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Draft-eligible Ohio State players lending hand during spring practice

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The early NFL entrants coming back through the doors at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center obviously can’t help Urban Meyer fill out his depth chart.

But even if he can’t get guys like Michael Thomas or Eli Apple back in pads this spring, at least Meyer is reaping the benefits of having some unofficial, temporary assistants on hand as Ohio State tries to replace the nine former players who declared for the draft.

Thomas took his turn on Saturday, swapping out a practice uniform for some throwback Toronto Raptors basketball shorts as he gave advice to the youngsters aiming to fill the void he left at receiver. Apple has been a fixture trying to ease a few inexperienced cornerbacks into the rotation by taking them under his wing when he visits. And the same is true for just about all of the Buckeyes who are preparing for the draft and continuing to hang around the program, as they give back partially in an effort to make up for the all the talent they’ve taking away from the roster this offseason.

“Mike Thomas just doesn’t come here [to hang out]; he comes here to help coach,” Meyer said after practice on Tuesday morning. “I see Eli Apple out there talking to Damon Arnette; that’s a big part of what separates us from a lot of places. Those kids all come back and have the ownership. Taylor Decker is here for a lot of reasons, one to lift and train, but also to help Isaiah Prince and Jamarco Jones.

“That’s when you know you have a good thing going.”

Departed players returning to work out on campus and take in practice isn’t a new development at Ohio State, and a few fixtures from early in Meyer’s tenure, such as Green Bay Packers center Corey Linsley and Houston Texans linebacker John Simon, have also been regulars around the facility this spring as well. But given the amount of attention on the upcoming draft class -- which could include as many as seven first-round picks -- the volume of turnover when combined with the loss of a decorated group of seniors and the wide-open races to fill 16 open starting jobs this spring, the time the former Buckeyes have devoted hasn’t gone unnoticed or unappreciated by Meyer.

Ohio State's ability to reload perhaps became even more challenging after a rash of injuries have kept projected contributors on the sideline during camp. The Buckeyes were hit hard at wide receiver in particular, where their top four returners have been limited due because of to various ailments. After adding in the loss of Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller to the NFL, that position has at times looked perilously depleted.

“I anticipated an issue, but what I didn’t anticipate was having 11 guys that we were counting on not playing, having four receivers not being able to go,” Meyer said. “You just don’t think about that part. There are guys that we are really counting on who have not been able to go because of injuries, so it’s thin. You can watch practice sometimes and just kind of wince and say, ‘My goodness, where are we going to be here?’ But I think we’re going to be OK when everybody gets healthy.

“Now, we have to get better. But we’re still having a hard time putting together a depth chart.”

There's no doubt it would have been much easier if Meyer could have continued to pencil in names such as Thomas, Apple, Elliott and Joey Bosa, proven stars who made that process relatively straightforward for the Buckeyes over the last couple seasons.

But Meyer has had a few months to get accustomed to life without them on the roster -- thanks in part to their willingness to make a few cameos on the sideline at practice until their names are called at the draft at the end of this month.

“I did all that [picturing them in the lineup] back in January when they told me they were leaving,” Meyer said. “I had to go throw out all the notes, and that ship has sailed.

“The good thing is they are really helping our young guys.”

And the door for those temporary, part-time coaches to do that, of course, is never going to close.