Ohio State Buckeyes: mike mitchell

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Just as soon as Ohio State took a big step forward in replenishing its depth at linebacker, it once again appears to have followed it up with one in the opposite direction.

The school confirmed on Monday that former four-star and ESPN 300 recruit Mike Mitchell is no longer practicing with the team and won't participate in the camp that opens Tuesday, another blow to the depth at the thinnest position on the roster. ElevenWarriors.com, citing sources, reported previously that Mitchell is planning to transfer at the end of the spring semester to be closer to his family and ailing father.

His departure would put more pressure on a group of four new recruits and two returning starters for a unit that has clearly not lived up to coach Urban Meyer’s expectations over the last two years and has been plagued by attrition.

The news release from the program doesn't address his future plans, but Mitchell’s departure would make him the fifth linebacker to leave the program with eligibility remaining since the end of the 2012 season, ramping up pressure on the incoming freshmen and rising sophomore Trey Johnson to fill the void left by all those missing bodies.

“The emphasis is on linebacker,” Meyer said last month. “There have been far too many mistakes in either lack of development or whatever, and it’s just not where we need to be.”

Mitchell was supposed to help address that when he chose to leave his home state of Texas last year and join the Buckeyes, but he ended up redshirting last season despite the lack of many options at the position.

The need to find more contributors in the middle of the defense only increased when star outside linebacker Ryan Shazier elected to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. And while veterans Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant will return for the Buckeyes, at a minimum they’ll need to identify one new starter and could wind up counting on the newcomers to fill out the two-deep given the accumulating losses concentrated at linebacker.

Mitchell would join David Perkins, Luke Roberts and Conner Crowell (injury) as potential candidates for playing time who have left the program since the end of the 2012 campaign, stretching Ohio State thin and contributing to the uneven play of a defense that struggled at the end of last season during consecutive losses to Michigan State and Clemson.

“There’s four linebackers that have been recruited, Raekwon McMillan, Sam Hubbard, Kyle Berger and Dante Booker, four guys I’m putting pressure on,” Meyer said. “[Co-defensive coordinator Luke] Fickell and myself have to get them ready for next year. They have to play for us, in addition to the players we have on our roster already.

“So just so everybody knows, there’s no redshirt plans for those players at all. We thought about that during the recruiting process.”

It’s now more clear than ever that Ohio State won’t have much time to wait for those young guys to develop.

B1G's top impact true freshmen

February, 13, 2014
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The Big Ten's 2014 recruiting classes are signed and sealed -- for the most part, at least. The next question many of you ask is which incoming freshmen or junior-college players will make the biggest immediate impact for the 2014 season.

It's always a bit tricky projecting which recruits will make a big splash right away, as some will fall in line behind veteran players while others might be forced into big roles because of depth issues. Talent certainly plays a role on who sees the field the earliest, and so does need.

Here are five players (in alphabetical order) who I expect to see early and often in 2014. Note: Malik McDowell would have made the list, but the possibility (albeit slim) that he signs with Florida State prevents it.

Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State: The Lions have a dynamic quarterback in Christian Hackenberg, but wide receiver suddenly is a major need after Allen Robinson, the two-time Big Ten wide receiver of the year, entered the NFL draft. Robinson recorded 97 receptions last season, and no other Lions player had more than 28. The good news is Penn State loaded up at receiver in the 2014 class, and Godwin should be in the mix for major playing time right away. The 6-foot-2, 203-pound Godwin has a physical style that should help him transition to the college game.

[+] EnlargeJeff Jones
Tom Hauck/ESPNESPN 300 running back Jeff Jones has the potential to be an immediate contributor at Minnesota.
Jeff Jones, RB, Minnesota: The Gophers return a 1,200-yard rusher in David Cobb, so the need for Jones might not be overly pressing. But Jones' surge both during his senior season and afterward, when he claimed MVP honors at the Under Armour All-America Game, boost his chances of making a splash right away. Minnesota established itself as a run-first team in 2013, and the uncertainty at the quarterback position could push the Gophers even more toward the ground game this fall. The 6-foot, 198-pound Jones is the most decorated recruit of the Jerry Kill era and provides a spark to an offense that needs more dynamic components.

Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State: Here's a case of a supremely talented player -- ESPN RecruitingNation rates McMillan as the nation's top linebacker and No. 13 overall player -- who plays a position of extreme need. Ohio State has had depth issues at linebacker throughout Urban Meyer's tenure and loses All-American Ryan Shazier, who led the team in tackles (143), tackles for loss (22.5) and forced fumbles (4) last season. The departure of Mike Mitchell, a top linebacker recruit in the 2013 class, underscores the need for capable 'backers. The 6-2, 249-pound McMillan looks the part and should be able to help right away as a between-the-tackles run defender.

Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan: Brady Hoke has brought in other decorated recruits at Michigan, but Peppers has that can't-miss, no-doubt quality about him. Michigan will get this guy on the field right away, if not as a full-time starter in the secondary then on special teams, where he could be an explosive returner. The 6-1, 205-pound Peppers also could moonlight on offense after rushing for 43 touchdowns during his prep career. The nation's No. 2 overall recruit, according to ESPN RecruitingNation, Peppers brings the skills and playmaking ability to boost a defense took a step backward against the pass in 2013.

Jihad Ward, DT, Illinois: There's no secret why Illinois brought in five junior-college players in the 2014 class, as the upcoming season is pivotal for coach Tim Beckman. Repairing the nation's 110th-ranked defense is the top priority, and Ward should be able to help up front. The 6-6, 285-pound Ward is a big body in the middle who recorded 10 sacks in his junior college career. There are ample opportunities along the line after Illinois struggled so much against the run (116th nationally), and the Illini need Ward and the other jucos to be as good as advertised.

We'll have five more potential instant-impact players later today.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The next wave of talent is coming, set to unleash all the hype and speculation about which signees are going to instantly transform Ohio State before the signatures are even dry on the letters of intent.

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.

[+] EnlargeJoey Bosa
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDE Joey Bosa might have been overlooked heading into the season, but by the end of it there was no denying how big of an impact he had.
1. DE Joey Bosa

  • 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.
2. RB/WR Dontre Wilson

  • 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.
3. P Cameron Johnston

  • 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.
In the coming days, I'll take a closer look at whether the Big Ten would benefit from having prospects take official visits earlier, such as at the end of their junior years in high school. It's an idea Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo has championed, and one that makes since because of the accelerated recruiting cycle and the far-flung locations of some Big Ten schools.

Some Big Ten teams might not benefit from earlier official visits. They have no trouble getting recruits to campus and piling up early commits. Others must play the waiting game and make strong pushes before national signing day. Coaching changes can make an impact when teams get verbal commits, as Penn State has learned in recent weeks. Recruits also have been more likely to flip pledges leading up to signing day, forcing some teams to scramble to fill spots.

We're a day away from the big day, and while there are a few key undecided recruits who will make their choices Wednesday, most of the hay is in the barn, so to speak.

When did Big Ten teams get their 2014 recruits to verbally commit? Here's a closer look (as of Monday night):

ILLINOIS

Total commits: 18 (four already have signed)

March-May 2013: 4
June-July: 8
August-September: 0
October: 1
November: 0
December: 4
January: 1
February: 0

INDIANA

Total commits: 25 (six have signed)

March-May 2013: 0
June: 5
July: 4
August: 0
September: 1
October: 3
November: 0
December: 2
January: 6
February: 4

IOWA

Total commits: 21

January-April 2013: 2
June: 5
July: 3
August: 2
September: 1
October: 1
November: 2
December: 1
January: 4

MICHIGAN

Total commits: 16 (seven have signed)

August 2012: 1
February 2013: 3
April-May: 7
June: 3
July: 1
August: 1
September-February: 0

MICHIGAN STATE

Total commits: 21 (two have signed)

August 2012: 1
September 2012: 1
April-May 2013: 5
June: 4
July: 1
August: 1
September: 2
October: 0
November: 1
December: 3
January: 1
February: 1

MINNESOTA

Total commits: 19 (two have signed)

February-April 2013: 3
May: 0
June-July: 3
August: 0
September: 1
October: 1
November: 2
December: 1
January: 6
February: 2

NEBRASKA

Total commits: 26 (two have signed)

March 2013: 1
April-May: 0
June: 7
July: 3
August: 1
September: 0
October: 1
November: 2
December: 2
January: 6
February: 3

NORTHWESTERN

Total commits: 16 (one has enrolled)

