On August 3rd, Ohio State will officially begin its preparations for the 2008 season. With the first game against Youngstown State less than four weeks away, the incoming freshmen recruits will need to maximize their respective opportunities to impress the coaching staff and move up the depth chart.
Ohio State signed twenty players with the 2008 recruiting class. How many of these players will earn playing time, and how many will redshirt? To answer this question, it can help to look at Jim Tressel’s history at Ohio State with his recent recruiting classes.
In a previous article, I wrote about how Ohio State signed only eighteen players in 2005 yet fifteen of these players have either become starters or contributors to Ohio State. Of the players signed in 2005, the following seven players earned playing time as true freshmen in 2005: OT Alex Boone, CB Malcolm Jenkins, LB James Laurinaitis, DB Jamario O'Neal, WR Brian Robiskie, RB Maurice Wells, and DE Lawrence Wilson.
In 2006, out of a twenty man recruiting class, the following seven players earned playing time: TE Jake Ballard, CB Kurt Coleman, DB Aaron Gant, LB Ross Homan, DL Robert Rose, WR Ray Small, and RB Chris Wells.
The 2007 recruiting class was relatively small by most standards, with only fifteen signees. Of the fifteen players signed, nine players earned playing time: DB Eugene Clifford (who has recently transferred to I-AA Tennessee State), DL Cameron Heyward, LB Jermale Hines, LB Brian Rolle, RB Brandon Saine, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, DB James Scott, WR Devon Torrence, and WR Taurian Washington. While many players earned playing time on special teams (Clifford, Hines, Rolle, etc), others played extensively (Cameron Heyward led all freshmen in minutes played, Brandon Saine would have played more if not for an injury in mid-season).
Some points to be made before looking at this year's true freshmen:
1. The best players will play - Among the names listed above or below, you will find players who were highly-touted by recruiting services (such as 2006's Chris Wells, Rivals.com's # 3 ranked high school player that year) as well as players who were not highly ranked by recruiting services (2005's James Laurinaitis, Brian Robiskie). As long as the player shows up at Ohio State and is willing to compete, the coaching staff will reward that player with playing time. All of the high school accolades are meaningless in the coaches' eyes. It all matters what happens on the football field.
2. Special teams are an area to gain playing time: One of the little-known facts about 2002's national championship team involves their first opponent that year, Texas Tech. Texas Tech received the opening kickoff, and the Texas Tech returner was hit almost immediately by a true freshman linebacker by the name of Bobby Carpenter. Considering the emphasis Coach Tressel makes with special teams, this is an area where a true freshman can play right away.
3. Being redshirted does not mean the end of the world - If you look back on some of the players from previous Ohio State recruiting classes, many of the familiar names to fans were redshirted as freshmen: WR Brian Hartline, CB Donald Washington, LB Thaddeus Gibson, etc. If a player is redshirted, quite commonly it is an opportunity for the player to become better acclimated to the demands of football and college life, while also hopefully excelling on the scout team so as to be ready for the following spring.
Let's look at the incoming freshmen by position group:
Quarterback: Terrelle Pryor was the last and highest profile signee of the class. One could argue Pryor has been the highest profile signee in the Jim Tressel era, and possibly of all time, at Ohio State. With Todd Boeckman in his final year of eligibility, most believe Pryor will be used in a fashion similar to Tim Tebow was used two years ago at Florida – in short yardage and goal line situations. I will be surprised if Pryor does not see appreciable playing time against Youngstown State and Ohio University, Ohio State’s first two opponents.
Running Back: Jermil Martin was signed as a fullback candidate out of Cleveland Glenville. Considering how Ohio State lacks a true fullback on the roster and has been trying other players at the position (such as senior LB Curtis Terry), it is possible Martin may earn playing time this season. At a listed 227 lbs, Martin is not as heavy as the traditional fullbacks on previous Ohio State teams, so Martin could be a redshirt candidate.
Wide Receiver: Ohio State signed DeVier Posey, Jake Stoneburner, and Lamaar Thomas. Throughout his tenure at Ohio State, Coach Tressel has shown a willingness to use true freshmen wideouts (Chris Gamble in 2001, Ted Ginn, Jr. in 2004, Brian Robiskie in 2005). Of the three, Thomas may get the earliest chance for playing time as a kick returner due to his reputed speed (former Maryland state champion in the 55 and 100 meters). Stoneburner enrolled in the spring and could cause matchup problems with his size (6'5") on the outside; some have speculated he may eventually move to tight end. Posey has good size (6'3", 205 lbs) and speed (4.5 in the 40). Considering Ohio State will lose Brian Robiskie and possibly Brian Hartline after this season, it would not surprise me if all earn some playing time this season.
Tight End: Ohio State signed Nic DiLillo out of Madison, OH. Ohio State will lose TEs Rory Nicol and Brandon Smith after this season, so signing a tight end was important for Ohio State with this recruiting class. Considering how Nicol, Jake Ballard, and Smith are all ahead of him on the depth chart, DiLillo could be a redshirt candidate.
Offensive Line: The foundation of this recruiting class - "The Block O", as it was dubbed in recruiting terms. Mike Adams, Michael Brewster, and J.B. Shugarts all enrolled early for spring practice. Of the three, only Shugarts played in the spring game (Adams needed surgery and is recuperating, and Brewster was in the midst of a recuperation from a surgery during the spring). Considering how Ohio State will definitely lose three starters from its offensive line after this season (Alex Boone, Steve Rehring, and Ben Person), all three will be given ample opportunities to win playing time this fall.
Defensive Line: Garrett Goebel, Willie Mobley, Shawntel Rowell, Keith Wells, and Nathan Williams were signed by Ohio State this past February. While Coach Tressel has played true freshmen before on the defensive line in his tenure (2004's Vernon Gholston, 2005's Lawrence Wilson, last season with Cameron Heyward), most of the defensive linemen signed under Coach Tressel have been redshirted (2002's Quinn Pitcock, 2004's Nader Abdallah, 2005's Todd Denlinger and Doug Worthington, 2006's Dexter Larimore). It will bear watching on who, if any, gain playing time from this group this season.
Linebacker: This is probably the deepest area on the Ohio State team, from the seniors down to the freshmen. Etienne Sabino and Andrew Sweat both enrolled early for spring practice. Even with the stacked depth chart, it would not surprise me if both Sabino and Sweat earn playing time. I would look for Sabino on special teams, and Sweat may get playing time at fullback as well as special teams.
Defensive Backs: Zach Domicone, Travis Howard, and Orhian Johnson were all signed. Of the three, Howard seems most likely for playing time as a true freshman. Both Domicone and Johnson played quarterback in high school, and both may need a redshirt year to become better acclimated to playing full-time defensive back.
Kicker: The first commitment to the 2008 recruiting class, Ben Buchanan would seem to be a likely redshirt candidate with the return of starting P A.J. Trapasso and PK Ryan Pretorius. Buchanan could be a dual threat as a punter and placekicker starting in 2009.
August 30th will be here before we know it for the opening game against Youngstown State. I will be curious to look back on this article after the season to see which freshmen played for Ohio State in 2008.