Ohio State Buckeyes: Eli Apple
Illinois: The secondary returns mostly intact from 2013, as Illinois returns starters at both cornerback spots (V'Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence), as well as Zane Petty, who started the final seven games at free safety. Taylor Barton, who opened last season as a starting free safety, also is back. Building safety depth is important this spring as Illinois must replace Earnest Thomas III. Barton will compete with Jevaris Little and others for playing time. The depth is much better at corner as Darius Mosely and Jaylen Dunlap both saw significant action as freshmen last fall.
Indiana: Like Illinois, Indiana returns a lot in the defensive backfield but must improve after struggling to stop opponents in 2013. The Hoosiers also lose only one starter in safety Greg Heban, a mainstay during the past four seasons. There's a lot of experience at cornerback with returning starters Tim Bennett (senior) and Michael Hunter (junior), along with reserve Kenny Mullen (senior). Decorated recruit Rashard Fant, who redshirted in 2013, will compete for significant playing time. Senior safety Mark Murphy will lead the secondary, and sophomore Antonio Allen could fill the other safety spot when he returns from an ACL tear. Building depth here always is a priority at IU.
Iowa: The situation isn't as dramatic as the linebacker spot, but Iowa still must replace two productive players in cornerback B.J. Lowery and safety Tanner Miller, who combined for six interceptions in 2013. Lowery is the more significant loss, as he had 19 passes defended and three forced fumbles. The good news is Desmond King looks like a budding star and he will move into the featured role Lowery occupied. Jordan Lomax, Sean Draper and others will compete to start opposite King. Strong safety John Lowdermilk returns after a solid junior season. Lomax also could play free safety and will compete there with Anthony Gair and Nico Law, who both appeared in all 13 games last fall as reserves.
Maryland: The back four aims for better results on the injury front and on the field in 2013. Maryland returns both starters at safety in Sean Davis, the team's leading tackler with 102 last fall, and Anthony Nixon, but there should be competition behind them with A.J. Hendy and Zach Dancel. The cornerback position is worth watching this spring as Dexter McDougle departs and Jeremiah Johnson remains limited by a toe injury. Will Likely has opened the spring as a starter, and Alvin Hill could rise up after recording 24 tackles last season.
Michigan: The secondary took a step back in 2013 and all jobs are open even though Michigan returns two veteran cornerbacks -- Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor -- and some experience at safety. Jabrill Peppers, the nation's No. 2 overall recruit according to ESPN Recruiting Nation, will play a major role for the Wolverines this fall, whether it's at corner, safety or nickel. Junior Jarrod Wilson started the first seven games of last season at free safety, and Dymonte Thomas is a good candidate to start at one of the safety spots. Michigan should expect more from this group in 2014.
Michigan State: Will opposing offenses invade the No Fly Zone in 2014? Not if Michigan State can fill several spots, none bigger than Darqueze Dennard's at cornerback. Dennard, a unanimous All-American and the Jim Thorpe Award winner, departs to the NFL, and junior Trae Waynes slides into the featured corner role after a promising sophomore season. The competition opposite Waynes heats up this spring as Ezra Robinson, Darian Hicks, Jermaine Edmondson and Arjen Colquhoun compete. Free safety Kurtis Drummond boasts 21 career starts and enters 2014 as one of the league's top safeties. RJ Williamson likely will fill Isaiah Lewis' spot at strong safety, and Demetrious Cox provides depth.
Minnesota: Like the Gophers' defensive line, the secondary loses a huge piece in Brock Vereen, who played both safety and cornerback last season. But there might be enough returning pieces to fill the void. Cornerback Eric Murray had a very solid first season as a starter, and Minnesota also brings back Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, both of whom have starting experience. Leading tackler Cedric Thompson and Antonio Johnson finished last season as the starting safeties, and both are back. Senior Grayson Levine provides some experience in a reserve safety role.
Nebraska: An important spring awaits new defensive backs coach Charlton Warren, who must identify new starters at cornerback, safety and nickel. The Huskers are replacing Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who combined for eight interceptions, 18 passes defended and 15 tackles for loss in 2013. Safety Andrew Green, who made 10 starts in 2013, also leaves. The good news is cornerback Josh Mitchell had an excellent bowl game and will fill a starting spot. Leading tackler Corey Cooper also returns at safety. There's not much experience at corner other than Mitchell, and Daniel Davie, Auburn transfer Jonathan Rose and others will compete. Nebraska brings back more at safety with Harvey Jackson, who made three starts in 2013, and junior Charles Jackson.
