Ohio State Buckeyes: Damon Webb

Top spring position battles: No. 1

February, 21, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nobody is walking into a stress-free environment when Ohio State returns to the practice field this spring as long as national-title aspirations hang in the air and Urban Meyer prowls the sideline.

But the pressure isn't the same for all the Buckeyes since a healthy handful have their names etched at the top of the depth chart and won't be sweating a competition for a starting job -- obviously beginning with a quarterback who has finished in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting two years running. But determining the backup to Braxton Miller is just one of the intriguing positional battles that will be waged in March and April, and after already tackling that topic and three others, the countdown concludes with what figures to be the hottest, most critical competition in camp.

[+] EnlargeArmani Reeves
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsArmani Reeves had 26 tackles and an interception as a sophomore in 2013.
No. 1: Cornerback

  • Predecessor: Bradley Roby (69 tackles, 16 passes defended, three interceptions, two blocked kicks, two touchdowns; declared early for the NFL draft)
  • Candidates: Junior Armani Reeves, redshirt freshmen Eli Apple and Gareon Conley
  • Why to watch: The weakness of the Ohio State defense last season was obviously no secret, and removing the supremely talented Roby from the equation in pass coverage only adds to the degree of difficulty in trying to fix it for co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash. Thanks to a recruiting haul in the secondary during the last two seasons that might be the best in the nation, though, the new assistant coach is inheriting a roster with enough skill and athleticism to make those improvements and turn the Buckeyes back into an aggressive, lockdown defense. Doran Grant didn't receive nearly as much acclaim for his work in coverage last year as Roby, but he left little room to doubt that he's capable of taking over as the top dog at cornerback, leaving at least three guys to fight for the other spot. The battle is only going to become more heated when Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore arrive on campus in the fall, but the Buckeyes definitely won't be short on options during the spring.
  • Pre-camp edge: Grant parlayed some action off the bench two years ago into a springboard to a starting job last spring, and Reeves appears to be in line for the same type of jump after being pressed into a fair amount of action as a sophomore. Reeves finished the season with 26 tackles, eight passes defended, an interception and a forced fumble, and while he didn't quite seem ready for a full-time role yet, he has had a taste of success and what it takes to succeed at this level, which should give him an early advantage over Apple and Conley. Both of those young guys, though, were highly coveted recruits a year ago for a reason, and their athleticism could help them close the gap and make a legitimate push for a starting spot as the Buckeyes try to address their biggest defensive shortcoming from 2013.

Top position classes: DB 

February, 18, 2014
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and SEC)

The top class of defensive backs goes to Alabama, by a landslide. While the Crimson Tide have provided many recruiting firsts in recent years under coach Nick Saban, the 2014 class is the first to have two five-star cornerbacks in the same cycle in the years ESPN has been assigning star rankings. No. 8 overall Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen) and No. 15 Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover) have the size and speed that Saban and his staff made a must in 2014. Add in No. 3 safety and No. 27 overall Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville) and Alabama signed three of the very best at defensive back. Factor in that No. 7 athlete Ronnie Clark (Calera, Ala./Calera) seems destined to begin his career at safety and the Crimson Tide dominate in the secondary despite having missed out on coveted safety target C.J. Hampton (Meridian, Miss./Meridian).

The Crimson Tide had the nation’s best defensive back class; here’s which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:


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Ohio State lost a 40-35 shootout to Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl. The Buckeyes only had two losses on the season, but one prevented them from playing in the national championship game.

There are plenty of players leaving after this season, but Ohio State’s recruiting class will help fill a few holes.

Key losses: OL Jack Mewhort, OL Andrew Norwell, OL Corey Linsley, OL Marcus Hall, RB Carlos Hyde, RB Jordan Hall, WR Philly Brown, DB Corey Brown, DB C.J. Barnett, DB Bradley Roby, K Drew Basil.

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There is no bigger rivalry in the Big Ten than Michigan and Ohio State, two programs with a storied past. Tension and hatred between the schools can be seen and felt on the field, but those bitter feelings also carry over to the recruiting trail.

Both teams recruit similar prospects, so it’s only natural that recruiting battles between the rivals exist. The prospects get to experience what the rivalry is really like off the field during their process.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: With the first edition of this year’s BCS rankings released Sunday, we take a look at how the top five teams in are faring on the college football recruiting trail.


