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Ohio State opens spring with reminders of the roster work ahead

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On the way to lunch after the first practice of spring camp, Urban Meyer strolled past an enormous new mural outside of Ohio State’s weight room.

Every member of one of the most decorated senior classes college football has ever seen was pictured on the wall, along with a list of their record-breaking accomplishments just to reinforce how valuable those Buckeyes were over the past four seasons since Meyer arrived on campus.

A few hours earlier, he had been strolling around the indoor field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center as his fifth Ohio State team officially kicked off practice on Tuesday morning. None of those familiar faces or those of a bumper crop of early entrants who skipped off to the NFL this offseason were out there with Meyer, providing some living proof to go with the artwork in the hallway of just how much work lies ahead of Ohio State as it tries to get back on top of the Big Ten and stay in the national-title hunt with a reloading roster.

“The other day I was counting 16 guys, at least, who will be going on to the NFL -- and maybe more,” Meyer said. “And then we have 11 guys we are counting on who can’t go full speed right now because of injuries. So, we’ve got a lot of work to do.

“It’s not as simple as, you have this many new people. Obviously you want to develop a depth chart. I want to see somewhat of a depth chart when we’re done. ... But I don’t know [if it will happen]. I’ll let you know as it goes along on this journey. This is uncharted waters for me.”

One thing hasn’t changed for the Buckeyes, though, and Meyer’s guidance leading the ship is obviously a big reason why the program is still mentioned among the championship favorites this fall despite the enormous roster turnover.

Returning just six starters from the team that finished No. 4 in the nation and lost only once as it tried to defend its national title, typically a number that low in the experience department signals danger for any program with expectations as high as those at Ohio State. But despite some uncertainty over who exactly might fill every spot on the two-deep or take over key roles from departed stars like defensive end Joey Bosa or running back Ezekiel Elliott, the Buckeyes instead have leaned into their so-called “Year of Development” and hardly appear concerned thanks to the combination of their proven coaching staff and a few banner recruiting classes already in their pipeline.

The youth movement, though, has forced Meyer to bounce around the practice field a bit more than he might prefer. And his attention can’t solely be focused on the offense as Ohio State tries to fit together all the pieces of a puzzle that has little more than the corners complete.

“More than usual, yeah,” Meyer said. “I’m trying to spread myself around a little bit.

“A lot of guys are out, and that’s the thing that kicks you in the teeth. If everybody was out there ready to go, I think you could do that. But we don’t have that. Curtis Samuel, our three top receivers are out. We have safeties, two of them are out, so I don’t think we’ll be able to [complete a spring depth chart] this year.”

The Buckeyes also have another touted batch of recruits set to arrive in the summer and make an impact on the depth chart, and one of them in particular was once again singled out as a likely contributor by the time September rolls around even as Meyer tried to focus on what he has on hand in March.

For now, Nick Bosa’s chance to jockey for a starting job and replace his older brother is going to have to wait. But for just about everybody else at Ohio State, the race to fill the jobs left by all those guys plastered on the wall outside the weight room is officially underway.

“I’m hoping if we get a lot of pressure on the coaching staff, they’ll have somewhat of a depth chart when we’re done,” Meyer said. “But we got what we wanted [from the first practice], and, obviously, we have a lot of work to do.”

The reminders of that, of course, are just about impossible to ignore for the Buckeyes.