Countdown To THE GAME 2015

Friday, February 27, 2015

2015 Ohio State Spring Football Questions: Will Special Teams Remain Special?

Beginning March 10th, Ohio State will have fifteen spring football practices before the conclusion of spring practice on April 18th in Ohio Stadium. Over the next few weeks, I will rank the top ten questions facing Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer and his coaching staff as the Buckeyes retake the football field after concluding the 2014 season as the national champions.

These articles will be submitted from areas of lowest concern to highest concern. While Ohio State returns the overwhelming majority of its 2014 team, and welcomes in a highly-touted recruiting class, it will be important for Coach Meyer to convey to his team that complacency within the player ranks could derail any hopes of the Buckeyes repeating as national champions in 2015.

10. Special Teams

Key Players/Contributors Lost: WR Devin Smith, WR Evan Spencer, DB Ron Tanner, LB Curtis Grant, DB Armani Reeves, DB Devan Bogard.

Special teams will always be an area of emphasis for Coach Meyer. A case in point is how starters have often been used by Coach Meyer on special teams; former Buckeye Devin Smith was often deployed as a “gunner” on special teams under Coach Meyer. Devin Smith’s special teams play was often lauded by Coach Meyer, and may be a boost to Smith as the 2015 NFL Draft approaches.

Unfortunately, Ohio State may be without players such as Ron Tanner, Armani Reeves, and Devan Bogard going forward. Coach Meyer stated on National Signing Day 2015 that all three players may be unable to play anymore due to injuries.

Back to the 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes. How do special teams shape up for Ohio State this spring and into the 2015 season?

Realistically, Ohio State should not miss a beat. Yes, Ohio State is losing some talented players from the special teams units of 2014, but think of the following players who could contribute in 2015 who redshirted in 2014 – Parris Campbell, Sam Hubbard, Kyle Berger, Terry McLaurin, Malik Hooker, Johnnie Dixon, and Marshon Lattimore. That does not even include the players who have enrolled early, such as Jamel Dean or Nick Conner, or the remaining freshmen who will be arriving for fall camp.

Special teams will always be a prime gateway for players to earn playing time under Coach Meyer. With so much returning talent on hand, as well as the influx of new talent arriving, this ranks as the position group of least concern going into spring practice. It will also rank as a position group worthy of notice, as this group may not necessarily be settled well into the 2015 season.

Friday, February 20, 2015

2014 OSU Recruiting: Few Ohio Losses, But Sparty & Domers Grab A Few

Ever since the 2002 college football recruiting class, Ohio State football has been largely successful in persuading the top Ohio talent to remain home and play for the Buckeyes. Under former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, it could be argued that Ohio State’s recruiting philosophy seemed to zero in on the top fifteen or twenty players in the state of Ohio, then the class would be complimented with players from other states to push the class over twenty members. A classic example of this is the 2002 recruiting class, which was Tressel’s first full recruiting class at Ohio State. Among the players who helped lead Ohio State to the national championship were Ohioans Maurice Clarett, A.J. Hawk, and Bobby Carpenter; a Floridian who redshirted that season but was a prominent member of Ohio State’s teams from 2003-2005 was Santonio Holmes.

Even with the transition to Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer, Ohio has been the focal point of Ohio State’s recruiting efforts. A significant difference lies in Meyer’s approach – while focusing upon Ohio, Meyer will identify the top Ohio talent, but will not necessarily offer scholarships to all of the top players in the state.

Of the top twenty players in the state of Ohio for 2014, Ohio State was able to land six players. While that number seems low, scrutiny must come into play to determine the answer to the following question – did Ohio State recruit these players who went elsewhere?

The rationale for this question is simple – did Ohio State let a player go to a rival school, thus elevating the possibility that Ohio State will have to face that player, and thus, their mistake, for the next four or five years?

Fortunately for Ohio State, the number is low. Below are the players who were offered scholarships by Ohio State, were considered a top twenty Ohio player, yet chose to go elsewhere…

OL Noah Listermann - offered by Ohio State, yet never visited. Signed by Michigan State. Considering the six offensive linemen signed by Ohio State in this recruiting class, hopefully Listermann’s decision will not be a factor over the next few seasons.