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Best Big Ten recruiters 

October, 15, 2013
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Editor's note: For a look at the national recruiter power rankings based only on Class of 2014 success, click here.

Michigan and Ohio State both sit in the top 10 recruiting rankings this year after each landed top 10 classes in 2013 -- the Buckeyes were third, while the Wolverines were sixth.

That's why it should come as no surprise that the two schools have the top four recruiters in the Big Ten Conference for the Class of 2014 so far.

Here's a look at the top 10 recruiters in the Big Ten and why they deserve such high praise:


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Big Ten class rankings analysis 

October, 9, 2013
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Each Wednesday, ESPN RecruitingNation updates its national class rankings. For an in-depth look at the Big Ten conference, check out our conference rankings:

1. Michigan, 15 commits: The Wolverines are No. 6 in the RecruitingNation class rankings, which includes nine ESPN300 prospects -- among them headliner and No. 2 overall Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic High). Michigan could make a move into the top-5 by winning the race for No. 4 Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge High). Defensive tackle and No. 67 Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mi./Southfield High) is another top target still in play. No. 41 overall John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Polytechnic High) will visit Nov. 29, and is another top target remaining.

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Urban Meyer said Ohio State has to seize momentum when it has it in when it comes to recruiting during a bye week.

Coming off two big wins over then-nationally ranked Wisconsin at home and currently ranked Northwestern on the road certainly doesn’t hurt. Then again, neither does having the nation’s longest winning streak at 18 games.

[+] EnlargeStephen Collier
Tom Hauck for Student SportsLeesburg, Ga., quarterback commit Stephen Collier was drawn to the winning ways of Urban Meyer and Ohio State.
While the computers haven’t taken notice and writers are skeptical of a weak conference and not-too-strong nonconference schedule, the future is buying in and it’s buying in big time.

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With any conference there will always be battles on the recruiting trail within the Big Ten. Coaching changes, different philosophies and geographic location all factor in to who battles who.

Here is a look at the top five Big Ten recruiting rivalries.

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Urban Meyer doesn’t miss an opportunity to impress.


The two-time national champion did it last year when Nebraska played Ohio State in The Horseshoe under the lights and he’s not missing the opportunity this year.

Here’s a look at some of the bigger names scheduled to make the trek to the banks of the Olentangy River for the Buckeyes-Badgers game Saturday evening.

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Who’s the next Johnny Manziel? For that matter, who has an opportunity to start for a Big Ten team? Is there a Heisman Trophy candidate in the mix in this year’s Big Ten recruiting class?

Recruiting writers Brad Bournival and Tom VanHaaren tackle those questions in this week’s version of The List:

Current 2014 QB prospect that could start immediately:

Tom VanHaaren: Most schools either have a returning starter, or younger quarterbacks who will likely be ahead of the 2014 prospects so there likely isn’t anyone.

If I had to pick a few that could see playing time I would say Northwestern commit Clayton Thorson (Wheaton, Ill./Wheaton North), potentially Chris Durkin (Youngstown, Ohio/Ursuline) if Michigan State can’t figure out the offense and maybe Wilton Speight (Richmond, Va./Collegiate) if there is an injury to Devin Gardner.

Brad Bournival: The problem with most of the Big Ten QB signees is that there’s already a big name QB in front of them. Iowa could make a case here with Jay Scheel (La Porte City, Iowa/Union), but the fact it has three signal-callers returning kind of ends that talk. Like VanHaaren, I’m going with Durkin at Michigan State. The Spartans are hardly set at the position and Durkin comes in with the athleticism and arm strength needed to succeed at the next level. If he can shore up his reads, Durkin could be the guy in East Lansing.

Program changing 2014 recruiting class:

VanHaaren: Michigan is filling a lot of holes with its 2014 class and there is a good chance it continues to add to it. The Wolverines have landed nine ESPN 300 commitments and could still add more. The biggest piece, though, is five-star defensive back Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) who is Michigan’s highest-rated prospect since the inception of ESPN’s rankings.

Bournival: Ohio State loses four offensive linemen and is light at linebacker and wide receiver. This class has three linemen already as well as three 'backers, and the Buckeyes are the favorite to land the top-rated 'backer in ESPN 300 standout Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County). Where the Buckeyes shine is at the wide receiver/athlete position as six standouts with 4.5 40-yard dash speed or better make up the class.

