In Urban Meyer's ideal world, no Ohio State player would redshirt. If the Buckeyes consider a player good enough to recruit, the hope is that he's good enough to play as a freshman. But redshirting has been very, very good to the Buckeyes this season.
In Urban Meyer's ideal world, no Ohio State player would redshirt. If the Buckeyes consider a player good enough to recruit, the hope is that he's good enough to play as a freshman.
But redshirting has been very, very good to the Buckeyes this season. Many of the players who have been instrumental to the team's success in 2014 spent last season watching and learning, and the Buckeyes are now receiving ample payoff.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett, receiver Michael Thomas, hybrid back Jalin Marshall, left guard Billy Price, linebacker Darron Lee and cornerback Eli Apple redshirted last year and have blossomed this year as starters.
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Barrett suffered a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament midway through his senior season at Rider High School in Wichita Falls, Texas. With Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton established ahead of him in the pecking order, there was no reason to rush him in 2013. So Barrett continued his rehabilitation, spent time on the scout team and soaked in everything he could.
When Miller was injured the week before the start of this season, Barrett was more ready than anyone imagined, even Meyer. If Barrett throws two touchdown passes on Saturday against Indiana, he will break Troy Smith's school record of 30 set in 2006.
Thomas played as a freshman in 2012 and wasn't expected to redshirt last year. But poor practice habits sent him tumbling down the depth chart. A humbled Thomas has emerged this year as a dangerous weapon. He leads the Buckeyes with 35 catches for 583 yards and is tied with Devin Smith with eight touchdown catches.
"It fueled his mentality and his approach to the daily grind because he was so hungry for taking a year off, especially the year ending how it ended," receivers coach Zach Smith said. "It really did wonders for him."
That's also the case with Marshall, who was beset by injuries and admitted immaturity last year. Despite a tough game last week in which he fumbled twice against Minnesota, the former quarterback at Middletown has been instrumental to the Buckeyes because of his versatility.
Price's redshirt was no surprise, partly because offensive linemen often redshirt as freshmen to bulk up and partly because Price wasn't even an offensive lineman when he enrolled. He was recruited as a defensive lineman.
Price was switched last year and able to learn while watching Ohio State's seasoned offensive line. This year, he won the starting job. Despite a few bumps along the way, Price has steadily progressed.
"He's a young player who has got a lot of talent and just continues to get better and better," offensive line coach Ed Warinner said.
Like Price, Lee switched sides of the ball and needed time to adapt. He was primarily a quarterback at New Albany High School. He played six snaps last year before he was hurt and was given a medical redshirt. Lee was one of the surprises of spring camp when he earned the starting strongside linebacker job and has been one of the key playmakers on defense.
Lee is the fourth-leading tackler with 46 and is second on the team behind Joey Bosa in sacks (3½) and tackles for loss (9½). He credits redshirting with helping him blossom.
"I didn't really play a lot of defense in high school," Lee said. "It allowed me to learn the game and get bigger and faster, and I think it's paid off tremendously."
Apple, a five-star recruit, didn't expect to redshirt last year and called it a "humbling experience." But he said he wouldn't have progressed as quickly if he had been forced into action in 2013.
"I needed to have time to sit and watch guys and really learn from them to be successful this year," Apple said.
The current success of last year's redshirts hasn't caused Meyer to reassess his philosophy on redshirting.
He said that players as talented as Apple aren't likely to stay for five years. So there's no incentive to have them sit for a year unless there's a compelling reason.
"We're still not going to redshirt people (routinely)," Meyer said. "If you're not good enough, you won't play, or if you're hurt, you won't play. If you're recruiting a good player, play him. That's going to be our philosophy."
But waiting has its rewards, too.