COLUMBUS — There was no grace period for Ohio State to get over the Fiesta Bowl loss during offseason workouts.
The Buckeyes are back to work with strength coach Mickey Marotti, and he greeted them in the weight room with a brand-new poster.
There’s no chance Ohio State will be forgetting what happened against Clemson any time soon. And Marotti is more than willing to use those reminders as fuel as the Buckeyes reload for another run at the College Football Playoff starting with the key winter workouts already underway.
“No doubt, there’s a sign in the weight room — whatever the score was,” Marotti said on Wednesday. “[That motivation] can be as effective as you want it to be based on what kind of team you have. So, the good thing is the quarterback is back, and he’s completely different than he was 365 days ago because of what he did and falling short.
“We’re throwing it right at them. It’s real.”
The mission, then, is already clear for the Buckeyes as they hit the ground running under one of the most famed strength coaches in college football. As always, Marotti has his finger on the pulse of the team heading into these critical two months before spring practice, and here are a few more Lettermen Row takeaways from a rare public appearance by the key Ohio State staffer.
‘Zero’ restrictions for Justin Fields during winter workouts
Ohio State was always expecting a full recovery from Justin Fields once he had a little time to rest his injured left knee, and it appears he’s already there. Mickey Marotti confirmed that Fields is a full participant with no restrictions for the conditioning program, another indication that the Heisman Trophy finalist didn’t need a medical procedure for the issue that slowed him down late in the year.
That’s certainly a significant development for the Buckeyes, and it gives Fields even more opportunities to grow both physically and as a leader heading into his second year running the offense.
“Like last year when he showed up, he was quiet, he was trying to fit in, he was trying to find the nutrition room, he was trying to find his classes, he wasn’t sure about the workouts, he didn’t know who his buddies were, it was cold — everything,” Marotti said. “He didn’t know anybody, but now all of a sudden he’s the starting quarterback, he’s earned the reputation of being a hard worker, he knows he’s the leader now, he knows what needs to be done and he has a whole different mindset of the offense and where that needs to go.
“He knows that he has to do a great job with those young receivers. So to me, it’s completely different.”
Early enrollees impressing Ohio State quickly
Ohio State always prefers an acclimation period for the early enrollees when they arrive on campus before mixing them in with the rest of the roster. But based on the record-setting size of the new class of Buckeyes who reported to the program this month, Marotti had almost no choice but to keep the 14 freshmen and one walk-on transfer separate for the time being.
The goal is to have them all ready to compete by the time Mat Drills start in February and spring practice opens in early March, and so far the results have been encouraging for Ohio State.
“First off, you’re talking about the largest mid-year group that I’ve ever been involved with over a lot of years and a lot of guys,” Marotti said. “No. 1, from a size standpoint, it’s pretty impressive. From a togetherness standpoint, from the seriousness, these guys are ready. They came mentally ready for what’s coming, they came focused, they’re into it, it’s a really good group.
“We had a meeting, and everybody in our department talked about how well the freshmen were doing taking care of their business.”
Wide receivers working to make instant impact
Mickey Marotti had one had a little lower to represent Mookie Cooper, the other up higher for Gee Scott. He was only referring to how physically the four touted wide receivers differ physically, before going on to suggest that if he was measuring potential, the ceilings for each of them already look pretty tall.
There is an opportunity for those two, Julian Fleming and Jaxon Smith-Njigba to all play right away and live up to their lofty recruiting rankings in a hurry. And Marotti has the first crack right now to get them up to speed with an eye on jumping directly into a rotation that is losing three key seniors.
“The wideouts, you’ve got those four guys, and obviously they’re all different — they’ve been great,” Marotti said. “I love their work ethic, I love their focus so far. I think they can be as good as they want to be.
“But the receivers who have been here in the past have put in an inordinate amount of work to get to where they were. Look at Terry McLaurin. And if they do that and follow the culture that has been built in that room — they haven’t put pads on yet, so we’ll see — but the focus so far is there.”
Kamryn Babb has been ‘awesome’ for Ohio State
Consecutive knee injuries have delayed the start of his career for two full years now, but Kamryn Babb appears to be finally making some headway trying to get on the field at wide receiver for the Buckeyes.
Right now, Babb is able to do everything Marotti is asking of him, and a healthy version of the former four-star prospect could really help fortify that rebuilt unit for position coach Brian Hartline.
“He’s participating in all training,” Marotti said. “Great kid, he’s been a great kid. Great person, great worker, great teammate — he’s so positive, it’s been awesome. He’s the best of the best.”