What to Expect: Linebackers

The Ohio State linebackers had some up and down moments during last season.  The highlight of last season was the Michigan State game.  The low point, sadly, was the game before against the Iowa Hawkeyes who absolutely torched us, and cost us a spot in the College Football Playoffs. A topic I could go on and on about because a certain team played Mercer last year, but I digress.

The 2018 season will feature players that had quite the roll in last season as backups, but played more and more as the season went along.  Tuf Borland will most likely be the starting middle linebacker, as he is the best player for the job. However, he is coming off an Achilles injury where he missed all of spring ball.  Hopefully, he comes back the same player, or even better than last year because this kid has talent.  In the MSU game, he had 11 total tackles with 8 of them being solo and 1 sack.

If Borland can’t go or just loses the starting job, look for Baron Browning to be the next guy up. Browning was the No. 1 linebacker in the 2017 class, and was on the field during special teams last season. I expect Borland and Browning to play a lot this season back and forth, and having two guys with same level of skills is never a bad thing. Browning can also play outside linebacker, so if Borland does come back healthy, expect Browning to be on the field at both middle and outside linebackers.

Justin Hilliard, who lost his starting position to Borland last year, is the older player, but he has dealt with lingering injuries.  If Borland or Browning can’t go Hilliard is looking to improve from last season, and the Buckeyes will need him to be his former 5-star self.

Malik Harrison is expected to be the starting Strongside Linebacker.  Harrison got in games last year in garbage time, and to give the other guys some rest for a play or two, but he did show what he can do, especially in the MSU game.  Dante Booker will most likely be the backup even though he chose to comeback, and forego the NFL Draft.  Booker didn’t have the best of season last year, and that wasn’t entirely his fault.  He has been injured almost his whole career at Ohio State.  He wants to come back and show everyone, including the scouts, what he really can do.

Weakside Linebacker is the big question mark for the Buckeyes.  Replacing 3rd round draft pick Jerome Baker is no easy task.  But expect Keandre Jones to be the starting linebacker with Pete Werner to back up. Both players have seen plenty of time on special teams, but not much action at the linebacker position.  Jones is the the older player which is why I’m giving him the starting job, but Werner and Browning will be coming for the spot.

After the Iowa game, Urban and Greg Schiano made some linebacker changes for the Michigan State, and they payed off big time.  Putting in the young guys really helped the Buckeyes defense come alive.  I expect this season to be much better at the linebacker position, and they will help get the Buckeyes off the field on the 3rd down plays.  The Buckeyes have a history of great linebackers, and this season should be no exception.  With 4 and 5 star players all over the field the Buckeyes should have plenty of depth and talents to keep the NFL linebacker talent alive.

What to Expect: Defensive Line

Ohio State is expected to remain one of the top defensive lines in the country.  Even with three seniors leaving, Jayln Holmes, Tracey Sprinkle and Tyquan Lewis, and one early departure, Sam Hubbard, Ohio State has raw talent. The group is young and looking to make a name for themselves with hard footsteps to follow.

Headlined by Nick Bosa at defensive end.  Bosa is looking to improve his 8.5 sacks and 19 solo sacks a year ago. He is already dropping jaws at his stellar performances and wants to continue his and his family legacy at Ohio State.  In my opinion, Bosa will do just that.  As he had to share snaps last year with second-round draft pick, Tyquan Lewis, Bosa will get plenty of playing time this season, and earn his top 5 draft pick.

On the other side from Bosa is another familiar name, Chase Young.  Young saw playing time last year, but really only in garbage time.  With so many older, more experienced players in front of him, it was hard to get him in.  However, going into his sophomore year Young will get a chance to really show off his talents.  Young has all the makings of being a top ten draft pick, and this year is the start of it. Splitting the snaps with Young and Bosa will be Johnathon Cooper, a redshirt freshman, and Jashon Cornell, a redshirt sophomore. Cooper is the third defensive end and will get the bulk of the playing time alongside Bosa and Young.  Cornell can earn significant playing time if he shows up in camp and on the field.

