Much has been made of all the talent that Ohio State lost last season and all the inexperienced players who will be relied upon by the Buckeyes in 2016.
The impact of all those departures, however, extends to an often overlooked area: special teams.
Urban Meyer has always put a premium on special teams and regularly uses starters in all four phases of the kicking game. Considering the Buckeyes are replacing 16 starters on offense and defense, it’s safe to say they are replacing a good chunk of special teams’ contributors.
Still, special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs feels confident in the athletes he will have at his disposal.
“We have more fast, physical, skilled athletes to use on special teams than we have in the five years that I’ve been here," Coombs said. “We have a great pool of kids to draw from. Whether or not they will do the jobs with the same intensity and diligence and reckless abandon that players have in the past remains to be seen, but we have enough that we don’t have to go looking for guys. We have volunteers and eagerness. The kids understand if I can’t get on the unit, I can’t play. They’re knocking on my door every day and that’s what you want. Here they are coming down the hall to see me and that’s what’s extraordinary about our program.”
The Buckeyes assess special teams first and foremost using field goal differential. In 2015, Ohio State started drives 7.4 yards ahead of their opponents, the fifth-best mark in the country. The Buckeyes have been a top five team in that metric each of the past three seasons.
While key special teams contributors have departed, the Buckeyes do return some important players in that regard.
First and foremost in that category is senior punter Cam Johnston, enters the season on the watch list for the Ray Guy Award. Also back is kicker Sean Nuernberger, who struggled last year and ceded his spot to senior Jack Willoughby at times.
“Our punter is the best punter in the country,” Coombs said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. Sean’s going to surprise a lot of people both with his distance and accuracy on field goal kicks. We’re excited.”
Liam McCullough will handle snapping duties for the Buckeyes for the first time after Bryce Haynes departure, while the team will seek to replace punt returner Jalin Marshall.
The leaders to replace Marshall, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the New York Jets, are Dontre Wilson and Curtis Samuel, though freshman Demario McCall will get consideration in that spot as well.
Regardless of who fills the void left by all the departing talent on special teams, as is the case on offense and defense the expectation is unchanged.
“The goal for the group is to be the best in the country. We talk about that every day,” Coombs said. “The kids understand that’s an expectation. There’s just a lot of intense competition out there for those spots. I think our kids understand it, they enjoy it.”