COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State's first week of spring practice is in the books, and this year's session has already proved to be quieter for the Buckeyes than its predecessor.
As opposed to a year ago, when Ohio State was in the midst of an unprecedented quarterback competition with perhaps unrealistic expectations being thrust upon the defending national champs, this spring is more about the overall development of a roster that will be replacing 16 combined starters in the coming year.
And while this year's spring session is only a few days old, some players have already stepped to the forefront in what Urban Meyer's deemed "The Year of Development" in Columbus.
With spring break having just started and classes no longer in session at Ohio State, the Buckeyes will have the next week off before returning to the practice field in advance of their April 16 spring game.
Let's take a look back at what was accomplished in Columbus during Ohio State's return to the practice field last week.
Return of the Mack
Meeting with reporters during the Buckeyes' star-studded pro day last Friday, Meyer's mind found itself wandering back to the week of practice his current team had just endured.
Asked which players had stood out to him, the fifth-year Ohio State coach thought back not to what he was in the midst of witnessing, but rather the few days of practice that preceded the pro day.
And when he did, one name immediately came to mind.
"Austin Mack is gonna play next year," Meyer said. "He’s doing fantastic."
Meyer's high praise of Mack is particularly encouraging considering that the early-enrollee freshman could currently be spending his time preparing for his senior prom instead of battling it out on the practice field with Division I defensive backs.
A 4-star prospect by way of Fort Wayne, Indiana, Mack arrived in Columbus in January as the nation's 10th-ranked receiver in the 2016 class, having committed to the Buckeyes over Michigan and Notre Dame.
With Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller each headed to the NFL draft, Ohio State finds itself replacing all three of its starting wide receivers from 2015. That means opportunities for playing time will be plentiful for the Buckeyes' young wide receivers in the coming year—something of which Mack has already apparently taken advantage.
Mack's early emergence was forecasted by the Hoosier State native himself, who told starting quarterback J.T. Barrett in winter workouts that he planned on becoming the starting "X" wide receiver in the Ohio State offense in his freshman season. The proclamation was met with a healthy amount of skepticism from Barrett, who made sure to make his younger teammate aware of just what he was taking on.
"In our offense, X, you better be a Mike Thomas, you have to be a dog," Barrett said. "There's a reason his Twitter handle is @cantguardmike. That wasn't an accident; that was on purpose."
There have only been a few days of practice, but it's been so far, so good for the newest member of the Ohio State wide receiver corps. And while Meyer has even admitted he has a tendency to overevaluate players early in their college careers, Mack's big first week certainly bodes well for his future with the Buckeyes.
Although Mack wasn't the only Ohio State player to stand out in practice last week—Meyer also singled out left tackle Jamarco Jones, right tackle Isaiah Prince and running backs Bri'onte Dunn and Michael Weber—there was more negative news than anything else from the Buckeyes' first week of practice.
According to Meyer, his roster is so depleted by injuries at the moment that he's not even sure if he'll be able to put together a full depth chart by the end of the spring session.
"I'll let you know as we go along the journey here. This is uncharted waters for me, too. You'd like to [have a depth chart], but I don't think so," Meyer said after the first day of spring practice. "With 11 guys out, that's the thing that kicks you in the teeth. If everybody's ready to go, I think you could do that. But we're not."
Those injuries have been particularly problematic in the wide receiver room, where the Buckeyes were without three of their presumed top receivers, Corey Smith, Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown. Ohio State's safeties room appeared to be decimated as well, with injuries to Cam Burrows and Erick Smith leaving the Buckeyes with just two healthy scholarship players available at the position, Malik Hooker and Eric Glover-Williams.
Between the 16 starters who have departed from last year and the 11 injured players Meyer was counting on to contribute this spring, mere numbers alone may prevent Ohio State from getting the most out of this spring. That, however, won't stop the Buckeyes from trying, as it's only increased the importance for Ohio State's younger players to continue to emerge this spring.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Meyer said.
Of all of the sights from the Buckeyes' spring practice, perhaps the most unusual was Greg Schiano working with Ohio State's secondary.
After spending a year away from coaching following his two-year stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the former Rutgers head coach is back at the college level, replacing Chris Ash as the Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach.
"I had a blast," Schiano said following Ohio State's Thursday practice. "The last two practices have been a lot of fun."
You'd have to go back to 2000 to find the last time Schiano was an assistant and not a head coach, and it's not a stretch to say that he could find himself running his own program or team once again sooner than later. In fact, before being hired by the Buckeyes, Schiano was one of the candidates who interviewed for the head coaching vacancy at Miami (Florida) this past offseason, according to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman.
Speculation that Schiano's stint in Columbus will be a short one was only fueled this past week when it was revealed that he had signed just a one-year deal with Ohio State, which the defensive assistant said was one of the few places he considered taking an assistant coaching job. Schiano, however, insists that his new contract is merely a "business" decision and not something that should be taken as a sign of anything more.
"When you're under contract with someone else, there's a lot of business-type stuff that's involved there," Schiano said. "But that's all it is. Nothing to read into."
Just how long Schiano will remain with the Buckeyes remains to be seen, but it will still take some time to get used to the sight of him in scarlet and gray as a member of Meyer's staff.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.
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