Redshirts not part of Ohio State's 2016 plan as it reloads with a young roster

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The target is always the same for Urban Meyer, but Ohio State doesn't always have to hit it.

This season, the Buckeyes don't really have a choice when it comes to redshirting another talented recruiting class.

Meyer has delivered the same message every year on national signing day when it comes to his plans for the latest group of touted signees, making it clear that he doesn't want any of them wasting a season on the sideline if it can be avoided.

Last year there was no way around all the elite veterans on a loaded Ohio State roster, keeping virtually an entire group of freshman out of action and keeping Meyer from hitting his flexible goal of playing everybody.

This year, that won't be a problem thanks in large part to the nine early entrants to the NFL draft, adding perhaps an even greater sense of urgency to Meyer's anti-redshirt plans for a class that ranked No. 5 in the nation.

"I hope 18 of them play," Meyer said Wednesday after signing 18 recruits to add to Ohio State's seven early enrollees. "I'm going to force to that issue with our position coaches. Sometimes position coaches, they protect themselves by saying the kid doesn't know what he's doing so I'm not going to give him those reps, so I'm not going to allow that this year.

"Last year was so hard because we were a very loaded, or older team. And this year we're pushing them out there. I'm going to make sure we're pushing our guys out there; let them go play."

The Buckeyes don't have to look too hard to see the downside of keeping their skilled youngsters from playing right away. That they might have lost production by redshirting guys like linebacker Darron Lee, cornerback Eli Apple or wide receiver Jalin Marshall before they skipped off early to the NFL hasn't been lost on Meyer.

In some ways, the makeup of last year's roster was a luxury for Ohio State, giving them time to develop their young players physically and mentally before pressing them into action for a team with national title aspirations. The flip side, of course, is that the 21 players redshirted didn't get valuable game reps, and they could now just as easily be gone after playing just two seasons, thanks to the NFL's rule for draft eligibility.

That's a Catch-22 that the Buckeyes won't have to even worry about this season. And with so many vacant spots in the starting lineup and at key reserve spots -- before the 2016 class has even completely arrived on campus -- Ohio State is counting on a considerable group to contribute as it tries to get the program back to the College Football Playoff.

"We expect them to be grown men, act like grown men, play like grown men," co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "And for us [as coaches], we've got to discipline ourselves to be able to put them out there and give them an opportunity to prove it. I think we've got to have that vision, because you look at a guy like Darron Lee and there's a guy that leaves after three years. For one year he sat himself on the bench.

"There's so many of those type of athletes, you know what you have to do. You have to discipline yourself to go ahead and put them out there. And that's the most difficult thing, because we play at such a high level."

The way the Buckeyes have recruited under Meyer has strongly positioned them to stay at that level heading into the future, no matter how many roster losses they may have sustained this offseason.

Though that amount of attrition is undoubtedly a significant challenge for Ohio State, on the heels of bringing in another banner class of recruits, Meyer now sees it more as an opportunity to hit that target he always sets out on signing day.

"The days of fifth-year guys at Ohio State? They don't usually [work out]," Meyer said. "If they're around for five years, something happened or they're not good enough or they were beat out.

"I don't want to redshirt. It's not our plan. We don't recruit and say let's sit them down for a while. We want to play them immediately."

This year, Meyer is almost certainly going to get what he wants.