depth chart — many have to spend a season looking on as a redshirt.
The 2013 Ohio State football team had a handful of hyped-up recruits — and even a couple of returning players — who took a redshirt season. While some of those players still face an uphill battle for playing time, others are set to make an instant impact in 2014.
Headlining the group of 2013 redshirts is redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, who is slated to start this season for the Buckeyes after senior quarterback Braxton Miller suffered a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder last week. Barrett, who tore his ACL during his senior year of high school, hasn’t taken a competitive snap outside of practice in nearly two years.
“(Barrett) had about 300 competitive throws this fall, where when (former OSU backup quarterback Kenny Guiton) went into the game a couple years ago, I think he had six,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said at a Wednesday press conference. “(Barrett) is a meticulous guy.”
Before fall practice, Barrett had limited reps as a true freshman in 2013 and split time with redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones in spring camp and during OSU’s Spring Game at Ohio Stadium. In the Spring Game, Barrett completed 17 of 33 pass attempts for 151 yards through the air.
Barrett was a four-star recruit coming out of Rider High School in Wichita Falls, Texas, but still found himself buried behind more experienced players as a freshman. As the depth chart shifts heading into the new season, Barrett suddenly is on the list of key Buckeyes, and he won’t be the only one in that brand-new situation.
At OSU’s annual media day on Aug. 10, Meyer rattled off the names of a few different players who weren’t as well-known in 2013 but could make an impact this season.
“Dontre Wilson (and) Jalin Marshall are in a heated battle at the H-back position,” Meyer said. “Corey Smith and Michael Thomas have started the battle for top two or three receiver spots, and there is a bunch of guys, just don’t have time to go through them all.”
While Wilson is entering his true sophomore season, the other three players Meyer singled out all redshirted last year. Marshall is a redshirt-freshman, Smith is a redshirt-junior after transferring from Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan before last season and Thomas is a redshirt-sophomore who played as a true freshman in 2012 before sitting out last year.
When a player redshirts for a season, they are allowed to practice with the team but can’t play in games, and retain the year of eligibility. Therefore, a player who redshirts their first season will still have four years of eligibility remaining. A player can also receive a medical redshirt if they sustain a season-ending injury. In medical cases, the NCAA determines whether or not the player will be granted the medical hardship waiver and retain a year of eligibility.
Even though Smith is fighting for playing time against established players such as seniors Evan Spencer and Devin Smith, he still hopes to find a way onto the field in his first season playing for the Buckeyes.
“I plan on having a big role, just do my best in whatever role it is to contribute,” Corey Smith said at OSU’s media day. “But I plan on having a big role.”
OSU wide receivers coach Zach Smith had high praise for the transfer student as well, calling him “one of the most talented guys” he has ever coached.
“He is very talented,” Zach Smith said. “He has bought completely into the system instilled by coach Meyer, (OSU assistant athletic director for football sports performance) Mickey Marotti and myself.”
Outside of Corey Smith, Marshall and Thomas, Barrett might have yet another target who redshirted last season.
Redshirt-freshman tight end Marcus Baugh didn’t play in 2013 for his first year on campus and had just one reception for four yards in the spring game, but OSU tight ends coach Tim Hinton said he’s come a long way since arriving in Columbus.
“Marcus Baugh has really matured as an individual and as a player,” Hinton said at OSU’s media day. “He’s physically developing. There’s a lot of raw talent.”
While Baugh might not be expected to carry the team with senior tight end Jeff Heuerman and redshirt-junior tight end Nick Vannett already on the roster, his development can serve as proof of hard work during a redshirt season.
Baugh was initially suspended for the first game of his freshman season after being cited for underage alcohol consumption before eventually redshirting.
Like Thomas, redshirt-sophomore running back Bri’onte Dunn saw the field as a true freshman in 2012 before finding himself buried on the depth chart the following year.
In 11 games as a freshman, Dunn carried the ball 25 times for 133 yards and even scored a pair of touchdowns, but went into last season behind now former OSU players Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall, as well as now-redshirt-senior Rod Smith and now-sophomore Ezekiel Elliott in the pecking order.
After averaging nearly six yards per carry and scoring a touchdown in the spring game, as well as putting on a strong performance in fall camp, Meyer said Dunn, along with Rod Smith, is firmly in the mix at running back this season, even though Elliott is expected to be the No. 1 on opening day.
“I give credit to Bri’onte and Rod,” Meyer said Aug. 17. “Every day they’ve worked their tails off.”
Even though their college experience might have started off differently than they hoped, each of these redshirts could be looking to come out fresh and strong for the Buckeyes this season.
OSU is scheduled to start its season Saturday against Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Kickoff is set for noon.