Recruiting Rankings Are Great, But Give Me The NFL Draft For Results

Before getting too deep into the main subject of my post, I want to express some public support and sympathy for former Buckeye and current Denver Broncos tight end Jeff Heuerman. You may recall in last week’s article that I mentioned how I had hoped that my favorite NFL team, the Cleveland Browns, would have possibly drafted Heuerman in the 2015 NFL Draft. Only one day after I published my article, news spread quickly about Heuerman sustaining a torn ACL during his first practice that will sideline him throughout the 2015 NFL season.

Good luck to Jeff as he prepares for his surgery and subsequent rehabilitation. In case you have not sent a tweet already, Jeff Heuerman is on Twitter at @JHeuerman86.

What I am going to write about is not new news, for anyone who truly knows me. As a matter of fact, I have written articles like this before, but as the NFL Draft is so relatively fresh in everyone’s mind, I thought I would just reiterate some points that seem to get overlooked or lost in the shuffle.

Yes, I follow recruiting, especially as it relates to Ohio State. After all, I did assist back in 1995 with recruiting for Ohio State’s 1996 recruiting class, long before social media was the dominant force it is today. Yes, I want Ohio State to secure the top talent in the country, knowing that having top talent is a necessary component in order to contend for the national championship.

But do I really care if one player is ranked as a five-star versus a four-star, or if Ohio State is ranked first in one recruiting service but second in another? Not really.

And the reason why is very simple – Nobody, including the coaches, truly knows what they have until the players arrive on campus, and compete against the other players on the roster.

Here is where the NFL Draft comes into play. Three, four, five years after a recruiting class has been signed, and the NFL Draft rolls around…now you see what you truly had, in terms of players being valued and coveted, when they are picked in the NFL Draft. No matter where Rivals, Scout, 247Sports, ESPN, etc, had these players ranked, you get to see how good a job the coaches not only evaluated, but developed, the talent that they had on hand, and what the NFL thinks of them.

Let me give you some quick examples. Below are some names who were in the top twenty recruits for 2011, based on ~

Curtis Grant of Ohio State. George Farmer of USC. Ray Drew of Georgia. James Wilder Jr of Florida State. Trey Metoyer of Oklahoma.

All were five star recruits. None were selected in the NFL Draft; all were signed as free agents by NFL teams.

Now does that mean that recruiting rankings are useless? Not at all. Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina was ranked the number one recruit in the nation in 2011, and wound up as the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. Other top recruits in that top ten list are names such as Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama, De’Anthony Thomas of Oregon, and Hasean Clinton-Dix of Alabama. All were picked in the 2014 NFL Draft.

My point is that when it comes time for NFL teams to make their best educated decisions on investing a draft choice and considerable money into a player, do you think the team is truly considering where the player was ranked by a recruiting service, or by what the player did on the field in games? That is where player development is so crucial.

The players Ohio State had selected in the 2015 NFL Draft are a testament to the development and coaching of Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer and his staff, not by any recruiting rankings. It does not matter to me that the players who signed in February 2011 (or in Darryl Baldwin’s case, 2010) have now been evaluated years after the fact – the fact that NFL teams have made their evaluations have given me a solid idea as to how talented these players are in the eyes of NFL evaluators.

Maybe I am the only person at who feels this way, and that is fine. Put it this way – the 2016 NFL Draft is about a year away, and I am already anxious to see how the NFL evaluates the tremendous talent that Ohio State will be sure to offer the professional ranks.

Why Can’t The Browns “Steel” Some Buckeyes In The NFL Draft?

