Ohio State football: Who will be 2020 leaders for the Buckeyes?

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Coach of the Buckeyes is 1-0 in the rivalry

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Graduations have come.

The players entering the NFL Draft early are gone.

Winter workouts are underway, and spring football begins in a little more than a month.

>>RELATED: No time for ‘what ifs’ as Buckeyes look ahead to 2020

(Recruiting? That never ends.)

Next up Ryan Day and Mickey Marotti want to see who the leaders of the 2020 Ohio State football team are going to be.

Day identified that as a priority when he met with reporters in the middle of January.

“I think as we get going and we start to practice and go through workouts we want to find out who the new leaders are going to be,” the head coach of the Buckeyes said. “We lost some really good leaders and some guys who declared for the draft. Those were big leaders for us.”

>>RELATED: 5 takeaways from Day’s 2019 debriefing

At least two captains are set to be back this fall.

Defensive end Jonathon Cooper took a medical redshirt after a preseason ankle injury derailed what was supposed to be his senior season, and fifth-year linebacker Tuf Borland has one season of eligibility left thanks to a traditional redshirt season in 2016.

A third of last season’s seven captains could also be back if C.J. Saunders’ petition for a sixth season is successful, but regardless Day would like to see more players move up to the front of the room after the departure of stalwarts such as Jordan Fuller, K.J. Hill, Jeff Okudah, Chase Young and J.K. Dobbins.

“As we start to practice, I think we'll get a feel for what we need,” Day said. “Obviously in the running back room, those guys will be pretty green. Master (Teague) played some this year, but we're going to have to replace J.K.

“In the back end there we're losing some really good players there with Jordan, Damon (Arnette) and Jeff leaving. So some corners will have to step up, but that’s college football. You're always going to have turnover.”

One obvious candidate for captaincy this fall is Justin Fields. Not only is he a quarterback, he has expressed an interest in leading and proven to be willing to do so by example on and off the field.

Offensive linemen Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis are also veterans who have already been frequent spokesmen for the team while Marotti identified receiver Chris Olave as already having started to take charge in workouts.

Cornerback Shaun Wade is the most obvious player on the other side of the ball to be in line for captaincy, while three-year starter Pete Werner and junior-to-be Tyreke Smith might also throw their hats in the ring.

“It almost happens naturally, like the leaders last year emerged naturally,” said Marotti, who oversees the team for the most part during the offseason. “Like obviously we're promoting leadership all the time and and really being a great teammate more than anything else, but it just kind of happens and you just kind of see how it goes and it just keeps rolling. And then you are seeing guys like Jeff Okudah, who emerged in August, he wasn't a leader. He was just a really good player playing corner whose fired up because he got a new coach and he's ready to rock and roll.

“All of a sudden as the season starts rolling, the kid starts changing now, you know what I mean?”

He also used Dobbins as an example of a player who embraced a larger role in his third (and it turns out final) season on campus.

“You look back last year, right now mid-January, J.K. Dobbins had a whole different look on his face,” Marotti said, likening him to Henery Hawk, the braggadocios chicken hawk from Looney Tunes cartoons.

“You could tell right away that he had a chip on his shoulder, and it's going to be different, and it was,” Marotti said.

Teague, his likely successor, is not as outgoing as Dobbins, but that doesn’t seem like a problem to Marotti, who said volume is not a good indicator of leadership anyway.

“There's very few out there that are physically fit like he is, but he’s got to take the leadership role like J.K. did,” Marotti said.

“The most difficult thing, other than the physical stuff that these players do, is getting them out of their comfort zone when it comes time to be a leader.”

He stresses being felt and seen more than heard.

“People say, 'Well, he's a vocal leader.' To me, there's no such thing,” Marotti said. “If you're going to be a leader you've got to have all three qualities. You've got to be seen, you've got to be felt, you've got to be heard. If you don't have those three, you're not a leader. When the NFL scouts come in and ask, 'How does he lead? Vocally?' I'm like, what does that mean? I don't know what that means. Does he do the other two? Then if he's vocal, yes, then he's a leader.

“But anybody can cheerlead. That doesn't mean you're a leader. You've got to be seen, felt, and heard all at the same time. That's what a leader does.”

“So that's what we're trying to teach them through this time now because they get it here in the next eight weeks. They'll take that through spring ball. They'll take that through the summer training, take it to August, and then hopefully they're ready to rock and roll this season.”