OL James Daniels – offered by Ohio State, yet signed with Iowa. While Ohio State does not play Iowa until the 2017 season, this one could hurt for two reasons. First, Daniels is the son of former Ohio State player LeShun Daniels, so the fact that a legacy player selected Iowa stings the pride a little bit. Secondly, and more importantly, Daniels was recruited to play center for Iowa. With Jacoby Boren leaving after the 2015 season, Daniels could have been an ideal candidate to move into that spot after Boren’s eligibility expired.

DB Shaun Crawford – Crawford was originally committed to Michigan, visited Ohio State, and wound up signing with Notre Dame. Fortunately for Ohio State, the only way Ohio State will run into Crawford will be in a bowl game, so the chances of Crawford hurting Ohio State is lessened over the next four or five years.

L.J. Scott – A powerful running back from Hubbard, Ohio State offered Scott, yet Scott stayed firm in his commitment to Michigan State. Considering how Ohio State and Michigan State are both in the B1G East, and how Michigan State Mark Dantonio has long favored a power running game, Ohio State fans need to get used to the possibility of facing Scott in a Spartan uniform for the next few seasons.

Anyone who has ever been a fisherman laments “the one that got away”. Hopefully, Ohio State fans will not be lamenting the loss of these Ohio players on the gridiron when the next few college football seasons begin.

Friday, February 13, 2015

“Don’t You Forget About Me” – OSU’s 2014 Redshirts

“As you walk on by
Will you call my name?”
~
Don’t You Forget About Me, Simple Minds

These song lyrics from a classic 1980s song “Don’t You Forget About Me” represent to me what it must be like to football players redshirted at major college football programs. While there is always considerable fanfare when players sign their respective letters of intent, players who redshirt seem to fall by the wayside of fans.

Think about the players who signed with Ohio State in February 2014. While all were accomplished athletes coming out of high school, and coveted highly by Ohio State and other top football programs, several of them were redshirted for various reasons by Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer and his coaching staff. Perhaps some were battling an injury; perhaps others were not deemed ready to contribute during the 2014 season, and the coaches did not want to waste a valuable year of eligibility.

Regardless of the reason, these players are now facing the challenge of a newly-signed crop of recruits coming into Columbus in 2015, while many of the top players who won the national championship return. It will be important for these players to step up over the next few months, during winter conditioning, spring football, and summer workouts, to gain traction on the depth chart.
Below are the various position groups, and some names that may become more prominently known over the coming months to Ohio State fans ~

Quarterback: Stephen Collier. Anyone who listened to me on various Men Of The Scarlet And Gray podcasts this past season will recall how I often speculated if Collier was going to play in 2014. With J.T. Barrett’s injury at the conclusion of the regular season, Collier was elevated on the depth chart. With Cardale Jones’ strong performances at the end of the season, Collier was not needed to play, but contributed tremendously on the scout team during the bowl preparation periods. With two quarterbacks signed, as well as both Barrett and Braxton Miller rehabilitating from injuries, Collier should get ample playing time this spring behind Cardale Jones.

Wide Receiver: Parris Campbell Jr.; Terry McLaurin; Johnnie Dixon. Dixon was an early enrollee last winter, and seemed primed to be a contributor, until redshirted due to tendinitus in October. Campbell and McLaurin redshirted from the onset, due to a logjam at the position. With the departures of Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, the time is ripe for any or all of these players to move up on the depth chart at wide receiver.

Offensive Line: Kyle Trout; Demetrius Knox; Brady Taylor. With six new offensive linemen arriving this summer, with one already on campus in new enrollee Grant Schmidt, none of these players can waste any opportunity to try to move up on the depth chart. The challenge is Ohio State is only losing one starter from its offensive line in Darryl Baldwin, so the test will come in trying to perform well in the eyes of the coaching staff for possible backup time in 2015 as a springboard for the 2016 season.
Defensive Line: Dylan Thompson; Sam Hubbard; Darius Slade. Thompson was redshirted almost immediately, due to a broken kneecap suffered early in the season. Hubbard fluctuated from tight end to linebacker to defensive end; it remains a mystery if he will remain at defensive end this spring. Slade was a signing day addition who had previously committed to Michigan State. With the losses of Noah Spence to transfer, and Michael Bennett, Steve Miller, and Rashad Frazier to graduation, the opportunity to rise up for playing time along the defensive line is there for these defensive linemen.

