When Urban Meyer named three players captains for the 2016 season last January he implied that more captains would be named later. So far, he hasn’t chosen any others.
With such a young team, however, it’s clear the Buckeyes are going to need more leaders than just Pat Elflein, J.T Barrett and Raekwon McMillan. On the defensive side of the ball they seem to be in good hands in that regard.
Both the defensive line and the secondary have just one returning starter from the 2015 team and as a result both of those players have been forced to step up their leadership.
When asked about what he’s getting from defensive end Tyquan Lewis and cornerback Gareon Conley, Meyer had a quick answer.
“Exceptional leadership,” the head coach said yesterday. “Guys that count on every day in practice and both of them are playing a very high level.
“Tyquan had the shoulder surgery, but Gareon is playing, man, he's playing at a high, high level right now and so is Tyquan.”
Lewis, as Meyer said, is recovering from an offseason shoulder operation, but both the defensive end and his position coach Larry Johnson said that the junior is now 100 percent recovered.
While the defensive line is replacing Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt, Lewis may have an easier position group to lead than Conley. Though they did not start, Sam Hubbard, Jalyn Holmes, Tracy Sprinkle and Michael Hill all have their fair share of game experience.
As such, Lewis is taking more of a collective approach to leading rather than focusing on any individuals.
"I just lead in ways that everyone has to,” he said. “We all perform together so I try not to individualize anyone. It is more so a unit thing and that's the way it should be."
Conley’s task may be a bit more complicated. Not only did Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell and Eli Apple start for the Buckeyes in each of the past two seasons, there was little use of the players behind them on the depth chart.
Luckily for the Buckeyes, Conley appears to be a capable leader. Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs compared him to Doran Grant, a captain on the 2014 national championship team, in his leadership abilities.
“He’s vocal, he tells them how it is, he tells them how it ought to be and he helps them get there. I think that’s one of his great strengths, if somebody is stepping out of line Gareon will pull them back in. I think that’s rare in today’s world and he’s very, very good at that.”
Playing alongside Powell, Bell and Apple – all three of whom left eligibility on the table to pursue NFL dreams – helped inform Conley as a leader, he said. Having entered the secondary as the only new starter last year he knows what inexperienced players like Denzel Ward, Malik Hooker and Damon Webb are going through.
“Yeah, they all taught me the game,” he said of the departed stars. “I was obviously the same age as them, but they had more experience because they played more than me. They taught me how to be a pro and how to handle my business and just feel like they taught me that so I can teach the young guys right now that same thing.”
Conley and Lewis may not have a C next to their name on the official Ohio State roster, at least not yet, but both are certainly being relied on to lead the 2016 Buckeyes.