The middle guys are the big question here.  Dre’mont Jones and Robert Landers saw playing time last year and most likely will be the two starters at the defensive tackle positions.  However, Antwuan Jackson is a transfer from Auburn.  Jackson was going to commit to Ohio State or Auburn back in 2015 but chose Auburn at the time.  Now in 2018, Jackson is where he belongs and will have a huge part on our defensive line.  Haskell Garrett and Davon Hamilton are also “backups.” The coaching staff is loving the depth at the defensive line position and all these players could earn significant time this year.  The coaching staff also loved Tommy Togiai the true freshman who had a great spring and is hoping to get in the rotation.

What I am expecting this year is the defensive line to continue dominating like in years past. The only real problem Ohio State has right now is creating enough game time to get all these players in.  Ohio State has recruited well at the defensive end position ever since Urban got into Columbus, and with Larry Johnson at the helm the only thing stopping these players from making a name for themselves is themselves. Even with all the talent that has left in the last few years, the Buckeyes just keep on reloading.

What To Expect: Offensive Line

The Offensive Line is one of the deeper units for Ohio State with three returning players who will be leading the charge.  Even after the departures of Rimington winner, Billy Price and bookend Left Tackle in Jamarco Jones to the NFL, this specific unit will bring another wave of talent to the table.

Obviously, this unit did not come unscathed and due to the crowded room, Ohio State lost a handful of potential two-deep players in Matthew Burrell, Kevin Feder, and Evan Lisle, but even without them, I wish them the best of luck with their new teams.  There is no ill will on my end and the rest of Buckeye Nation should do the same, but that rarely happens.  Either way, the room still has a plethora of former five and high four stars, that will get their shot this season.

The fall camp would bring some more intense competition for starting spots along the Offensive Line, but the surefire starters will be Prince at Left Tackle and Michael Jordan at Left Guard.  Beyond that, Brady Taylor looks to be the favorite in the Center battle, it is a toss-up between former starter that is returning from a season-ending leg injury in Brandon Bowen and Demetrius Knox for the Right Guard spot and Bowen could also be a factor at Right Tackle with Thayer Munford.

If I were to call it right now, I think from the left side to the right, it will be Prince, Jordan, Taylor, Knox, and Munford as the starters.  Following that, the two-deep would look like Alabi, Davis, Myers, Bowen, and true freshman Petit-Frere.  Other true freshmen, Max Wray and Matthew Jones could also make some noise in the fall so stay tuned.

All in all the unit is not as deep, but they are deep enough to nearly have a three deep in place in case of emergency.  This year’s line will be important to maintain the balance between the run and the pass.  They need road graders and maulers to do so and I think this line will be special.  Call it a gut feeling, but I think it’ll be a fun year.

 

 

 

What To Expect: Tight Ends

The Tight End position at Ohio State is on the rise and they will be looking to make an impact come gameday.  With the departure of Marcus Baugh, the position will feature a few familiar faces with Rashod Berry, Luke Farrell, and Jake Hausmann, walk-ons Davin Brock and Derrick Malone, and a once in a lifetime talent in true freshman Jeremy Ruckert.

The position would have two additional names, but life happened and it left A.J. Alexander, who was forced to end his playing career due to injuries and Kierre Hawkins, who will be transfering to Youngstown State, where a former Buckeye Head Coach Jim Tressel resides as President.

The Tight End position has been in flux compared to the previous seasons, and I believe it will be on the rise from here on out.  The proof is in the way they used Baugh late in games, like how they leaned on him during that amazing home win against Penn State.  The coaches have shown that if needed, they will lean on the Tight End to win the matchups against their opponents.

It may not be demonstrated right away, but they are certainly trending in the right direction, and with the number of weapons on the offense, everyone will just have to take their best shots when thrust into action or called upon.

Similar to Zone 6, the focus is on balancing the passing and running games to throw defenses off balance.  This years offense has the potency that makes the fans salivate, and it has the potential to be one hell of a ride and season.  Hopefully, it comes to fruition as the season draws closer.

 

What To Expect: Wide Receivers

At Wide Receiver, Ohio State has quite the collection at the position that oozes with potential.  The majority of the weapons at the position have returned with a new type of Quarterback at the helm, who could sling it all over the field.