March-April 2013: 4
May: 5
June: 1
July-November: 0
December: 3
January: 1
February: 2

OHIO STATE

Total commits: 22 (seven have signed)

December 2012: 1
January-February 2013: 3
March-May: 4
June: 5
July: 2
August: 1
September: 1
October-November: 0
December: 2
January: 3
February: 0

PENN STATE

Total commits: 25 (five have enrolled)

October 2012: 1
February-April 2013: 5
May: 2
June-July: 3
August-September: 0
October: 3
November: 1
December: 1
January: 8
February: 1

PURDUE

Total commits: 20 (two have signed)

May 2013: 2
June: 3
July: 1
August-September: 0
October: 1
November: 1
December: 8
January: 3
February: 1

WISCONSIN

Total commits: 27 (four have signed)

April 2012: 1
August 2012: 1
September 2012: 1
May 2013: 2
June-July: 5
August: 0
September: 2
October: 3
November: 5
December: 3
January: 2
February: 2

Notes/comments
  • The James Franklin effect certainly can be seen in Penn State's class, as all nine recruits who committed in January or February did so after Franklin's hiring on Jan. 11. Franklin flipped several prospects from his former team, Vanderbilt, and also brought in some surprises during a furious push down the stretch.
  • Early recruiting has been a hallmark for Brady Hoke at Michigan, and it's no surprise to see the Wolverines basically done with their 2014 class before the season. Michigan had 21 of its 27 recruits in the 2013 class verbally commit before the 2012 season.
  • Iowa's commit pattern was the steadiest in the league, as the Hawkeyes received at least one pledge every month between June 2013 and January 2014.
  • Nebraska has accelerated its recruiting pace in each of the last two years. The Huskers had just five verbal commits before the season in the 2012 class but doubled that total in the 2013 class and have 12 in the 2014 crop. Nebraska is one of the Big Ten schools that seemingly could benefit from earlier official visits because of its location in relation to recruiting hotbeds.
  • Gary Andersen's first full recruiting class at Wisconsin is a huge one, and Andersen and his staff did much of their work both during and after the 2013 season. Seventeen of Wisconsin's 27 pledges came after the games began.
  • Northwestern stockpiled commits early on and would have been done in mid-December after Parrker Westphal's pledge, but two prospects (Noah Westerfield and Jordan Thomas) decommited last month, forcing the Wildcats to make some late additions.
  • Ohio State's recruiting is following a somewhat familiar pattern under Urban Meyer: strong winter and spring, a few summer pickups, relatively quiet during the season and then a nice push from mid-December to early January. The Buckeyes have landed some of their best prospects late in the process, from 2013 recruits Mike Mitchell and Vonn Bell to 2014 standout Raekwon McMillan.
  • Purdue and Minnesota tend to add the bulk of their commits later in the process. The Boilers added 12 commits in the 2013 class following Darrell Hazell's hiring in early December, and 12 of their 20 commits in this year's class came after Dec. 1. Minnesota picked up nine of its 19 commits in the current class after Dec. 1 -- a similar ratio as it had in the 2013 class.

A record number of underclassmen elected to take the NFL plunge this year, but the Big Ten barely made a splash. Only four Big Ten juniors are entering the draft, continuing a recent downturn after just six left early a year ago. Several stars certainly could have entered the draft, so this is good news for fans who enjoy seeing the league's top players stay for a fourth year. But it also underscores a lack of top talent, especially when compared to the SEC and Pac-12.

Despite a small contingent of early entries, Big Ten teams have some significant holes to fill. As spring ball approaches, here's a look at who's gone and who might replace them.

Leaving: Indiana WR Cody Latimer

[+] EnlargeShane Wynn
AJ Mast/Icon SMIShane Wynn averaged 13.8 ypc this season and scored 11 TDs. His stock and those numbers should soar higher as he takes on a bigger role next season.
The replacement: Shane Wynn

Wynn and Latimer obviously have different body frames, but both produce at a high level, particularly when it comes to touchdowns. Latimer led Indiana by wide margins in both receptions (72, next highest: 47) and receiving yards (1,096, next highest total: 739), but Wynn had more touchdowns with 11 (Latimer at nine). The departures of Latimer, Kofi Hughes and tight end Ted Bolser make Wynn the team's only returning receiver with more than 15 receptions in 2013.

