National Signing Day is over for another year. The presents have been unwrapped. Letters have come in and been filed. Now what?
Well rather than haggle over ranking and ratings, why don’t we take a look at where the newest Buckeyes fit on the roster for this and coming seasons?
Two positions jump out: Wide receiver and linebacker. From those two groups it is fair to judge the most immediate impact could come, although head coach Urban Meyer and defensive coordinator Luke Fickell agreed they viewed the whole defense as in need of upgrade or support.
We’ve got to start somewhere, though, so how about linebacker? Ohio State picked up a pair of highly sought players in Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson, both of whom committed just after the start of the new year.
Mitchell is considered the superior physical specimen (6-4, 225), but Fickell praised Johnson’s football acumen. The pair join a group that will be very young this season as only one starter (First-team All-Big Ten selection Ryan Shazier) returns from 2012. Shazier is also the elder statesman of the group, joining fellow junior Curtis Grant as the only linebackers who will be more than two years removed from high school this fall. The rest of the group consists of five sophomores who had little-to-no impact on the defense last season, though several of them are highly rated prospects of whom much was expected when they were in the shoes of Mitchell and Johnson (6-2, 220) one year ago.
Mitchell could prove to be too talented to keep off the field while Johnson’s sense of how to play the game might appeal to Fickell, who wants a middle linebacker who will take charge of things when the bullets are flying on the field. Fickell will have little choice but to put an inexperienced player in the middle, so it’s hard to bet against either frosh earning a spot if he does something to stand out when camp commences in August.
While the linebackers are relatively new, the majority of the star-studded defensive line class was in place for most of this recruiting cycle. It started with Billy Price of Austintown (Ohio) Fitch right after Signing Day 2012 and continued in the spring with commitments from ends Tracy Sprinkle of Elyria, Ohio, and Joey Bosa of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas. Tackle Michael Hill committed in June with end Tyquan Lewis jumping in late in September. The class closed with tackle Donovan Munger in December.
The freshmen frontmen will find all four starting spots open (something that has not happened at Ohio State since the move to a 4-3 defense in the early 1990s), but there figures to be heavy competition at all of them thanks to the presence of last season’s highly touted defensive line class.
Lewis (6-3, 223) and Sprinkle (6-2, 241) might have the best shot to make an early impact as they are the only linemen to enroll early. They join a group of “Leo” rush ends headed up by sophomore Noah Spence, who flashed star potential last season in spot duty.
At tackle, Ohio State does not lack space-eaters to play on the nose, but line coach Mike Vrabel figures to be on the lookout for an athletic option to put at the 3-technique following Johnathan Hankins’ decision to skip his last year of eligibility. That could be where Price or Hill (both of whom go 305 pounds) could find a spot pending where Adolphus Washington lines up (inside or out) for his sophomore season.
There is a glut of players for the other end position, where Bosa figures to end up eventually unless he is done growing now at 6-5, 270. Washington could also line up there, but Michael Bennett and Se’Vonn Pittman provide two more intriguing options there after both had their 2012 seasons marred by injury.
As for the secondary, only one spot is open for 2013 but lots of playing time figures to be around the corner in 2014. Starting safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett as well as top reserve Corey Brown are all seniors with only sophomores Ron Tanner and Devan Bogard behind them. That means five-star Vonn Bell as well as four-stars Jayme Thompson and Darron Lee could be in the mix in year two and will want to spend the upcoming season positioning themselves for a run at the starting lineup.
Cornerback does have an open spot, though that is likely to be filled by Doran Grant, a highly touted recruit who had an up-and-down sophomore season in 2012. Four-star prospects Cam Burrows and Eli Apple enrolled in January and will take part in spring practice, where they can expect to fight for a spot in the two-deep if not Grant for a starting role. Four-star prospect Gareon Conley, a former Michigan commit, could join the mix in preseason camp if he is not playing wide receiver.
Then there is the ever-popular Star position, a hybrid linebacker/safety that replaces the Sam linebacker in the nickel defense Ohio State has run for more than a decade.
There figures to be an open competition here with Orhian Johnson, the only player who filled the role even somewhat capably last season, having used up all his eligibility. Lee and three-star linebacker Christopher Worley both bring the body type to play there. Perhaps they have the intangibles, too. The coaches loved the competitiveness Lee showed at a pair of camps last season, and Worley has been compared to fellow Cleveland Glenville alumnus Jermale Hines, a heady player who spent two years at the Star position.
Bryant has experience at Star, leaving open the possibility of a move there if Brown or one of the young safeties shows well this summer.
We’ll take a look at those incoming wide receivers and the rest of the freshmen on offense in our next post.