From the playmakers from a season ago in Johnnie Dixon, Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill, Austin Mack, Terry McLaurin, and Binjimen Victor to the younger players in Elijah Gardener and Jaylen Harris, the talent accumulated at Ohio State is undeniable.  Factor in the haul in the 2018 recruiting class in Kamryn Babb, L’Christian “Blue” Smith, Chris Olave, and Cameron Brown, this group is both deep and talented.

The expectation at Ohio State remains the same, win every battle and play your heart out.  With the experienced members, that remains intact with Haskins at the helm.  For the younger players and incoming freshmen, they have leaders atop the depth chart and a great coach to lean on and to learn from.

All players on the roster have built a bond that is strong and unbreakable, and with their playmakers from a season ago being so close to graduation, they will surely be auditioning for their shot at the NFL while teaching the younger players the ins and the outs at Ohio State.  These younger players will need to learn quickly and absorb the tips of the trade prior to their departure.

I truly expect a change in the offense that will emphasize a balance between the passing and the running gameplans that will keep defenses off-balanced.  These players have the talent to assist in the quest for another stellar season and it will be up to them and the coaches to figure things out as the season progresses.

 

 

What To Expect: Running Backs

Much similar to the transfer situation at the Quarterback position, the Running Backs suffered that same minor setback after the spring game.  Longtime back Antonio Williams left the team after a great showing that put him in the conversation for additional snaps at his position.  He looked good and ran with a lot of power, but the lure of playing time won out in the end and North Carolina got them a stud to feed.

In the beginning, both J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber proved why they will be a problem for opposing defenses and they will look to pick up where they left off at toward the end of last season.  Dobbins had an average game this spring, but his skillset is half of what the Buckeyes need this upcoming season.  With Weber, he had that long run that dazzled and that essentially ended his night giving way for the aforementioned Williams and Teague to light it up.  

Buckeye Nation got a treat seeing half of the future at the position with True Freshman Master Teague’s performance this spring.  He ran with power, speed, and he had that crazy look in his eyes as he put his best foot forward to place him firmly into the gameplan for this season.  He looked like a likely heir to the RB throne, and the future surely looks bright at the position.  We still have to see what Brian Snead has in store for the staff when he arrives in a few weeks, but I am sure he will not disappoint.

There will be a lot of fireworks with this tandem, and with what Haskins can bring through the air, the potential for a more balanced offense is there, it is just a matter of execution.  With Dobbins and Weber, defenses will have to choose their poison, and in what could be Weber’s final season at Ohio State, what better opportunity is there?

The Brotherhood is still strong and although Williams left, the bond is stronger than ever.  With these two studs, Teague and Snead along with the walk-ons, the future is bright.

 

What To Expect: Quarterbacks

As we crawl toward the better half of the year, we are a couple of months away from the start of a new era at Ohio State.  This year, on both sides of the ball, the team will feature a few new faces at critical positions, but they will also feature some familiar ones as they hunt as a team, a unit for a CFB Playoff berth after falling short of that feat at the end of the season.

At the end of spring practice, there was a lot of uncertainty at arguably one of the most important positions on a football team, and this competition between this particular group went down to the wire.

Enter Dwayne Haskins.  He recently received the go-ahead nod from his head coach giving him the first shot at the starting gig.  The spring game was mesmerizing, watching him battle it out with Tate Martell and Joe Burrow.  Securing the starting job and living out his dream of starting at Ohio State came and it cost them a guy like Joe Burrow, who recently announced that he is transferring to LSU.

Joe Burrow lit all the fireworks in the spring game, especially with the last second bomb to the sideline that resulted in another touchdown before time expired.  The all-important exclamation point, but neither Burrow or Haskins gained an edge over the other.  With his departure, the team is left with Haskins as “the guy”, Tate Martell as his backup, and Matthew Baldwin as the 3rd teamer, who is still on the mend.  There are also walk-ons in Danny Vanatsky and Kory Curtis who both are there as well.

What To Expect:

Dwayne is now the man and one would expect the offense to rely more heavily on the passing game due to his obvious talent for tossing the pigskin around but expect the offense to be truly balanced.  With JT (God bless his soul), he was a true dual-threat that was overutilized as a runner and it left the running backs as an afterthought when they needed yardage.