Linebacker: Kyle Berger. Berger reinjured a knee ligament during the summer of 2014 that wiped out his senior year at Cleveland St. Ignatius in 2013. It is possible that the coaching staff will take a cautious approach to rushing Berger onto the field, lest he sustain another injury.

Defensive Back: Malik Hooker; Marshon Lattimore. Hooker was an athlete designated for the secondary; it is possible that special teams will be where Hooker can make his first impact upon the depth chart. Lattimore was considered for both defense and offense, yet sustained a hamstring injury serious enough to warrant surgery that necessitated his redshirt season.

“As you walk on by Will you call my name?” ~ This question will be on the minds of the players listed up above, as well as by Ohio State fans such as myself, as the 2015 season approaches.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The 2015 Ohio State Recruiting Class, By The Numbers

Before reviewing the 2015 Ohio State recruiting class, I want to congratulate Coach Stan Drayton for his recent move to the NFL’s Chicago Bears as the Bears running backs coach. Coach Drayton was highly instrumental in the development of Ohio State running backs Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott from 2012-2014. I wish Coach Drayton all the best as he moves onto the NFL.





The 2015 Ohio State recruiting class, with twenty-seven players signed, ranks as one of the top recruiting classes in the country. While I have never placed too much emphasis on how various recruiting analysts rate recruiting classes, I do pay attention to 1) if other top programs are recruiting the players that Ohio State has signed, and 2) if the recruiting class helped to address needs within Ohio State’s program. By those measurements, Ohio State’s 2015 recruiting class did very well.

Geographically, Ohio State signed twelve players from Ohio, three from Florida, two each from Michigan and Virginia, and one player each from Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Utah. While Ohio players may be the majority, the graph below will demonstrate that Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer and his staff will scour the nation in order to find the best players and convince them to become Buckeyes.



The best position group with this recruiting class? In my estimation, the offensive line recruits are tremendous. Branden Bowen, Matthew Burrell, Kevin Feder, Mirko Jurkovic, Isaiah Prince, and Grant Schmidt will help Ohio State co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Ed Warriner maintain the strong play at the line of scrimmage that Ohio State fans have become accustomed to since the 2012 season. Schmidt is an early enrollee and will participate in spring practice. It is such a relief to see Coach Meyer and Coach Warriner place the strong emphasis on offensive line recruiting; gone are the days of 2010 when Andrew Norwell was the only offensive lineman signed in the recruiting class. One!

A concern for this recruiting class? Very minor, but few interior defensive linemen were signed. Joshua Alabi, DaVon Hamilton, and Robert Landers were signed, but even Coach Meyer stated that the backup defensive line play has been “disappointing”, and “”You’ve got to go, or you’ve got to go.”. With Michael Bennett’s departure to a probable NFL career, and the targeted departures of Adolphus Washington and Joey Bosa after the 2015 season, I am guessing defensive linemen will be a premium target for the 2016 recruiting class.

Which player will be able to make an impact during the 2015 season as a true freshman? Early enrollee Nick Conner may be able to make a mark on special teams, and even at linebacker. A sleeper pick may be Rashod Berry, who will be played at tight end. With Jeff Heuerman’s departure, Nick Vannett a senior, and Marcus Baugh sometimes skirting the good graces of the coaching staff, it may be possible for Berry to get some playing time at tight end.

Yes, recruiting is key to the long-term health of any program. As my Dad used to say, you have to have the horses in order to be able to win, and Coach Meyer was able to secure some highly-touted talent with this class. I believe Fox Sports 1’s Joel Klatt said it best as it relates to what now awaits all of the talented football players who signed their respective national letters of intent on February 4, 2015…



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