Northwestern: That the Wildcats' secondary could be one of the team's biggest strengths seemed laughable three years ago, but it could be true this fall. All four starters return, led by safety Ibraheim Campbell, one of the Big Ten's most productive defenders (262 career tackles). The depth at cornerback looks strong as starters Nick VanHoose and Matt Harris return, along with Dwight White and Daniel Jones, who opened 2013 as a starter and is coming back from an ACL tear. Traveon Henry should start alongside Campbell, and there are some promising young safeties like Godwin Igwebuike.
Ohio State: Pass defense proved to be Ohio State's downfall in 2013, and the Buckeyes' secondary will be under the microscope this spring as new assistant Chris Ash steps in. Ohio State loses All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby and will lean more on Doran Grant, who started opposite Roby in 2013. Ash also expects big things from Tyvis Powell, who will start at one of the safety spots. Safety Vonn Bell finally logged significant playing time in the Orange Bowl and could become a permanent starter as a sophomore. Veteran Ron Tanner and Cam Burrows also are in the mix at safety. There should be good competition to start opposite Grant, as Armani Reeves tries to hold off redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple.
Penn State: After a season of moving parts and inconsistent plays, Penn State hopes for a more settled secondary. Adrian Amos, who alternated between cornerback and safety last season, will lead the group and brings plenty of experience. Jordan Lucas likely will start opposite Amos at cornerback after making strides toward the end of his sophomore season. PSU loses some leadership at safety with Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong departing and will lean on Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle, both of whom have starting experience. Converted wideouts Trevor Williams and Malik Golden provide depth at cornerback and safety, respectively.
Purdue: The rotation from 2013 returns almost completely intact, but Purdue loses a very big piece in cornerback Ricardo Allen, a four-year starter. Cornerback Frankie Williams enters his third year as a starter and will slide into Allen's featured role, while the competition for the other top corner spot will feature Antoine Lewis and Leroy Clark, among others. Purdue has plenty of experience at safety with Taylor Richards, who started every game in 2013, and Anthony Brown, who replaced the injured Landon Feichter and had 69 tackles. Feichter also is back from a broken leg.
Rutgers: This group is anxious to turn the page after a season filled with personnel issues and poor performance (Rutgers finished 120th nationally in pass defense). Senior safety Lorenzo Waters leads the group after recording 62 tackles and two forced fumbles in 2013. Johnathan Aiken will try to start opposite Waters at free safety, although he'll be pushed by Delon Stephenson and Tejay Johnson, who started three games last fall. Gareef Glashen started six games last season and seems likely to retain one of the top cornerback spots. There will be competition at the other between Anthony Cioffi and Nadir Barnwell, both of whom started games as true freshmen in 2013. The most intriguing player to watch is cornerback Ian Thomas, who returns to the team after quitting midway through last season, one that he began as a starter.
Wisconsin: The Badgers are relatively young at both secondary positions but boast far more experience at cornerback than safety. Junior Darius Hillary and sophomore Sojourn Shelton started all 13 games at cornerback last season. Peniel Jean adds even more experience at the position. Safety is much less settled as Dezmen Southward graduates, Michael Caputo shifts to linebacker and Tanner McEvoy returns to quarterback. Nate Hammon and Leo Musso both played in all 13 games last fall as reserves. Newcomers like Serge Trezy and Austin Hudson could compete for time when they arrive this summer.
There's less than a week left on that wait for spring practice, and given the disappointing end to the 2013 season and the rigorous offseason conditioning program the Buckeyes have been going through, that time surely can't fly by quickly enough for the players. We've already looked at players facing critical springs and key position battles, and to count down these final few days before camp opens, we'll make a handful of predictions for what should happen in March and April as Ohio State reloads for another run at a title in the fall.
No unit will be under closer inspection this spring than the secondary with a new coach, three new starters and huge task in front of it after the Buckeyes struggled so mightily to stop the pass last season.
But all those fresh faces and all that room to grow also allows for the defensive backs to make the biggest impression in the spring, and the Buckeyes are in position to turn a few heads and get back to the level the program is accustomed to defensively by the fall.