Current 2014 prospect with Heisman potential:

VanHaaren: The only Big Ten commit I would feel somewhat comfortable in this category is probably Peppers. Even for him that’s going to be a stretch, but he is the only commit who I think could fall in this category.

Bournival: Like VanHaaren said, this is a tough one as the top-ranked players are Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge), McMillan, Peppers and Damon Webb (Detroit/Cass Tech) coming in. That said, defense isn’t that sexy to Heisman voters. If Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville) picks a Big Ten team and IF he plays offense, he might be the best bet. But that’s a lot of ifs.


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Big Ten recruiting mailbag

September, 6, 2013
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@bwessfootball: How do you see Penn State’s class rounding out? Would you say PSU is now the favorite for Montae Nicholson and Qadree Ollison?

Brad Bournival: The first part of that question is tricky as the Nittany Lions are still in on Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa), Ricky Walker (Hampton, Va./Bethel), Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mount Lebanon), Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) and Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional) but may not be the favorite for any of them. As far as Ollison goes, I fully expect him to be part of the 2014 Penn State class by Monday afternoon. The fact he’s visiting the Nittany Lions just before his announcement bodes well for Penn State. As far as Nicholson goes, the jury is still out on that one. He’s visiting Michigan State this weekend, but Pittsburgh is in his backyard and don’t count out Oregon or Florida State. The safety wants to set official visit dates soon so that could be telling.




[+] EnlargeDarius West
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comCould Michigan State land standout cornerback Darius West?
@Collin_Stauder: Any chance Michigan State grabs Nicholson or Darius West down the stretch?

Tom VanHaaren: That’s a pretty relevant question right now as Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) is visiting Michigan State this weekend and West (Lima, Ohio/Central) just recently took a visit to East Lansing.

I think you could probably even throw defensive back Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) in this question because he recently told me that he would like to get out to Michigan State for a game.

It was believed that Northwestern and Vanderbilt had the best shot with Westphal, but if he makes it out to East Lansing that might be an interesting situation. He was originally going to make a decision before his season, but it looks like he could take a few visits.

As for West, he is still committed to Kentucky and publicly is saying the visit to Michigan State wasn’t a big deal. I don’t think a prospect takes a visit this late in the game if it’s not a big deal. If Kentucky continues to struggle that could be something to watch.

Nicholson has had an interesting recruitment recently with Michigan telling him they aren’t recruiting him anymore. I believe he is open at this point, so this visit could help Michigan State. It’s too early to tell with him, though.




@DukeLukeofJuke: Do you see any dark horse recruits that few are connecting to Ohio State at the moment that could end up in Columbus by national signing day?

Bournival: The names are pretty standard at this point in recruits like Noah Brown (Sparta, N.J./Pope John XXIII), Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.Y./Nassau Community College), Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara), Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), Erick Smith (Cleveland/Glenville) and Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville). If you’re asking me to go out on a limb, maybe someone like Gesicki or Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mount Lebanon) winds up with the Buckeyes. While it’s not much of a stretch, those two aren’t getting a lot of play lately in recent Ohio State news.




@ssullie71: Has Malik McDowell given a timeline when he will make his decision on colleges?

VanHaaren: He is saying going into this weekend that he plans on waiting to make a decision. This has been a hot topic, because I do believe there is a chance he makes a decision sooner than later.

McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) has been somewhat quiet about all this and doesn’t share much, so he could do anything. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him wait things out, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him make a decision soon.

He initially had been saying he was going to wait until the Army All-American game, but I don’t think that will happen anymore.




jbacevice@gmail.com: Damon Webb is the face of the 2014 class for Ohio State. Eric Glover-Williams has that honor in 2015. Put your prognosticator glasses on, who takes that role in 2016?

Bournival: Early signs point to someone with a familiar last name. While there aren’t a ton of offers out there just yet to 2016 stars, I don’t think it will much matter as defensive end Nick Bosa (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas) has all the tools to carry the flag if he picks the Buckeyes down the line.

We all know is brother Joey is already making a name for himself as a freshman at Ohio State, but Nick could be even bigger. St. Thomas Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo has already said he thinks everyone will know all there is about the sophomore by the time he finishes with the Raiders. Buckeyes assistant Mike Vrabel is high on Nick already, but not just because of his play. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound defensive end’s character and maturation at such a young age is what many are talking about.

