The roster turnover from a season ago has been well documented. Ohio State returns just six of 22 starters from 2016, and 44 of its scholarship players have yet to see game action for coach Urban Meyer.
Not all 16 jobs are up for grabs. Meyer and others have indicated that junior Jamarco Jones will start at left tackle, redshirt freshman Mike Weber at running back, redshirt sophomore Noah Brown and sixth-year senior Corey Smith at receiver and redshirt junior Marcus Baugh at tight end on offense. For the defense, redshirt sophomore Sam Hubbard will man the strong-side defensive end position, junior Dante Booker at outside linebacker and redshirt sophomore Malik Hooker at safety.
A season ago those names lined the two-deep depth chart or were injured. Now, Meyer and Co. need to find other members of the Scarlet and Gray to fill remaining roles, and they could turn to a talented true freshmen class.
OSU reeled in the No. 4 recruiting class in 2016 according to 247Sports, with seven of those recruits having enrolled in the spring. Some of those early-enrollees could earn pivotal spots in fall camp which starts Aug. 6.
“My goal is to play every freshman,” Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days last week. “I know that doesn’t happen, but we want to play the freshmen as soon as we can.”
There will be plenty of redshirt freshmen in starting and second-string roles, but these true freshmen are poised to see time in their first season in Columbus.
One of the best units on Meyer’s teams the last two years has been the offensive line. Redshirt senior Pat Elflein and redshirt junior Billy Price return for the “Slobs,” but they will be joined by three new linemates hoping to continue that “Slob” mentality.
Freshman Michael Jordan is a four-star recruit from Plymouth High School in Canton, Michigan, who has made quite the impression during the summer. Enough of an impression that Meyer said that Jordan will likely be a starter.
“What I’ve seen from (Jordan), his development since he got here in January is outstanding,” Meyer said.
Meyer later said that Jordan will have to compete for the job and that he has to earn it in camp. However, it appears Jordan has the lead for a position on the o-line.
Recruited as an offensive tackle, new o-line coach Greg Studrawa will likely put the 6-foot-7, 310 pound Jordan wherever he is needed. Junior college transfer Malcolm Pridgeon may have the right tackle position for Studrawa’s unit having played left tackle in JUCO.
“He’s a smart guy. He’s taking coaching very well,” Elflein said about Jordan. “He gets after guys. Sometimes you have to develop that nastiness and some guys just have it. He has it.”
Freshman wideout Austin Mack first turned heads at last summer’s Friday Night Lights event in Ohio Stadium where he was nearly unguardable. When the Fort Wayne, Indiana, native enrolled in January, he became the first player to lose his black stripe and earn reps with the upperclassmen.
Mack is just one of the many young receivers eyeing substantial playing time come Sept. 3 against Bowling Green. The second-string spot on the depth chart behind Brown and Smith are possibly the most open, and hotly contested, areas on the roster. Having been inaugurated into the program so early, Mack stands as good of a chance as any other receiver to see targets from quarterback J.T. Barrett.
“The talent and speed and athleticism will not be an issue. It’s how they perform,” Meyer said about the receiving unit. “That’s where J.T. is going to be so critical because you’re going to see a lot of wide eyes. A lot of those guys have not played.”
Mack had three receptions for 22 yards for the Scarlet team in the spring game in April.
No. 97 will be on the defensive front four once again for OSU, but it’s the other Bosa’s turn. Nick Bosa—known as “smaller bear” to brother and former Buckeye Joey—is Meyer’s most prized recruit from the 2016 class.
Ranked as the No. 1 strong-side defensive end in the country, five-star Bosa tore his ACL in his senior year at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Despite that, Meyer said that Bosa will not be redshirted in 2016, meaning that he wants Bosa to factor into the defensive line.
Meyer added last week that he, strength coach Mickey Marotti and other defensive coaches will closely monitor Bosa’s progress throughout camp.
Demario McCall / Antonio Williams
Last season, junior Curtis Samuel served as a the backup running back to Ezekiel Elliott. He is listed as an H-back on the team’s roster, but following the dismissal of Bri’onte Dunn, freshmen DeMario McCall and Antonio Williams may be in the mix for playing time in the backfield.
“Depth is a concern,” Meyer said. “You want four bodies in the tailback position, and I count Dontre Wilson and Curtis Samuel in the mix. So we have Demario McCall, Antonio Williams and obviously Mike Weber. So that is a concern.”
Williams enrolled in the spring at OSU and benefitted from an injured Dunn at the time. Williams started for the Gray team in the annual spring game where he rushed for 29 yards on seven carries.
McCall is another guy who could be rotated into the catalog of running backs. Standing at 5-foot-9, 182 pounds, McCall has the build to play H-back for Meyer. McCall registered an unofficial 4.34 40-yard dash in high school—and if there is one thing Meyer is consistent with, it’s finding playing time for players with top-end speed. McCall has that.
Opposite from Nick Bosa, Cooper was ranked the No. 3 weak-side defensive end in the 2016 recruiting class. Hailing from Gahanna-Lincoln High School just 20 minutes outside of Columbus, Cooper participated in spring practice as an early-enrollee and is looking to backup redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis on the weak-side of the defensive line.
At 6-foot-3, 248 pounds, Cooper may not be limited to the defensive end position. Sophomore Sam Hubbard and Lewis have the the end positions locked down, so the inside tackle positions may be where Cooper finds the most time on the field.