With Bradley Roby off to the NFL a year early, Christian Bryant's appeals for a medical redshirt denied and C.J. Barnett out of eligibility, there are critical holes to fill. Few teams in the nation, though, can match the talent the Buckeyes have acquired in the secondary in the last couple recruiting cycles, and all that work is poised to pay off as the youngsters move into the starting lineup.
Tyvis Powell already did that as a redshirt freshman last fall, and he proved he can be counted on after spending his first season as a regular playing in nickel and dime packages before starting at safety in the Discover Orange Bowl. He was joined on the back line in that game by heralded recruit Vonn Bell, who flashed the athleticism that made him one of the nation's most sought-after recruits last year with a leaping, one-handed interception that restarted the hype for his sophomore campaign.
At cornerback, Doran Grant played better and more reliably than perhaps he received credit for, and there will be a spirited battle to land the job on the other side of the formation during camp. Armani Reeves might have the inside track when practice opens given his experience, but Gareon Conley and Eli Apple will be legitimate threats after watching from the sideline during their first seasons on campus.
And all of those guys will be getting watched by a fresh set of eyes with new secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash taking over and implementing his more aggressive approach to shutting down passing attacks. He might be getting monitored just as closely as the players as Urban Meyer takes a more hands-on approach to getting his defense fixed and ready to contend for at least a Big Ten title.
That job probably won't be done by the time the spring game rolls around in April. But it seems like a safe bet the Buckeyes will be able to see plenty of progress by then, regardless of how much further they might still have to go.
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.
- 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.
Few programs or coaches have had as much success landing blue-chip athletes as the Buckeyes and Urban Meyer, and while attracting the most coveted recruits in the nation helps make for big parties on national signing day, it's worth remembering that few of those players are going to make a significant splash during the first year on campus.
Even last year's heralded group of signees, despite joining a roster with noticeable deficiencies at some key positions, wasn't quite able to contribute nearly as much right away as might have been expected when the Class of 2013 was finally signed, sealed and ultimately delivered.
Maybe this year's class will be different for the Buckeyes. But that answer won't be known for months, so before the faxes arrive and that speculation begins, let's take a look back at the true freshmen who did leave a mark for Ohio State last season, in order of their on-field impact.
- By the numbers: 44 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and a fumble recovery
- Recruiting ranking: Four stars, No. 7 defensive tackle
- Freshman impact: There was never any question about Bosa's athleticism, but heading into training camp, he was rarely mentioned as a potential game-changer right away for the Buckeyes on defense. But after initially being overlooked by flashier players at skill positions, Bosa blossomed into one of the most terrifying young pass rushers in the country, quickly moving into Ohio State's starting lineup and ensuring that the spotlight won't miss him again moving forward.
- By the numbers: 31 carries for 250 yards and a touchdown; 22 receptions for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns
- Recruiting ranking: Four stars, No. 5 athlete
- Freshman impact: Wilson certainly did some damage with the football in his hands, and his speed lived up to its advance billing when he was able to find some open field. But he might have been at his most dangerous merely serving as a decoy late in the season, as opposing defenses stayed on high alert any time Wilson was on the field, opening up play-action passes deep down the field or huge running lanes between the tackles that the Buckeyes were more than willing to exploit. Moving forward, Wilson is set to see far more touches in the hybrid role Meyer envisions.
- By the numbers: 49 punts for an average of 44 yards per attempt, 31 downed inside the 20-yard line
- Recruiting ranking: None
- Freshman impact: One of the most valued contributors of the 2013 class didn't even join it on signing day a year ago, with the Buckeyes working overtime to find a punter. They also had to expand their search to another continent. But by summer, they had their man in Johnston, and the Australian exploded on the scene thanks to his powerful leg, incredible hang time and a knack for pinning opponents deep in their own territory. That a punter would qualify as one of the top contributors right away would have been a major surprise at this time a year ago, but it also speaks to the amount of talent the Buckeyes held in reserve with redshirts -- starting with guys like linebacker Mike Mitchell, wide receiver Jalin Marshall and cornerbacks Eli Apple and Gareon Conley.
As the Buckeyes turn the page to Year 3 under Meyer, they'll certainly be looking to top that victory total, clinch a spot in the first edition of the playoffs and again compete for a national title. To do so, all three phases will have issues to address, and the checklist today tackles the defense.