Baker cooking up something great 

September, 5, 2013
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A year ago, Jerome Baker Jr. (Cleveland/Benedictine) toiled in obscurity.

Now, the 6-foot-1, 202-pound junior can’t move an inch without someone asking about him.

Such is the life of an ESPN Junior 300 standout that has burst onto the scene as a can’t-miss prospect in the 2015 class.


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Eric Glover-WilliamsBrad Bournival/ESPNClass of 2015 commit Eric Glover-Williams is ready to be a leader for Ohio State.


CANTON, Ohio -- Urban Meyer found his Superman.

He's that one person college coaches can look to lead the team. He's someone who exemplifies what their university is about and someone who can pull in players from around the country to make up a dynamic recruiting class.

For Ohio State in 2015, Meyer has chosen Eric Glover-Williams (Canton, Ohio/McKinley), and it isn’t by accident.


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Position preview: Defensive backs

August, 26, 2013
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Breaking down the Ohio State roster with training camp over and the program turning its attention to the opener on Saturday against Buffalo.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Top of the depth chart: Bradley Roby and Doran Grant at cornerback and Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett at safety, with Tyvis Powell at the star position in nickel situations. (Note: Roby will miss the opener because of suspension.)

Tyvis Powell
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteRedshirt freshman Tyvis Powell has earned a spot as the nickel cornerback.
Next in line: Armani Reeves won a heated competition against the next wave of Ohio State cornerbacks during training camp, and he’ll replace Roby in the starting lineup for the opener. Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown will add to the rotation at safety and should see plenty of action in the dime package.

New faces: Arguably the deepest, most talented class of defensive backs in the country signed in February with the Buckeyes, and they could make a mark as early as this fall, given the combination of athleticism and the likelihood coordinator Luke Fickell will be leaning heavily on his nickel and dime personnel. That should open up more potential playing time for cover guys like Gareon Conley, Eli Apple and Cam Burrows, and safety Vonn Bell could emerge quickly as an option at the star spot.

Recruiting trail: The Buckeyes are right back at it again, having already secured a commitment from ESPN 300 cornerback Damon Webb to add to the depth in the secondary. They aren’t done yet, either, but Webb (Detroit/Cass Technical) currently rates as the crown jewel of the class with a ranking of 84 from the RecruitingNation experts.

Flexibility: Roby is locked in at the premier spot at cornerback, and he’s not going anywhere once he returns from suspension if he stays healthy. Grant had a productive spring and has earned his starting spot, but he’ll face challenges from Reeves and the freshmen to stay there. That’s one spot in the secondary that bears monitoring and could potentially see a change, as there certainly shouldn't be any openings at safety as productive, veteran seniors man both spots.

Notable numbers:

  • A season after leading the nation in passes defended and tying the school record for pass breakups with 17, Roby doesn’t have all that much to prove in what seems likely to be his last season with the Buckeyes before declaring early for the NFL draft. But he did only manage a pair of interceptions a year ago, both coming in the easy victory over Nebraska, and that’s one area of his game where there’s still plenty of room to grow.
  • Perhaps overshadowed by Roby and linebacker Ryan Shazier statistically, Bryant has somewhat quietly put together an impressive all-around resume that shows how valuable he has been to the defense as a whole. Heading into his senior campaign, Bryant ranks second among active Buckeyes in tackles, passes broken up and forced fumbles while bringing a consistent, physical presence to the lineup in 22 starts.
Big question: Is there such a thing as too much reliance on defensive backs?

Since spring, the answer has pretty clearly been a resounding “no” for the Buckeyes. Part of the reason for the heavy workload of the nickel and dime personnel is certainly the lack of depth at linebacker, but the amount of experienced talent returning in the secondary and the expanding influence of spread offenses have combined to make for an easy decision for Ohio State to roll out five or six defensive backs at a time. As long as players such as Powell, Brown or Bell are able to do work against the run and provide the kind of sure-handed tackling normally required of a linebacker, the Buckeyes will keep sending out defensive backs in waves, leaning on the strength of that unit to lead from the back in the push for a national title.

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In a conversation with ESPN's Antonietta Collins, national recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton breaks down the recruiting momentum building at Auburn and offers predictions for where the top 10 recruits will commit.Tags: Trenton Thompson, Kerryon Johnson, Jeffery Holland, Martez Ivey, Torrance Gibson, Cece Jefferson, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Gerry Hamilton
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