COLUMBUS — Some people say Urban Meyer has a magnetic personality. But he’s more concerned with magnets.
Meyer keeps a board with magnets on it in the room where he meets with his assistant coaches to keep track of which players are available from day to day.
At some positions there are lots of magnets. Other places, there aren’t as many. And at other positions, the quality of the magnets puts a concerned look on Meyer’s face.
“I call them my magnets. I move them around and see what we have,” Meyer said.
What he has this year as Ohio State begins preseason practice today is a group that has been predicted to be a contender for the national championship.
USA Today’s Coaches Poll picked Ohio State No. 2 behind Alabama last week and several other websites and magazines have also had OSU that high.
With 13 returning starters, led by quarterback Braxton Miller, back from a 12-0 team, Ohio State has a chance to repeat last year’s undefeated regular season.
But being able and actually doing it are two different things.
Players have to stay healthy, and not just Miller and the other “skill” players. None of OSU’s starting offensive linemen missed a start last season.
Defensively, all four defensive linemen, two of the three starting linebackers and one defensive back from a year ago have to be replaced.
Even though Ohio State led the Big Ten in scoring last season at 37.2 points a game, the biggest improvement this year could come on offense.
Offensive coordinator Tom Herman and other OSU coaches have said they used only around 60 percent of Meyer’s offense last year because the players were still learning a new system and there was a lack of playmakers.
Some of that additional 40 percent could come from freshmen if they can grow up in a hurry.
Miller rattled off the names of returning players like Corey Brown, Devin Smith, Evan Spencer and others when asked about playmakers at the Big Ten Football Media Days.
But he was most enthusiastic about incoming freshman Dontre Wilson, a 5-foot, 11-inch, 174-pound running back/slot receiver Ohio State recruited late in the process when he took back a commitment to Oregon after Chip Kelly went to the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I feel like he better be starting this year,” Miller said. “He can play multiple spots — H (slot) and Z (wide receiver), he can run any route and he can also come in the backfield and take handoffs.
“The new recruits are unbelievable — speed, talent, those guys can make plays. I don’t think anybody (in the freshman class) is going to redshirt this year. I throw with the guys all the time. I see some talent, I see some big plays happening,” he said.
Offensively, freshman running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Jalin Marshall also could see the field. Receiver James Clark’s speed has been impressive. Defensively, freshman linebackers Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson could become immediate backups because of a lack of depth.
Wilson, Elliott, Mitchell and Johnson were the first four names Meyer mentioned when asked about the newest Buckeyes.
Playing freshmen isn’t something Meyer is reluctant to do. Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin both played big roles when Florida won the national championship after the 2006 season.
Winning national championships isn’t easy. But adding the freshmen to an already talented team might be enough to put Ohio State over the top.