COLUMBUS — Ohio State rarely has issues with depth.
The Buckeyes send players to the NFL, reload with top talent and recruit even more to fill in behind. Recruiting, development and coaching helps talent — and it breeds depth.
So with a global pandemic ongoing and the idea of players potentially missing 21 days due to a positive COVID-19 test, the Buckeyes depth could be tested more than it ever has been. Good thing Ohio State has one of the deepest rosters in America.
“We’re going to be ready to play on [Oct.] 24,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said last week. “The ramp-up to that and the 20 hours and putting on pads has been well-thought out. We’ll be ready to go. We’ll play with depth.”
Ohio State might be the only program in the Big Ten that can roll through its roster on game day and never have too much of a drop in talent. Such is the advantage of recruiting at an incredible level, in that department easily overpowering the rest of the league that is still trying to play catch-up to the three-time Big Ten champs.
The season of depth is quickly approaching, and the Buckeyes have plenty of it to survive.
“This season more than any other, you’re going to have to depend on inexperienced players to step in and fill roles,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said. “So we’re working really hard on coaching our depth.”
It may be most important for building depth through the freshman class, who has had the most unusual offseason any freshman class Ohio State has had. The group of 25 commits finished fifth in the 247sports team composite ranking and features seven of the top 100 players in the rankings.
If the Buckeyes want to continue the trend of incredible depth, the freshman will have to be ready to compete in Big Ten play early in the season — after having little in-person coaching in the months leading up to it.
“I think we have a great group of freshmen,” Coombs said. “They’re talented. They don’t know what they don’t know yet, so we’re working on that. They’re learning about the toughness about Ohio State and the culture. I think those kids are going to contribute.”
Toughness is hard to teach or learn without full practice and acclimation. Ohio State hasn’t worn pads in a practice since the Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson. After nine months without going full contact, the Buckeyes will be allowed to practice in full uniform on Sept. 30. From there, they’ll have 24 days before kickoff against Nebraska.
And for nine straight weeks, the Buckeyes will be on the field. Depth will be tested.
Ohio State might be the only program in the Big Ten with the personnel to withstand a season like this.
“There’s going to be times where we’re going to have to play a lot of guys,” Day said. “That’s OK. I think that sweet spot of eight or nine games is a good number. Keeping our guys healthy going into the season is going to be important.
“These next few weeks are going to be critically important.”