Younger Buckeyes seeing more playing time

Bill Rabinowitz
Ohio State Buckeyes safety Brendon White (25) tackles Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez (2) during the NCAA football game at Ohio Stadium on Nov. 3, 2018. Ohio State won 36-31. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

Unlike many coaches, Urban Meyer has no qualms about playing young players.

In both 2017 and ’18, Ohio State’s recruiting classes were ranked second nationally. One would think that many of those blue-chippers would have become major contributors by now.

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A couple of sophomores, such as running back J.K. Dobbins and defensive end Chase Young, have become stars. A few others, including left tackle Thayer Munford, linebacker Pete Werner and cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, also are starters.

Those are the exceptions. Most of the members of the 2017 and ’18 classes have done more waiting than playing.

As relentless as Meyer and his staff are as recruiters, the Buckeyes’ coach wants to see the fruits of that labor sooner rather than later.

“They were highly ranked recruiting classes,” he said. “There have been some young players step up from those two classes and we’re hoping for more.”

That is now starting to happen. Twenty-four freshmen, including 18 in their first year on campus, have seen action for the Buckeyes this season. Most of the action has been on special teams, which is the pathway to earning snaps on offense or defense.

The latest to use that as a launching pad to a larger role is safety Brendon White. The true sophomore had 13 tackles last week against Nebraska after safety Jordan Fuller was ejected for targeting in the second quarter. He and redshirt freshman Shaun Wade are competing for the starting spot this week for Ohio State’s game at Michigan State.

“I think the guys in my class are seeing other guys compete, and they’re like, ‘I want to do that,’ ” Werner said. “I think Brendon had that mentality going into that week. He really wanted to step out and do something special, and he did.”

Others also are making a move. True freshman receiver Chris Olave impressed his teammates starting in training camp and has now joined the rotation after Austin Mack’s foot injury. Defensive linemen Tyreke Smith and Tommy Togiai both have seen significant action in their first year on campus. Linebacker Baron Browning has shown flashes.

Tight end Jeremy Ruckert, known for his receiving prowess, has progressed enough as a blocker that he was used in that role in goal-line situations against Nebraska. Ruckert was joined in that goal-line package by Wyatt Davis, a redshirt freshman guard.

“He’s going to have a fine career here,” Meyer said of Davis. “He’s one of our most improved players. He’s a very tough guy. We’re hoping to get him more involved.”

But with Meyer satisfied, at least for now, with his five starting offensive linemen, spot play is all that is available for Davis right now.

Another player forced to bide his time is redshirt freshman quarterback Tate Martell. The two-time Gatorade High School Player of the Year hasn’t played since the Tulane game. For weeks, there has been speculation about finding a role for Martell, but it hasn’t happened yet.

“He’s frustrated in a positive way,” Meyer said. “He wants to play. He’s an elite competitor. Those are ongoing conversations (about getting him on the field).”

Part of the problem for Martell and the other young backups is that Ohio State hasn’t had a blowout victory since that Tulane game on Sept. 22.

“We haven't had those opportunities like we've had in the past to get guys in the game,” Meyer said.

The Buckeyes are unlikely to have one this week in East Lansing. But even if process is slower than many of them would like, the youngest Buckeyes are starting to make an impact.


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