Buckeyes' biggest void

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Most of the holes are obvious already.

Urban Meyer needs to completely rebuild his defensive line. The Ohio State coach has to identify two new starting linebackers, break in a cornerback and fill two spots on offense, including a critical one at right tackle.

But it's the void that isn't listed on the depth chart that will likely receive much of Meyer's attention when spring practice opens Tuesday afternoon. And it really doesn't make much difference which position a guy plays for the Buckeyes if he's capable of providing the kind of leadership that sparked an undefeated season in Meyer's first season.

"Huge void," Meyer said earlier in the offseason about team leadership. "That question right there occupies a lot of my time and [strength coach] Mickey Marotti's thoughts. The good thing is we get to evaluate that. We're into the evaluation phase of that to see who can fill those roles.

"There's no doubt about it; that was a huge part of a successful season. It was the leadership of a John Simon, but also the developed leadership of a Zach Boren, a [Garrett] Goebel, [Etienne] Sabino and many others."

Those captains are all gone now, though Meyer has seemingly gone out of his way to highlight the contributions they made a year ago and hold them up as examples of what the Buckeyes need if they're going to keep their winning streak going.

Ohio State does have a bit of a head start with one team-elected captain returning, thanks to the medical redshirt that gives versatile running back/receiver Jordan Hall another shot at a senior year.

There's hardly a shortage of names to consider after Hall, particularly with a veteran offensive line packed with four seniors capable of setting a physical, blue-collar tone for the Buckeyes and a tandem of veteran safeties who will be needed to stabilize the defense during its renovation. And while Ohio State has had a a couple of months of offseason conditioning to help identify its core group of leaders, that work has been done while the coaches weren't around -- and Meyer will want a close look for himself as he sets the table for 2013.

"Jordan Hall returning is a tremendous boost, because he was elected captain last year," Meyer said. "I'm looking for C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant to step up. Guys that I have already had conversations with that have not been in that situation, but now they are, that's Philly Brown and Carlos Hyde. [Ryan] Shazier is a name that is up there; he's earned it. He played very well, through injuries, for the last half.

"Jack Mewhort is already there; he's already a leader, so we're asking him to take over a position that maybe a Simon took. That's the overall heart -- I love him, he's a tough guy."

Meyer has 15 workouts to see who else fits that description, not to mention figuring out who is going to play on the defensive line or take over starting jobs at linebacker.

And with the timetable for competing for a national title perhaps already accelerated after going undefeated in his debut with the Buckeyes, Meyer won't be wasting any time or effort over the next five weeks.

"Our mantra is going to be truth, and it's going to be fundamental improvement," he said. "Truth means exactly that; you have a good season and there's a lot of conversation about a lot of things that really shouldn't be discussed because it's not true. For example, are you guys going to go [win a championship] this next year? No, probably not unless we get a lot better. Like a lot better.

"There's a lot to be done."