Congratulations to Devin Smith, Jeff Heuerman, Doran Grant, Evan Spencer, and Michael Bennett on being selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. This weekend will be the first rookie minicamp for these players with their respective NFL teams. It is challenging to refer to these players as “former Buckeyes”, but they will all be moving forward in their quest for (hopefully) lengthy NFL careers. Good luck also to Darryl Baldwin, Curtis Grant, and Steve Miller, who all were signed as free agents to NFL teams. Jerry Emig of Ohio State had an impressive tweet that summarizes the good fortune of these players as they enter into the NFL…

Former Buckeye Rod Smith is also getting a free agent opportunity, with the Seattle Seahawks…

Remember Verlon Reed? This former Buckeye, who left Ohio State for Findlay, is getting a free agent opportunity with the Detroit Lions…

According to Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch, former Buckeye Kyle Clinton is also getting a free agent tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers this coming weekend…

At least Clinton and Grant will have some company while in Pittsburgh – over the last six years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have drafted six players from Ohio State.

Prior to the NFL Draft, I held out hope that the Cleveland Browns, the NFL team I have rooted for my entire life, would pick two Buckeyes – Jeff Heuerman and Evan Spencer. Both would have fulfilled position needs on the Browns, and had the skill set that would allow them to succeed in Cleveland’s run-oriented offense.

I was happy for Jeff Heuerman that Denver picked Heuerman in the third round; that was a little higher than I anticipated the Browns would show interest. I thought maybe the Browns would be interested in Heuerman in the fourth round.

As for Evan Spencer, I woke up on Saturday morning and tweeted out the following. My man Shannon Sommers agreed with my line of thinking…

Do you know who the last Ohio State player the Cleveland Browns selected was? Brian Robiskie, back in second round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Prior to Robiskie? 2002, when the Browns picked Darnell Sanders in the fourth round.

Don’t get me wrong – I am happy for all of these Buckeye players to have NFL opportunities, even if it is with the Cleveland Browns’ biggest rival. I just do not understand how the Browns, a team that has long been mired in the basement of its division, and is always trying to close the gap between itself and the division leaders, cannot look into scouting players from a powerhouse program only two hours down I-71. The Pittsburgh Steelers are located further away, and have had no problem with the longer commute to scout out Buckeye talent. Even the comments of Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer made me think the Browns would be picking at least one Buckeye…

Even Bill Rabinowitz agrees with me…Below is a tweet sent before the NFL Draft concluded regarding Darryl Baldwin, a Cleveland native, that somewhat mirrors my line of thinking ~

The 2016 NFL Draft is a year away, and I am looking forward to what promises to be an exciting 2015 Ohio State football season. I can only hope that with a crop of players that will be heavily abundant in Buckeye talent in the 2016 NFL Draft that the Browns will “steel” some Buckeyes going forward.

2015 Ohio State Spring Football Questions: Linebackers Have Improved, But Depth Is Young

On March 10th, Ohio State began spring practice and 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.

7. Linebacker

Key Players/Contributors Lost: Curtis Grant (final year of eligibility), Trey Johnson (injury), Devan Bogard (injury)

Key Players/Contributors Returning: Darron Lee (Redshirt Sophomore), Raekwon McMillan (Sophomore), Joshua Perry (Senior), Camren Williams (Senior), Dante Booker (Sophomore), Christopher Worley (Redshirt Sophomore), Kyle Berger (Redshirt Freshman), Nick Conner (Freshman)

Similar to what I wrote about with regards to the running backs and H-Back positions for Ohio State, it seems challenging to call this area of the football team a concern. Darron Lee emerged as one of the most dynamic linebackers in the country, with timely plays against Navy, Maryland, Alabama, and Oregon, among others. Lee has established himself as “exhibit A” of not overemphasizing recruiting rankings, as Lee was a three-star recruit who earned his scholarship with tenacity and determination at Ohio State’s summer recruiting camp. Raekwon McMillan played well and often at the middle linebacker spot, alongside former Buckeye teammate Curtis Grant. McMillan was considered one of the crown jewels of the 2014 recruiting class, and played up to his billing. Lastly, rising senior Joshua Perry has quietly and consistently developed into a steadying presence on the Ohio State defense over his previous three seasons; Perry should emerge as an Ohio State captain for the 2015 season.

Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer stated on National Signing Day 2015 that he is “really excited about” the linebacker position, adding, ” I think that Luke Fickell has really done a very, very good job the last three years of building back up to the Ohio State standards…you’re starting seeing these athletes coming up on all special teams. There was a time a couple of years ago the linebackers weren’t involved in the kicking game. It was because for whatever reason they’re not. Now they’re all over the place…”.

In addition, there will be two more linebackers joining the position group in June, with Justin Hilliard and Jerome Baker both signing with Ohio State. As Coach Meyer said, Coach Fickell has replenished the linebacker position very well, and the results were evident during the 2014 national championship season.

If I had to summarize my concerns over this position group, it would be in the simple fact that the linebackers are very talented, but also very young. With the exceptions of Perry and Camren Williams, there are no upperclassmen. Injuries ended the careers of Trey Johnson and Devan Bogard, and the backup positions have seen minimal game experience outside of special teams duty.

Of course, former Ohio State Head Coach John Cooper used to say, “If a dog is going to bite, he’s going to bite as a pup.”. I would prefer Ohio State’s coaches let the young linebackers take their bites out on the opposition, especially early in the season, to help provide that necessary maturity and experience emerge.

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.

A Look Back At The 2011 Recruiting Class (Part One)

“Sometimes the lights all shinin on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip its been.”
~ “Truckin”, The Grateful Dead

While highly doubtful that members of the 2011 recruiting class were/are avid fans of The Grateful Dead, I would surmise that the players who signed with Ohio State on February 2, 2011, would not disagree with the lyrics up above as they would reflect upon their experiences and careers at Ohio State. Think about it this way – the players signed at Ohio State to play for Jim Tressel, who was only weeks away from the NCAA violations that would result in his resignation as Ohio State’s head coach. Luke Fickell would serve as the head coach during their freshman season in 2011, only to be replaced by Urban Meyer on November 28, 2011. Three head coaches, in less than one calendar year.

The twenty-three players of the 2011 recruiting class who would eventually spend time as Buckeyes have all had varying levels of successes and challenges, as all recruiting classes do. For years, I have reviewed Ohio State’s recruiting classes, and I have always subscribed to the “Rule Of Thirds”.

“The Rule Of Thirds” is pretty simple – within any class, there will be approximately a third who will develop into starters as the coaching staff hoped and recruited, a third will be contributors in some fashion, and a third will not work out, leaving due to transfer, injuries, or possibly disciplinary reasons.

Using this very unscientific approach to a very inexact recruiting process, how did Ohio State’s Class of 2011 stack up with “The Rule Of Thirds”? Let’s see how it all turned out…

I. The Starters (39%)

1. Michael Bennett, DL: Bennett committed to Ohio State on 05/16/2010, and was rated a four-star recruit by,, and Projected as a possible first round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Bennett has realized his recruiting accolades as a three year varsity letterman. Bennett is also in line for a captain position this coming season for the Buckeyes.

2. Curtis Grant, LB: Grant signed with Ohio State on Signing Day in 2011, ranking as the highest-rated incoming recruit in the 2011 class. While rated a five-star recruit, it could be argued that Grant’s biggest play as a Buckeye took place as a freshman versus Wisconsin in 2011, when Grant recovered a blocked punt by classmate Ryan Shazier in a 33-29 Buckeye victory. Grant will be pushed by incoming freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan for the starting middle linebacker position this season.

3. Doran Grant, CB: Grant earned playing time as a backup in 2011 and 2012, emerging as a starter in 2013. The biggest play made by Grant in 2013 took place as Ohio State was trailing Northwestern in the fourth quarter, and Grant intercepted a pass that helped spark the Buckeyes to eventual victory. Coach Meyer has high expectations for Grant as he heads into his senior season to emerge as one of the best defensive backs in The Big Ten.