With Haskins, he is not as fast or as shifty as Barrett, but expect the QB draw usage to decline during his era.  Comparing Barrett and Haskins would be a mistake because they are two different players with different skillsets, but with Haskins, the WR’s and the TE’s will get more chances through the air.

Haskins has the arm strength and the poise (TTUN game) to stand in the pocket and hit his receivers in stride, which is what has been missing since Devin Smith left for the pros.  The deep ball will make its return to the scarlet and gray and that will free up space for the RB’s to frustrate the opposing defenses.  He has a well of weapons at his disposal and a few more will be joining the team in a few weeks.

Tate Martell earned enough consideration to have his own set package of plays to add another dimension to the offense.  He didn’t do too hot in the passing game, but man is he elusive.  He could do some serious damage and he would be utilized as such because of shiftiness and speed.

All in all, I expect the PPG to go up a little bit more and more balanced focus on the passing and running game.  With Haskins leading the team, there is a lot of potential and explosiveness that could be on the horizon and I am excited just imagining it in my mind.  We won’t truly know how the position battle will pan out, but I cannot wait.

 

2018 NFL Draft Storylines

Griffin Brothers Reunite In Seattle

Shaquem Griffin was the subject of one of the fascinating storylines in this year’s draft due to him and the birth defect that left him with one hand at such a young age.

He is certainly a fighter as he turned into quite the young man and an even better football player that has caught the attention of the NFL Executives and most notably, the Seattle Seahawks organization who were the only team to bring him in for a private interview during the draft process.

Another layer in this great story is the fact that his twin brother who played alongside Shaquem in college is also a Seahawk and like a storybook ending, both of the brothers will have a chance to do it once again in the NFL.

Shaquem may appear to be limited with one hand, but there is hope that he will utilize his ability to blow past the slower tackles and disrupt offenses and getting to the quarterback.  In a move to get a little younger and after trading the majority of their defense, they are looking to rebuild for the future with a less outspoken approach to their craft toward social issues that are plaguing America.

Jalyn Holmes, DE

The first Buckeye off the board is Holmes and he found a home with the Vikings in the 4th Round.  With an already young and stout defense, the Vikings took a chance on Holmes based on his potential and his physical traits.

He projects as a DE and he will likely have to lose some weight to blossom into a key reserve at worst or a late bloomer, that turns into a key rotational player or a starter at best.  Potential is often thrown around loosely, but I believe that he will blossom into the latter because I believe in Coach Johnson and what he brings to the table at Ohio State.  He certainly has a lot of work to do, but he is ready.

Jamarco Jones, OT

I think the Seattle Seahawks had one of the best drafts in 2018 and with the addition of a falling Jamarco Jones in the 5th Round, they have a multi-year starter that is versatile and is considered a plug-and-play addition to an inexperienced line.

Jones’ fall was unexpected and the Seahawks drafted an agile and consistent player that is very durable.  A stalwart at Ohio State and a bookend tackle, Jones will use this slight as motivation to earn a starting spot and what better situation is there than in Seattle, where they have struggled to piece together an offensive line since their Super Bowl victory against my Broncos.

Michael Hill, DT

Hill was in turbulent waters in his final season at Ohio State, where he was suspended for 6 games and afterward, he played sparingly in a deep D-Line rotation for the Buckeyes.

He, like all Buckeyes, made the best of his opportunities often eating double teams and acting as a roadblock often disrupting the running game.  Hill is most likely a project, but he will have to earn what he gets in training camp because nothing is guaranteed in the NFL.  Hill does not have the motor of most Silver Bullets, but this will be the perfect time to make people eat their words with this opportunity as a UDFA with the Detroit Lions.

Tracy Sprinkle, DT

Sprinkle suffered a season-ending injury in 2016 and during his final season he was not as productive, but not because he had no impact on the game.  He was a rotational player who played in the Buckeye rotation in the D-Line and he certainly has the tools to succeed at the next level.

