Winter workouts in Columbus mean one thing: Mickey Marotti gets his first chance to mold Ohio State’s roster for the upcoming season.
Those workouts in 2016 look a little different than they did a year ago, when the Buckeyes were coming off a national title and widely expected to repeat. While some outlets still project Ohio State to be a top contender this fall, there are only six starters returning in Columbus on a roster that features just six scholarship seniors. That means Marotti, Ohio State’s assistant athletic director for football sports performance, is working on a roster that features more than 40 players with freshman eligibility.
While that leaves plenty of work for Marotti and his staff with the young guys, he noted there are still a few season veterans on the team who are leading by example already.
“I love our seniors,” Marotti said Wednesday. “There’s not many of them, but I love them. I love those, the (Craig) Fadas and the (Joe) Burgers and Bri’onte Dunn is having a great offseason.”
Along with Fada and Burger, who are both walk-on linebackers, and fifth-year senior Dunn, Marotti noted that offensive linemen Pat Elflein (fifth-year senior) and Billy Price (fourth-year junior) have been standouts as well.
Marotti explained that the Ohio State coaching staff breaks players down into three categories for training. The lowest level is blue, an ode to rival Michigan, while the middle tier is red and the top level is gold.
“A lot of the guys that have played, they’re all on that gold level,” Marotti said.
Among the veterans leading the way this winter are three players who head coach Urban Meyer has already announced will be captions this season. Elflein, along with junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan and junior quarterback J.T. Barrett, has taken on that role early. Typically captains aren’t announced until after a team vote closer to the start of the season.
“It’s made it easier because you now who the captains are, but they’re doing great, all those guys are doing great,” Marotti said.
Elflein noted that there is plenty of pressure around being a captain, but he said he’s embraced the role along with Barrett and McMillan.
“Just taking on that responsibility knowing how young this team is and J.T. and Raekwon and I, just coming together us three, we have to lead these guys,” he said.
But even with a strong veteran group already set up to lead the team, Marotti said winter workouts have been and will continue to be a grind as the Buckeyes try to get a young roster ready to step on the field when the time comes.
“It’s a process,” Marotti said. “One day they take three steps up, the next day they take a step back. Then the next day they take one step up and two steps back, next day they take three steps up, two steps back. But by the end of the week they got better. Maybe not at the rate that Coach Meyer wants but that’s all part of the process and we’ve just got to keep them going in the right direction.”