4. Bryce Haynes, LS: A late commitment to the 2011 recruiting class (01/28/2011), Haynes was viewed as somewhat of a surprise scholarship offer as a long-snapper. Redshirted in 2011, Haynes lettered in both 2012 and 2013. Haynes will have an additional year of eligibility for the 2015 season.

5. Jeff Heuerman, TE: Heuerman is a probable captain for his final season of eligibility in 2014. While only catching one pass in 2011, Heuerman’s importance and role has expanded in 2012 and 2013. Heuerman has been described by Ohio State strength coach Mickey Marotti as “the the “ringleader of what we want in terms of work ethic”.

6. Braxton Miller, QB: Arguably the most important player on the team, Miller’s role has exponentially grown since he arrived in 2011. Originally intending to back-up Terrelle Pryor in 2011, Miller was thrust into the starting role as a true freshman. With the arrival of Coach Meyer, Miller has emerged as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in 2014, and should be a captain again for the Buckeyes, having served in that role in 2013.

7. Ryan Shazier, LB: A later commitment to the recruiting class (12/17/2010), Shazier originally intended to sign with Florida to play for Coach Meyer. When Coach Meyer resigned his position, Ohio State was fortunate to land Shazier. While Shazier only played three seasons, Shazier was arguably the most dominant defensive player for the Buckeyes from 2011-2013. Shazier left Ohio State for the NFL after the 2013 season, being selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

8. Devin Smith, WR: Smith lettered 2011-2013, often delivering clutch plays for the Buckeyes at the most crucial moments. Of these clutch plays, none will loom larger than catching the desperation pass by classmate Braxton Miller versus Wisconsin that allowed Ohio State to defeat the Badgers, 33-29. Smith is a dependable deep threat for the Buckeyes, but it remains to be seen if Smith can develop his receiving skills beyond this area in his final season of eligibility.

9. Evan Spencer, WR: Lauded by the coaching staff for his prowess as a blocker, Spencer enters his final season of eligibility. While not a burner, Spencer is a dependable and reliable possession receiver for the Buckeyes. Spencer’s most memorable reception took place in his first game versus Akron in 2011, with a one-handed reception from classmate Braxton Miller.

While these players above have emerged as starters for Ohio State, part two of this series will review the players from the class who have either become occasional contributors for Ohio State, or departed the program altogether.

2014 OSU Spring Football – Questions Answered, Questions Remain (Part 2)

Part one reviewed the least concerning areas for Ohio State after the conclusion of spring practice. This article will focus upon the top five concerning areas for Ohio State, heading into summer workouts. Have any position groups changed from before spring practice? Let us review…

5. Defensive Back: One of the biggest changes, after spring practice. Previously ranked as the third most concerning area, I would lower this area after spring practice. Even though there are two open positions at cornerback and safety, my reasoning for feeling better about the defensive backfield lies in the more aggressive approach that was evident during the spring game. Instead of playing off the wide receivers, Ohio State’s defensive backs were pressing right from the line of scrimmage. Throw in the dominant Ohio State defensive line that figures to continually pressure opposing quarterbacks, and it would seem likely that the defensive backs will be in a great position to excel, despite their inexperience.

4. Wide Receiver: Another position group that moved, and this actually increased in concern following spring practice. Talent is on the roster, yet it was evident in the following comments by Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer following the spring game where his thoughts were about his wide receivers after the spring game ~ “We’re not where we need to be. I think we’re better that we were two years ago, and I’m hoping we’re a better notch than we were last year. We got a ways to go…Receiver, I can’t name you one that’s going to start. Which is concerning, but it’s comforting to know I can name about six that have the ability. Those would be Devin Smith, Johnnie Dixon, Michael Thomas, I think Jalin Marshall, before he got hurt he was having a great spring, Dontre Wilson and Evan Spencer; we have some depth there.”. Keep an eye and ear open for news about this position group over the summer workouts and fall camp.