Chart a course: Meyer promised an all-inclusive look at what plagued his defense at the end of the season, and first tweaks were already made when he switched out some personnel in the secondary to try to find an answer for both the Discover Orange Bowl and the future. But it will be the next two areas that figure to be more critical moving forward, and they'll likely go hand in hand as Ohio State tries to establish a schematic identity and looks to hire somebody to replace former co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers. The Buckeyes didn't have much depth to speak of and injuries perhaps limited what they could do at times, but often they looked torn between playing conservatively against the pass and dialing up pressure with blitzes and bump-and-run coverage.
Reload in the secondary: There might not be a program in the country which can match the roll Ohio State has been on while stockpiling talent in the defensive backfield. But it can't afford to wait any longer for those young guys to contribute as it tries to replace three starters in the secondary, including star cornerback Bradley Roby. There is one holdover in Doran Grant, and Tyvis Powell might qualify as another even though he's headed to a higher-profile gig at safety after spending nearly all of the season at nickelback. Vonn Bell showed what he can bring to the table in the Orange Bowl, and he'll be counted on heavily to live up to his immense potential as a likely starter along with Powell. That would leave what figures to be a heated competition for the other cornerback job, and while Armani Reeves has experience, former elite recruits like Eli Apple and Gareon Conley are going to push him hard.
Replace Shazier: A year ago Ryan Shazier was the only returner in the front seven. Now, his spot is the only one in the starting lineup that needs to be filled. Of those two scenarios, the Buckeyes would almost certainly prefer the latter, though Shazier's production is going to be incredibly difficult to match, as he moves on to the NFL with a year of eligibility left on the table. The lack of depth and experience was more glaring at linebacker than anywhere else for the Buckeyes last season, and in that regard, even losing one starter can present a significant challenge. But Trey Johnson and Mike Mitchell were both meaningful additions in the 2013 class and should be ready for larger roles, Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry can provide stability after solid seasons in the starting lineup and top-shelf commit Raekwon McMillan may be the rare breed of linebacker who can make an impact early. The Buckeyes may still not have an many options on hand at the position as they're used to, but the cupboard is beginning to be restocked.
Previous to-do list: Offense
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.)
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.
- 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.
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.
Armani Reeves will take what he can get and make the most of it, though, even if the circumstances that will lead to the sophomore’s first start when the season opens next week aren’t exactly ideal.
Reeves is certainly aware of how short his stay with the first unit in place of Ohio State’s star junior Bradley Roby might be following the announcement of a one-game suspension tied to Roby's arrest for an incident at a bar last month. But the Buckeyes didn’t waste much time elevating Reeves on the depth chart, either, at least offering a suggestion that he might be leading a talented pack of defensive backs pushing the established starters for playing time.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s on the field or not, I’m just going to do my job and help this team any way I can.”
Roby officially won’t be out there for the opener against Buffalo despite the possibility that a charge which has already been reduced from battery to disorderly conduct could be dismissed entirely. And after the Buckeyes settled on that punishment on Saturday, it only took two days before cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs announced a replacement for him, tabbing Reeves for the honor instead of continuing to let a heated battle for practice reps continue.
Reeves might have inherited a spot in the starting group due to something well out of his control, but he certainly hasn’t been just handed playing time thanks to the deep, talented pool of options Ohio State has on hand in the secondary.
Arguably the most skilled signing class of cornerbacks in the country is on campus with Gareon Conley, Eli Apple and Cam Burrows, and all of them have made an impression with their athleticism and vied for action right away.
Doran Grant has done enough to hang on to the starting job he claimed coming out of spring practice, and he’ll likely be handling Roby’s normal responsibilities at the boundary cornerback spot while he’s gone. But Reeves has had to earn the opportunity he’s going to get against Buffalo, both by breathing down the neck of Grant at times and in separating himself from the highly touted freshmen.
“Incredible offseason, great spring, worked really hard, understands the game, very committed, very focused -- but still has to play,” Coombs said. “Still has to play, so we’ll find out on the 31st, but he’s going to line up and he’s going to play.
“I’m excited to see him play, to be honest with you.”
That audition could be particularly valuable down the road, as Grant might attest after shining in place of Roby when given the chance a year ago when a shoulder injury forced Ohio State’s shutdown defender to miss a game.
Roby came right back to reclaim his spot last season, and he surely will again when his suspension ends. But however briefly a starting role might belong to Reeves, that doesn’t diminish the importance of a chance to showcase his ability.