Like Hill, Sprinkle is a space eater that will be plugged in to eat up blocks and be disruptive in whatever defensive scheme he falls under.  As a UDFA with the Carolina Panthers, he will get a chance to play with Star Lotulelei leaving during free agency, but it will be an uphill battle that can be won.  Determination and being a man is preached at Ohio State and the confidence level will be high with every Buckeye taking part in the NFL Draft.

Chris Worley, LB

Worley was the ILB at Ohio State at the start of the 2017 season before getting beat out by Tuf Borland.  After losing his starting position, he took over duties as an OLB after Dante Booker was injured, where he had a decent season.

Worley signed with the Cincinnati Bengals as a UDFA and he is the 3rd Buckeye to join the team via the draft as he joins Billy Price and Sam Hubbard.  Worley did not test well in the combine and is often viewed as a system guy with less than ideal athleticism, but that is false–he can ball if placed in the right system.

With the Bengals, Worley is needed depth to an again defense that has some character concerns.  The addition of Buckeyes signals a changing of the guard with high character players to wash out the negative stigma in Cincinnati.

Marcus Baugh, TE

Baugh was a highly ranked recruit out of California and he will be coming back to his home state after signing as a UDFA with the Oakland Raiders.  He had high expectations coming out of high school, but it has been a long road for him until his final year at Ohio State.

Baugh was used more often this year and he was the recipient of the game-clinching TD at home versus Penn State.  He is a good pass catcher that needs to build strength and work on his blocking skills.  The Raiders have an opening at TE and with Baugh, they add one more name to their roster to compete.

Damon Webb, S

Webb landed in the ideal spot after signing with the Tennessee Titans as a UDFA joining former Buckeye Defensive Backs Coordinator Kerry Coombs in the NFL and Mike Vrabel, who coached alongside Luke Fickell and is a former Buckeye great.

Due to the familiarity with both coaches, it makes a ton of sense for Webb, who will use this as motivation.  He was a ballhawk at Ohio State and he can play in the box.  Adding him to the young secondary will be scary if he can turn the light on during camp.  He is an aggressive playmaker that could be a great depth piece and the teams that passed up on him will regret it once he figures it out.

JT Barrett, QB

Barrett is the winningest quarterback to come out of Ohio State and he just signed as a UDFA with the Indianapolis Colts.  In an interesting move, the Colts added a winner to a questionable QB room outside of Andrew Luck, who has been bitten by the injury bug lately.

Jacoby Brissett, Brad Kaaya, and Phillip Walker are all fighting for the backup role, and with the addition of Barrett it will make things interesting and he has a realistic shot at making the 53 man roster if he continues his winning ways.

He certainly has the tools to succeed at the next level and with the Colts, it is his best shot.  He will give it his best shot moving forward.

 

 

 

2018 NFL Draft Storylines

Tyquan Lewis, DE

In the 2nd Round of this years draft, with the 64th overall pick, the Colts picked up a total of four-second rounders and with their last pick they bolstered their pass rush with Lewis.

Lewis has the tools and the motor that the Colts need to put pressure on opposing offenses.  With Larry Johnson serving as his position coach at Ohio State, Lewis is ready to carve out his own path in the NFL joining former Buckeyes John Simon and Malik Hooker, a 1st Round selection from Ohio State a year ago.  Re-tooling the defense is the name of the game and with the defenders added during the draft, the Colts might be a dangerous defense in 2018.

Jerome Baker, LB

Baker was the first Buckeye drafted in the 3rd Round with the 73rd pick in this draft, and if you haven’t sensed the overall theme, he joins Raekwon McMillan another former Buckeye in Miami to form a pretty good Linebacker duo.

With speed and coverage skills, Baker will be another sideline to sideline defender who will be tasked to cover Tight Ends and he will also be utilized as a run stuffing Linebacker.  Like with the Colts, the Dolphins are looking to inject some young, talented playmakers on defense and with the Patriots aging, they will look to improve to be more competitive within their division.

 

Sam Hubbard, DE

The Ohio based franchises are doing something that hasn’t been done in quite some time–drafting Buckeyes.  This is the third Buckeye drafted by an Ohio based franchise and Hubbard is the second to be taken by the Bengals.