3. Linebacker: A position group that has improved since before the spring practices, yet remains in the same area of concern. While rising junior Joshua Perry has earned a starting outside linebacker position, battles for the other two spots remain between rising senior Curtis Grant and true freshman Raekwon McMillan for the middle linebacker job, and Darron Lee and Chris Worley are both in the mix at the walkout linebacker spot. Considering Ohio State opens up the 2014 season at Navy, a triple option attack, it will be crucial for Ohio State’s linebackers to play disciplined; will that be possible with such inexperience at this position?

2. Backup Quarterback: Another position group that has been elevated since spring practice began, and it truly has less to do with the spring game than the reality of the situation. Rising redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones has emerged as the top backup quarterback, with rising redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett third string. While Coach Meyer seemed pleased with Jones’ development over the course of the spring practices, it must be asked – is Jones truly ready to lead Ohio State if rising senior Braxton Miller is injured this upcoming season?

1. Offensive Line: The biggest concern I had heading into spring practice, and nothing has changed since spring football concluded. In the words of Coach Meyer, “Offensive line, we’ve got to really go, we gotta really go from here. I saw Jamarco Jones, Demetrius Knox is coming in, Brady Taylor. Those are three bodies that are going to be coming in in June and I look them right in the eye and said “You’re not red shirting; you’re playing,” and that’s hard for an offensive lineman, so we’re gonna — that’s an area that we have got to get back to where we — maybe not where we were, but close…On offense you got Pat Elflein and our left tackle, Taylor Decker, and everyone else is wide open, no other spots taken.”. My first thoughts, as I read those comments? Be grateful that Ohio State was able to retain offensive line coach Ed Warriner.

Thomas Edison once stated, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”. Ohio State fans can rest easy knowing that the Ohio State coaching staff and players will seize these opportunities to work over the coming summer months.

2014 OSU Spring Football – Questions To Answer (Part 2)

Part one of this series dealt with questions and challenges that I perceive as important, but lower priority, for Ohio State to address this spring. On any college football team, there will always be issues with players unhappy about playing time. Any coach will want to see more production from any position group. Below are the top five pressing issues, as I see them, for Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer to focus upon between March 4th and the date of the April 12th Ohio State Spring Game.


5. Placekicker – While Coach Meyer is always wanting touchdowns from his offense, it is sometimes required to have a placekicker on the roster who can come through with a clutch field goal at the end of the game. Reliable Drew Basil has exhausted his eligibility, opening the door for true freshman Sean Nuernberger to claim the position. Nuernberger enrolled early at Ohio State, allowing him the opportunity to seize the job this spring. Competition for the placekicker position may come from Kyle Clinton, a walk-on who saw game action during the 2012 season. This position could rise in importance by the conclusion of spring games, based upon Nuernberger’s performance this spring.

4. Backup Quarterback – Senior quarterback Braxton Miller made the decision to come back to Ohio State for his fourth and final year of eligibility, pleasing Ohio State coaches and fans alike. With Miller’s recent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder, Ohio State will use the spring practices to determine who the primary backup quarterback is to Miller – Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett, or newly-signed Stephen Collier.

Based upon Ohio State Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Tom Herman’s comments, Jones will begin spring practice as the primary backup…

Jones played sparingly in 2013, appearing in three games. Most of Jones’ game appearances were as a result of both Miller and departing backup Kenny Guiton having Ohio State in front by a considerable margin; Jones usually would hand the ball off, or run himself. Throwing only three passes, it would be fair to say that Jones will certainly be given more opportunities as a passer this spring.

Barrett was the primary quarterback recruit targeted by Coach Herman for the 2013 recruiting class. Barrett redshirted in 2013, using the time to recover from a serious knee injury that wiped out most of Barrett’s senior high school season. Barrett’s leadership qualities have been raved about by the Ohio State coaching staff; will these qualities allow him to leapfrog Jones for the backup spot by the end of spring practice?

