There is a reason why Urban Meyer doesn’t like to redshirt players. The way he sees it, if a player is any good, they’ll never get that fifth year back that they were saving. And if they aren’t any good, do you really want them hanging around for all five years?
Despite the low tolerance for redshirting, it happens every single year. It happened to 14 true freshmen in 2013. Two of those players transferred (Evan Lisle and James Clark) and one had to give up football for health reasons (Donovan Munger). Four of the players who redshirted left early for the NFL (Darron Lee, Jalin Marshall, Eli Apple, Gareon Conley).
Ohio State redshirted 14 freshmen in 2013, yet half of them didn’t stick around long enough to see that fifth year. In other words, that was seven wasted redshirts.
Not every freshman is ready to contribute, so it’s not exactly black and white on who gets to play. But every redshirt comes with the possibility that OSU will not be getting the fifth year that they were planning on.
Sometimes, however, it all seems to come together in a perfect storm of circumstances. The Buckeyes have seven fifth-year seniors on the roster this season and they all play critical roles. They have had large numbers like this before, but a couple of them would be kickers, or reserve linemen, or walk-ons. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but they were not in positions of leadership like this group is.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett, center Billy Price, tight end Marcus Baugh, defensive tackles Tracy Sprinkle and Michael Hill, defensive end Tyquan Lewis, and middle linebacker Chris Worley represent six of the Buckeyes current starters. More than that, each of these players is a leader in their respective position rooms.
Even though Hill will be serving a suspension to start the season, he still has leadership responsibilities. This is a group of fifth-year seniors that has been through it all. Season-ending injuries, suspensions, ascensions, position moves, and a national title. There isn’t anything they haven’t seen, and this is of tremendous benefit for Ohio State.
“Yeah, you can’t put a price tag on that,” Meyer said on Monday. “And I saw that developing throughout the off-season and in the spring practice. It’s unusual. I don’t know if we’ve ever had that. You’d have to go back some years because we usually don’t redshirt guys with the intent that they’ll be here in five years nowadays. And sometimes the guys are here because they don’t play.”
There are a number of reasons why these seven players stuck around for five years. Some of them had the opportunity to leave early for the NFL, but they returned to get better and to play one more year with their teammates. Other players have made position moves, so another year or learning isn’t a bad thing. One guy did it for his mom. And other players just may not be NFL prospects.
The reasons why they’re still at Ohio State isn’t important. The who is much more important than the why. J.T. Barrett is the reigning Silver Football Award winner. Tyquan Lewis is the reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. Billy Price may be the odds-on favorite for the Rimington Trophy this year.
When you combine that level of talent with that kind of experience, special things can happen.
“These guys are — we have seven, and I don’t know off the top of my head, I can’t remember who they are,” Meyer said, “but the ones I’m thinking of, they’re our best players.”