“This is my first game start, and who wouldn’t be nervous, really?” Reeves said. “But first play, first hit, I’ll be cool. Just have to go play, it’s a great experience and I can’t wait for it.
“I prepared the whole offseason for this -- spring ball, summer workouts -- all for this moment. I just have to take the opportunity and just go with it.”
When it’s over, Reeves just might have to go back to the second unit. But the next wave of cornerbacks appears to be coming, and he can send the warning signal.
After landing ESPN 300 offensive guard Demetrius Knox (Fort Worth, Texas/All Saints Episcopal) on Sunday, the Buckeyes hauled in four-star athlete Malik Hooker (New Castle, Pa./New Castle) on Monday. He is their 16th pledge in 2014 and picked Ohio State over Pittsburgh and Penn State.
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But pretend for a second those laws were relaxed and the Buckeyes and Wolverines each had a need so pressing that the programs at least kicked around some ideas. As part of our ongoing look this week at "The Game," a couple ESPN.com beat writers took a shot to see just what they could get from each other that might spur on a championship run for the current roster. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, here's a look at how a (fictional) deal might have gone down.
Subject: Don’t tell anybody
We probably shouldn’t even be talking, and if word gets out that we even considered making a deal, we might need to consider looking for new jobs. But since the rules against trades in college football magically vanished and we were hired for some reason to become general managers for Ohio State and Michigan, respectively, I think we at least owe it to ourselves to pursue all options. As I’m sure you’re aware, the Buckeyes were hit pretty hard by graduation in the front seven after knocking off the Wolverines to cap a perfect season last fall (in case you forgot about the celebration in the ‘Shoe). And recently the program has seen a group of linebackers that was already thin lose a couple more bodies that could have offered some help off the bench this fall. Additionally, while the future looks pretty bright at tackle for Taylor Decker or Chase Farris, right now there is one spot without much experience that tends to stand out when there are four seniors starting elsewhere on the line. So, I don’t know what position is troubling you most as training camp sneaks up on college football, but if there’s a potential swap or two that might help us both out, I am all ears. But you didn’t hear that from me.
Interim Ohio State personnel director
Subject: Too late
Unfortunately for you, I'm mouthy. And I've already started rumors you are trying to trade Braxton Miller for the remnants of Rich Rodriguez's offense. Apologies in advance. Not going to lie, looking over my roster I have concerns at wide receiver, running back and I could use some experience on the interior of the offensive line. Also, while there's some depth at cornerback, wouldn't mind grabbing one or two from you. Oh, and since you're interested in giving up Miller, that would solidify some of the depth issues there. I see you're fishing for a tackle. Sorry, Taylor Lewan is not available. While I like Michael Schofield a lot, he is more available at the right price. So too are some of the linebackers. What interests you on the Michigan squad? I'm willing to listen for anyone except for Lewan and quarterback Devin Gardner.
Fake Michigan personnel director
Subject: Re: BRAXTON
Hey bud, these talks just about ended instantly with any mention of the franchise quarterback being available. Newsflash -- Miller won’t be on the market heading into his senior season either, so get used to trying to defend him. At any rate, Schofield would be an intriguing option for the Buckeyes because he could provide another veteran presence with ample experience in the Big Ten, potentially giving Decker or Farris another year to develop physically before moving into the starting lineup in 2014. After getting a glimpse at what Desmond Morgan could do last fall when he made 11 tackles (in a losing effort) against Ohio State, he might look good in Scarlet and Gray, especially if the spring gave him flexibility to play in the middle. I probably don’t need to mention that Bradley Roby is untouchable in the secondary, but there is no shortage of talent alongside him in the backend. Might want to take a look at the stable of running backs the Buckeyes have in the fold as well -- but feel free to skip over Carlos Hyde.
Subject: No subject
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While official visits are important in landing pledges, summer camps on university campuses are almost as vital in the recruiting scene.
The summer months are a quiet period for coaches, and that means face-to-face contact can only be made on a campus.
Ohio State will have a number of camps, but the big ones on June 9, June 21 and July 26 will likely produce commitments. That is if those three dates pan out like in years past.
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Tom Luginbill, RecruitingNation's senior national recruiting analyst, has identified five names to remember among incoming freshmen who will enroll this summer. Luginbill already singled out Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple as an early enrollee who could make a difference this fall.
Two Big Ten freshmen make Luginbill's new list. Neither needs much of an introduction.
