COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Losing eight of its top 12 tacklers from a season ago, it's not hard to see that the Ohio State football team has some replacing to do in 2013. But what Buckeyes' head coach Urban Meyer is even more concerned about making up for doesn't necessarily show up in a season's stat sheet.
With seven senior starters and four captains alone on the defensive side of the ball having departed from last year's squad, the second-year OSU coach admitted that he'll spend a portion of this offseason searching for players who can supplant the lost leadership on his team. After coaching the Buckeyes to a 12-0 season in his first year in Columbus, Meyer said that the maturity that players like John Simon, Zach Boren, Etienne Sabino, and Garrett Goebel provided his first Ohio State team with will go down as an underrated ingredient of its perfect season.
"We're in the reevaluation phase of who can fill those roles. Make no doubt about it, that was a huge part of this successful season," Meyer said. "It's a huge void."
While the majority of the leadership the Buckeyes are losing comes on the defensive side of the ball, the first place where Meyer may look to replace it is on offense. Ohio State is expected to return six senior starters on offense in 2013, as well as running back Jordan Hall, who was voted to be a captain in 2012 before taking a medical redshirt after only playing in three games.
"Jordan Hall returning is a tremendous boost," Meyer said.
In addition to Hall, Meyer said that he's already spoken with wide receiver Corey Brown and running back Carlos Hyde about increasing their responsibilities in the offseason. Neither senior-to-be has been counted on from a leadership standpoint up until this point in their respective careers, but the OSU coach is hopeful that both will rise to the occasion in 2013.
One player who Meyer is already comfortable with being one of the faces of his program is left tackle Jack Mewhort. A fifth-year senior-to-be, Mewhort has already proven his leadership qualities to his coach, but Meyer would like to see the presumed three-year starter become the "heart and soul" of his team next season, like Simon did in 2012.
"He's already a leader," Meyer said of Mewhort. "We're asking him to take over a position that maybe a Simon took and that's the overall heart. I mean, I love him. He's a tough guy."
On a relatively young defense only expected to start two seniors, Meyer admitted that he may have to get a little more creative when it comes to leadership. The two-time national champion head coach said that he's counting on senior safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant to evolve as veterans, but would also like to see Bradley Roby and Ryan Shazier make jumps in their junior seasons.
"I love Roby, I love who he is," Meyer said. "He's a guy who you like showing his face when you talk about Ohio State football. He's everything that you want, a good person, goes to school, takes care of his business, and represents the right way. He's a very talented guy.
"Shazier's a name that has always been kind of that young linebacker. Guess what? He's not a young linebacker. He's earned it. He played very well through injuries the last half."
While some of Meyer's talk about leadership may just sound like coach-speak, the Buckeyes may need it more than ever this offseason. With the loss of 15 bowl practices stemming from a postseason ban for the 2012 season, OSU will be making up for lost time heading into spring practice. And with restrictions in place regarding how much time Meyer and his staff can spend with their team, it will be up to the Buckeyes' leaders- whoever they are- to set the tone inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Facility in the coming months.
"If you want to be a very functional football team, there has to be some self-driven leadership amongst groups and collect those 15 practices," Meyer said. "It'll be interesting to see how it gets done, 'cause it's up to the players. The coaches can't force them to do it."