"That's what will be fun is to go and watch film of these young guys who've been holding cards and running other people's plays," head coach Jim Tressel said. "You don't get much better doing that."
When asked to name any standouts, Tressel highlighted two four-star recruits who are redshirting as freshmen this season: Fort Wayne (Ind.) Paul Harding running back Roderick Smith and East Cleveland (Ohio) Shaw wide receiver Tyrone Williams.
"Today, the guy that had a couple good runs was Rod Smith," Tressel said Dec. 14. "He went and took his team down and scored a touchdown and did a good job. He's the first guy I can think of. I saw T.Y. Williams go up and make a really good catch the other day in the scrimmage, but it's fun for them, running our offenses and our plays, rather than everyone else's."
Smith's name was the most repeated by his teammates, too, as seniors met with reporters later the same day.
"He's humble, he has a great work ethic and he's going to be an unbelievable back here in the next couple years," linebacker Ross Homan said. "He has all the physical assets. He's got size and speed, but Rod really just sits back and takes everything in. He's always in the weight room. I always tell him, ‘There's (the next) Beanie Wells,' and he always smiles, but he's going to be an unbelievable player."
Offensive lineman Andy Miller has been impressed with the improvement of position-mates Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall, both of whom will have sophomore eligibility next year, and cornerback Devon Torrence said to keep an eye out for wide receiver Chris Fields.
"He's going to be up there in one of the top spots for the receivers next year," Torrence said of Fields, who will be a sophomore as well.
On the other side of the ball, linebackers Dorian Bell, Storm Klein and Etienne Sabino were mentioned as non-starters who have stood out along with cornerback Bradley Roby and defensive linemen Johnathan Hankins, Garrett Goebel and Adam Bellamy.
"Guys like Dorian Bell, Storm Klein, Etienne Sabino, Garrett Goebel, those guys really get after it in practice," safety Jermale Hines said. "I don't have a doubt in my mind that they'll be really good next year."
Hines also likes what he has seen of Roby, a three-star prospect from Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge who took a redshirt this season.
"He is really coming along and starting to understand the schemes and things like that," Hines said. "He has always been a lockdown one-on-one corner, but he is starting to get down all the little parts."
Whether any or all of those players can find their way into the lineup next year remains to be seen, however.
Another round of bowl practices in New Orleans, a winter of weight room work and then three weeks of spring practice no doubt will jumble the depth chart, but almost everyone mentioned looks to have a good chance to earn playing time in 2011.
That is especially true of the linebackers, who will find two open starting spots upon the departure of Homan and fellow senior Brian Rolle.
Senior-to-be Andrew Sweat figures to maintain a starting spot in the base defense and move into one as part of the nickel unit, but there will be a free-for-all for the other positions.
"I tell the guys, 'This is your time,' " Rolle said. "The way you practice now is going to determine how you go into the spring and next season. It's important. I don't worry when the coaches tell me and Ross to stand here and let the young guys take a couple more reps because before we know it, it's going to be their time."
Roby also figures to have a chance to earn playing time next season as current starters Torrence and Chimdi Chekwa will be out of eligibility. Roby's biggest competitors will be senior-to-be Donnie Evege, junior-to-be Travis Howard and sophomore-to-be Dominic Clarke.
Williams and Fields should be in the mix at wide receiver, where current starter Dane Sanzenbacher and No. 3 Taurian Washington are both seniors. Hall and Linsley should both have a chance to fill one of the spots to be vacated by guards Bryant Browning and Justin Boren, as will Jack Mewhort.
All three of the young defensive linemen played some this year and figure to be in line for more minutes in 2011 after Heyward and nose guard Dexter Larimore exhaust their eligibility.
That leaves the biggest question mark what will become of Smith, who enters a depth chart that could have as many as four scholarship players returning who logged carries this season.
"I don't think it's really a problem if you have more than you need," Homan said. "If your problem is figuring out who to put in there, that's not a bad idea."