Lastly, Stephen Collier. The wild card of this group, Collier enrolled early and will participate in spring drills. Described by Coach Meyer as a “development guy”, Collier will battle for the backup position, but it would be highly surprising if Collier could overtake both Jones and Barrett for the primary backup quarterback spot.

Yes, Braxton Miller will/should be under center, when the season begins on the road at Navy on August 30th. As Ohio State fans have witnessed over the past two seasons, having a dependable backup quarterback behind Miller has often made all of the difference between winning and losing. This battle could also have repercussions for the 2015 season, after Miller has left Ohio State.

3. Linebacker – On National Letter Of Intent Day for 2014, Coach Meyer stated, “That’s far too many mistakes have been made in either lack of development or whatever and it’s just not where we need to be” in reference to the Ohio State linebackers. When that statement was made, this is how I interpreted it, along with many others…

Compounding the challenges for this position group are the losses of Ryan Shazier (to the NFL) and Mike Mitchell (transfer). With Curtis Grant and Josh Perry returning, Trey Johnson would seem likely to have an opportunity to claim Shazier’s starting spot. Based upon Grant’s concussion history, as well as Perry’s injuries, it is not improbable that Ohio State will have a completely overhauled linebacker corps for the season opener against Navy on August 30th. The biggest name for fans to be focused upon this spring? Incoming freshman Raekwon McMillan, who enrolled early. Others in the mix may be walk-on Joe Burger, Camren Williams, and redshirt freshman Darron Lee.

2. Defensive Back – After being torched through the air by Michigan State in The B1G Championship Game, then by Clemson in The 2014 Orange Bowl, changes were necessary for the Buckeyes across the board, both in coaching and in personnel. Coaching changes bring new Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties Coach Chris Ash, to replace Everett Withers, who left for the head coaching position at James Madison. Kerry Coombs remains on staff, but Ohio State fans believe Coach Ash will be in charge of rebuilding the Ohio State secondary. From National Letter Of Intent Day 2014, Coach Meyer stated on Ash, “And then Chris Ash is charged with he’s got a serious responsibility. That’s to improve our pass defense. He’ll be in charge of the entire back end of our defense. He’s going to coach safety. He’s going to continue to coach corners. However we’re going to have one voice back there, it’s his responsibility to improve our pass defense… And obviously it’s more than just a secondary. It’s linebackers and everything. But you’re going to see some significant changes in the way we approach our business back there.”.

Personnel changes are needed not only due to poor performance, but also for players who have exhausted their eligibility, such as Bradley Roby (NFL Draft early departure), C.J. Barnett, Christian Bryant, and Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown. Doran Grant is the only returning starter, and after the 2013 season by the defensive backfield, Grant may not have a lock on a starting position. Armani Reeves, Eli Apple, Cam Burrows, Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell, Gareon Conley, Christopher Worley, Jayme Thompson, and Ron Tanner will all be battling for starting positions and the prestige of their new position coach this spring.

1. Offensive Line – This was a close call, between the revamped secondary or the offensive line, for the most important area of concern for Ohio State to work upon this spring. While the secondary loses three starters, the offensive line loses four starters, plus flips starting right tackle Taylor Decker to the left side. Ohio State did very well with its recruiting class for offensive linemen, securing five players; two freshmen, Marcelys Jones and Kyle Trout, have already enrolled and will participate in spring practice.

If Decker can switch over from right tackle to left tackle with minimal issues, that will be very reassuring for the Ohio State coaching staff and fans. Jacoby Boren seems likely to have the inside track to the center position, as Boren filled in admirably for departing senior Corey Linsley. Likewise, Pat Elflein would seem to have a shot at the right guard position, after filling in for departing senior Marcus Hall. “Darryl Baldwin is penciled in at right tackle”, based on Coach Meyer’s comments from National Letter Of Intent Day 2014. Keeping my eyes and ears open for news about the performance of the offensive line will be paramount this spring, as this unit will largely determine the strength or the challenges of Ohio State’s offense for the 2014 season.