Michigan running back Derrick Green is expected to compete right away for a starting job. Ranked by RecruitingNation as the No. 5 running back (No. 38 overall player) in the 2013 class, Green will be Michigan's best option in the backfield as the Wolverines go back to a more traditional pro-set scheme that will emphasize power running. No Michigan back distinguished himself this spring, and Green likely will face the most competition from Fitzgerald Toussaint, who comes off of leg surgery.
Luginbill also likes the impact potential of Ohio State incoming freshman Dontre Wilson, who could be fill the so-called "Percy position" in Urban Meyer's spread offense in Columbus. Wilson, a speedster from Texas who picked Ohio State ahead of Oregon and Texas, brings playmaking ability to an offense that needs more of it other than star quarterback Braxton Miller. Although Jordan Hall returns to the mix after battling injuries throughout 2012, Wilson could have a significant role in the offensive vision with a strong preseason showing.
What other incoming freshmen (non-early enrollees) could make an impact in the Big Ten this season?
Here are a few:
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: It'll be Hackenberg or junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson starting for the Lions in their season opener against Syracuse. Unless Ferguson creates significant separation in camp, Hackenberg likely will be a factor this season.
Indiana DT Darius Latham: The Hoosiers need help along their defensive line, and could turn to Latham right away. A four-star prospect with good size and athleticism (played basketball in high school), Latham should be part of the mix up front at IU.
Michigan State RB Delton Williams: The Spartans need help in the backfield after no one really emerged this spring, and the coaches moved backup middle linebacker Riley Bullough to offense for help. There's a good chance Michigan State turns to an incoming freshman and Williams, the team's highest-rated recruit in the 2014 class according to RecruitingNation, will have a golden opportunity in camp.
Ohio State S Vonn Bell: Unlike the other freshmen listed here, Bell doesn't play a position where Ohio State has an overly pressing need. But he might be too talented to keep off of the field, especially when the Buckeyes go to their nickel and dime packages.
- Who: The flashes of ability off the bench last season made it clear that Grant, a junior, would at a minimum be sliding into a starting position when spring practice opened. But Ohio State still needed to see something more from Grant to feel truly comfortable with him on the field consistently opposite Bradley Roby at the other cornerback. Truthfully, what the coaching staff really wanted to find out was if Grant was capable of being the top cornerback on the field if, for some reason, Roby wasn't available. And while Roby's nagging shoulder injury was a factor in a lighter workload during camp, the Buckeyes also pulled him out of some situations even when he could compete, just to see how Grant would respond to the pressure of playing at the boundary position in the secondary. After passing the test out there, Grant was able to tighten his grip at the field spot heading into the summer.
- Spring progress: Few players on the Ohio State roster can stop a watch quicker in the 40-yard dash than Grant, and with comparable size to Roby, there aren't many physical concerns about his ability to match up in coverage, either. But extensive study of practice and game tapes by cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs suggested the issue holding Grant back from becoming a regular in the rotation last season was his slow read-and-react times in coverage. The Buckeyes have designed a number of drills that all their defensive backs can do to improve that, but nobody has taken to them quite like Grant -- and the results are showing up on the field.
- Jockeying for position: There will be no shortage of challengers for Grant's spot when the Buckeyes report back to practice in August as one of the most talented signing classes of defensive backs in the country arrives. But the competition was already pretty intense for the Buckeyes in the spring, with Armani Reeves, Tyvis Powell and early enrollees Eli Apple and Cam Burrows all in a group pushing for a role in a deep secondary. Grant has a head start thanks to his game experience and some previous success in limited chances, but maintaining that edge will require more than just showing up.
- He said it: "Our ideal situation is all of those guys play, all of them contribute. I think that’s healthy, and that way if a guy gets dinged or a guy gets tired, you don’t feel like you can’t do this, the sky is falling. My expectation is that there’s good, healthy competition among all of those guys and those young guys coming in are going to push them for playing time." -- Coombs, on adding more depth at cornerback
- Closing number: Grant wasn't able to get his hands on the football as spring practice wrapped up with an exhibition in Cincinnati, but he did chip in four tackles while continuing to handle Roby's role. Roby was held out to rest an injured shoulder.
Vitals: Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) is 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds.
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And that includes Oklahoma, a state Ohio State rarely recruits.
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Braxton Miller, Ohio State Begin Spring Drills
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35