Sam Hubbard, a Notre Dame commit for Lacrosse, was found by Coach Meyer while playing dodgeball and the rest is history.  He was one of the playmakers for the Buckeyes that possessed a relentless motor and he led by example.  He is surely an athlete and he was vastly undervalued at the draft, but he will give this aging Bengals defensive line a spark in the meantime.  Re-tooling this defense will be critical to keep up with their division rival the Steelers and what better way to do so than to add depth to their pass rush.

 

Spring Game: What We Learned

It is now 24 hours ahead of the annual Scarlet versus Gray Spring Game and man–there are a lot of difficult decisions that need to be made by Coach Meyer and his staff regarding the many open spots for his team on both sides of the field.

This is the annual reloading period where the coaches evaluate their players to reload and to identify the best player for the job.  A batch of forgotten, but talented unknowns will take their shot to earn a starting gig and blossom into the next Buckeye superstar.  Here are three things that stood out.

Burrow VS Haskins VS Martell:

This battle was everything that we thought it would be and it looks like it is a two-way competition between Burrow and Haskins with Martell trailing as the third Quarterback in the pecking order.

In no way am I saying that Martell lacks the talent, but Burrow and Haskins just separated themselves with a more balanced and efficient display during the game.  Tate showed that he can run the QB Option with ease and his elusiveness and speed will be another valuable weapon for the team this season if the coaches create a package of plays for him.

Burrow and Haskins made a lot of noise in the passing game this spring.  Burrow finished 15 for 22 for 238 and 2 TD’s while Haskins finished 9 for 19 for 120 yards and 2 TD’s.  Both signal-callers showed their fans what the future could look like, further adding to the fierce debate on who should be the heir to the QB Throne.

Burrow is accurate with a little less zip on the football when comparing his game to Haskins.  Haskins has the wow factor and the arm strength, but he is slightly less accurate than Burrow.  Both QB’s did a lot of switching between the first and second team offenses, but they showed that once they get into a rhythm, they can be unstoppable.  Both have poise in the pocket, but it is looking like their ability to run the offense and their leadership qualities will look like it will be the deciding factor in this battle.

A difficult choice needs to be made and it will be interesting to see what develops within the QB room.  Every one of the Quarterbacks on the roster can be a starter on another team, but we will see what happens and who gets the job.

Playmakers Paradise At Skill Positions:

The wealth of talent at just about every level on this team on offense is evident.  From the Running Back position all the way to the O-Line, they have enough baller for a three-deep depth chart.

At Running Back, they have Dobbins and Weber, the returning 1,000-yard rushers from a season ago.  Behind them, they have three stablemates in Williams, Teague, and Snead, who will join the team in the summer.  Not to mention, they have a talented bunch of walk-ons to boot.  Deep is an understatement at this position and with what we saw with Weber on that long TD run, and what Teague was able to accomplish, carries will be scarce, but the Brotherhood will continue to push each other until the fall comes.

Wide Receiver is also deep.  They returned all of their starters from last season and with the prospect of a more pass-friendly offense, they will look to make an immediate impact.  Hill, Campbell, Mack, Dixon, and Victor will be dangerous weapons this season.  Their backups also pose a threat to defenses.  Demario McCall had a game and is the projected to be the third H-Back on the depth chart.  Harris and Gardiner are huge targets that showed promise as well.

At Tight End Rashod Berry will be slotted to return as the starter, but he didn’t participate in the game due to injury.  Behind him, Hausmann, Farrell and the number one TE in last years class Jeremy Ruckert will be vying for playing time this season.

DBU Reloads Again:

Marcus Williamson has secured his spot in the rotation at Cornerback.  Aside from the TD catch by Harris, he locked him down and was disruptive for most of the game.  With Okudah out with an injury, he along with Wade, Banks, and Davis were given snaps to see what they can do, but from what I saw from Williamson, he gained traction in this battle.

Pryor and Johnson showed promise as both are fighting for the starting Safety spot opposite of Fuller.  Johnson nearly stopped Weber on his long TD run, showing the determination to not take any plays off, and he is a true freshman.

Ohio State has become DBU as of late and the tradition of having a DB getting drafted in the first round has been a trend.  With that, Ohio State has yet another loaded depth chart, but they will all find a way to earn playing time.