As always, looking forward to all of your commentary and critiques. Most of all, I am just happy to have football to focus upon, even if it is just from March 4th through April 12th.

Substance + Sizzle Wanted Versus Iowa

Before discussing anything around Ohio State football, I want to extend my condolences to Ohio State linebacker Curtis Grant and his family on the passing of Curtis Grant’s father. Hope Curtis Grant is doing as well as he can, after losing his father.


osuHelmetAfter a bye week, Ohio State welcomes Iowa into Ohio Stadium for the first time since the 2009 season. The 2009 game against Iowa was extremely important to Ohio State, a 27-24 overtime win. While the 2009 game versus Iowa went into overtime, sending Ohio State to The 2010 Rose Bowl for winning the conference, this game will take on importance, albeit on a different scale.

The national narrative of the 2013 Ohio State season has been if Ohio State will be able to earn a spot in the BCS national championship game if the Buckeyes go undefeated. Currently ranked third in the USA Today Coaches Poll, Ohio State needs to win out against all remaining opponents, and win impressively. This is where Iowa comes into the picture.

Style points are necessary for Ohio State to be in the national championship picture. Alabama, Oregon, and Clemson are all presently favored as national championship contenders over Ohio State. While I am not advocating that Ohio State try to embarrass or humiliate Iowa, I believe Ohio State needs to come out with an emphatic performance against the Hawkeyes to get their name back into the national conversation.

This weekend, the national focus will be on Florida State @ Clemson. What could be better for Ohio State, to have a strong performance against Iowa at 3:30pm EST, as the lead-in game into the national game of the week with Florida State/Clemson at 8pm EST?

Again, I am not suggesting that Ohio State try to embarrass Iowa. Winning is the most important thing. What I will suggest is Ohio State needs to have more of a performance reminiscent of the September victories against San Diego State or Florida A&M, versus the type of recent victories Ohio State had against Wisconsin or Northwestern.

An Iowa player I will keep an eye on – senior TE C.J. Fiedorowicz. Fiedorowicz may be a familiar name for Ohio State fans, as Ohio State actively recruited him years ago, as an Illinois prep player. While Iowa has several Ohioans on its roster, none of the players were offered scholarships by the Buckeyes.

Substance is key for the Buckeyes, but offering it up with a little bit of sizzle certainly cannot hurt.

Impact Performers

OSU FootballMuch of the country, along with all of Buckeye Nation, is expecting Ohio State to be in prime position for the BCS National Championship come November. Looking at the schedule that is put in front of us, I would agree with that assumption. However, not every game will be “#easy” as “Philly” Brown put in a tweet earlier today. There will be expected and unexpected challenges as the season progresses. Ultimately we could end up at the national title game facing the first or second best team in the country. In order to conquer the hurdles the regular season will present to this team, and also put ourselves in the best position to lift that crystal ball, certain players must improve and have a major impact on this team. I have comprised a list of five players I have pegged that need to have a larger impact on the field this upcoming season in order for Buckeye Nation to take over Pasadena and the title of being College Football’s Best.

Joel Hale

The defensive line, along with the linebacking core, seems to be the largest area of concern for the Buckeyes this season. This is not completely due to a lack of talent, but due to a lack of experience as well. The largest hole that must be filled is one that can only be filled by a 300 pound plus guy. Johnathan Hankins was the rock of the defensive line last year. He consistently wrecked havoc up the middle in the pass and run game. Joel Hale has to, at minimum, resemble that kind of rock when it comes to the run game. He must learn how to occupy two blockers in order to free up linebackers and he must also be able to shed some of those double teams. In order for the Buckeyes rush defense to remain a force, Hale will have to improve his initial burst off the line and move opposing lineman in to the backfield allowing for our athletic ends and linebackers to gain leverage on the play and wrap up the ball carrier. I would not expect much from Hale in the pass rush nor do I think we need much from him in the pass rush area, but in order to face the likes of an SEC run game and other Big Ten opponents such as that Team Up North, the middle of the Ohio State defensive line will have to be extremely physical and dominant and that will start with Hale this year.

Chris Fields

Jordan Hall is not reliable. There- I said what the rest of Buckeye fans will not. He is good when healthy but that seemed to be a rarity these past two seasons. Throughout his career, Chris Fields has underachieved but this year will have to be his year to step up. He has to become the big play, multi-threat weapon that this Ohio State offense has been begging for. He has the speed and versatility to do everything the coaching staff asks of him and, for the first time, he sounds and looks like he knows what they are asking from him. In order for this offense to be effective that “Percy Harvin” or pivot role player has to be a game breaker and a consistent game breaker. Judging from the spring game, it looked as though Fields is ready to accept that role. However, do be careful with spring game stats (reference Michael Thomas 2012 Spring Game), as they can lead fans to jump the gun a little.


Devin Smith

Lethal but inconsistent seems to be the story with Devin Smith. He can make you pull your hair out at times but with one play he makes up for it all. This year, however, that will not be good enough. Herman is looking for his wide receivers to develop into becoming real wide receivers this year. For Devin Smith that will require running more crisp routes, getting off of jams quicker, and also consistently busting the top off of coverages. This will keep defenses honest deep, open up the middle of the field, and allow for the intermediate passing game to develop.


Curtis Grant

Unfortunately, cloning Ryan Shazier is not an option for the Buckeyes. We are stuck with that former 5-star linebacker out of Hermitage High School, Curtis Grant. Grant has also been one to underachieve during his time at Ohio State. Like Chris Fields, I believe much of it has to do with his mental approach to the game. I do not think Curtis Grant has committed himself to becoming the best linebacker he can be, but it sounds like he is turning the page, which is a huge step forward. Teams such as Alabama have had consistent linebacker play in their national championship runs. Grant will need to be smart and disciplined in his play. I’m not worried about his speed or strength: the guy is a freak of nature athlete. However if this defense wants to become elite, Grant must become a more efficient and smarter football player.

Braxton Miller

Are you surprised? The quarterback on every team gets all the glory when winning and all the blame when things go wrong. Accuracy is the magic word for Miller this upcoming season. Last year it was his deep ball that we were concerned about and he made large strides in quelling our doubts. This year the Buckeyes need Braxton to improve on the intermediate passing game. His total passing percentage last year was 58.3% which, in my opinion, is pedestrian. I understand it was his first year in the offense, but that was not the whole reason behind his inaccuracy. On several occasions Braxton reverted to back yard football and would replace mechanics with athleticism, which is great for pretty much any other skill position besides quarterback. Quarterbacks need to be smart and calm during chaos. If Ohio State faces the likes of an Alabama or Florida defense chaos will be continual. Braxton will need to be able to keep his feet tied to his eyes, his weight balanced, and deliver accurate passes during the several big games Ohio State will be playing this year.


Another key skill Braxton must work on is his situational awareness. Several times last year he held onto the ball too long, scrambled with it loosely, or became forceful with a pass and turned the ball over. Ohio State gave up 39 sacks last year behind a pretty good offensive line which leads me to believe that Braxton held onto the ball too long on several occasions. He has to learn to get rid of the ball intelligently, whether it is throwing it away or finding a route late and getting the ball to his receiver. He must also grow to understand that while fighting for every last yard is admirable, he has to get down or get out of bounds to avoid excessive hits. He is the perfect conductor for this offense and in order for it to run on all cylinders he must be the guy taking the snaps and delivering the ball in order for Ohio State to win a national title.

With a further understanding of the offensive and defensive schemes, along with a new found commitment and opportunity presented to these five guys, the Buckeyes could see themselves lifting a crystal ball in Pasadena.

Photos by HoneyChild Photography (used with permission)