Indiana certainly could use a bigger receiver to play on the outside where Latimer roamed, and perhaps Nick Stoner or incoming recruit Dominique Booth fills that role. But the Hoosiers undoubtedly will rely more on Wynn, a 5-foot-7 dynamo who averaged 13.8 yards per reception last season. Of the Big Ten's early entries, Latimer is the most surprising, given the strength in the draft at wide receiver, but Indiana has had little trouble developing strong pass-catchers.

Leaving: Penn State WR Allen Robinson

The replacement: Geno Lewis

Latimer's departure raised a few eyebrows, but Robinson's had been expected for some time, especially after coach Bill O'Brien left Penn State for the NFL's Houston Texans. Robinson earned the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year award in both 2012 and 2013 after recording back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to lead the league each year. The Penn State standout had 97 catches for 1,432 yards last season, topping the Big Ten charts in both categories despite not playing in the postseason.

Lewis likely will move into the No. 1 spot, in part because Penn State doesn't much experience at receiver. In addition to Robinson, the Lions lose No. 2 wideout Brandon Felder. Although Penn State returns a wealth of talent at tight end, Lewis is the leading returning wide receiver with 18 catches for 234 yards and three touchdowns in 2013. Lewis showed potential during his redshirt freshman season, especially with a 91-yard performance in the finale at Wisconsin. After struggling midway through the fall, Lewis' strong finish sets him up well to be quarterback Christian Hackenberg's top option in 2014.

Leaving: Ohio State CB Bradley Roby

The replacement: Doran Grant. Grant played opposite Roby throughout last season and recorded 58 tackles, 3 interceptions, 10 pass breakups, a forced fumble and a blocked kick. He endured some ups and downs in a secondary that struggled for much of the season, especially after losing safety Christian Bryant to injury, but the experience should prove valuable going forward. Not surprisingly, Grant was challenged more than Roby, but as these numbers show, he held his own despite some mistakes here and there.

Roby's early departure is the least surprising of the group, as he announced before the season that it would be his last at Ohio State. His presence will be missed, especially on special teams, but Grant could develop into a top corner. Ohio State certainly has bigger problems to address in the back four as it welcomes in new coordinator/secondary coach Chris Ash from Arkansas.

Leaving: Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier

The replacement: Trey Johnson. Ohio State returns starters at the other two linebacker spots in Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry, and it's possible Perry could slide over into the role where Shazier excelled. But Johnson served as Shazier's backup in 2013 and boasts the athleticism to step in and perform. Johnson played sparingly last fall, recording 11 tackles in six games, but his role undoubtedly will expand with Shazier moving onto the NFL.

There should be plenty of competition at linebacker, a spot where depth has been a concern for head coach Urban Meyer. Like Johnson, Mike Mitchell came to Ohio State as an extremely decorated recruit and should push for playing time this spring after a redshirt season. Camren Williams and converted safety Devan Bogard also are possibilities, although Bogard will be coming off of a second ACL tear.

OSU offseason to-do list: Defense

January, 9, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Another 12-win season is in the books, though the second one under Urban Meyer did come with a pair of losses at the end that took a bit of the shine for Ohio State.

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.

[+] EnlargeBradley Roby
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesBradley Roby is one of three starters Ohio State will need to replace in its secondary in 2014.
Meyer has made his preference quite well known, and how he handles the vacancy on his staff and how much responsibility that new hire is given could go a long way in ensuring that he gets what he wants.

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

Building blocks: Three Bucks to watch

December, 26, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The top priority hasn't changed one bit, even if the stakes aren't quite the same.

Ohio State is trying to win the Discover Orange Bowl, and Urban Meyer has made it well known he won't be changing his approach to postseason practices just because there's not a crystal football on the line when his seventh-ranked team takes the field.

But bowl practices are valuable for far more than just getting ready for one final outing. And with some extra time to develop young talent, Ohio State is also building for the future at the same time it's sizing up No. 12 Clemson. As the Buckeyes prepare to turn the page to 2014, these three guys might benefit the most from the bonus workouts and could use them to springboard into critical roles for the next pursuit of a national title.

SAF Vonn Bell: Landing the signature of this prized recruit at the end of the last recruiting cycle was the final flourish on another productive class for Meyer, and well before he stepped foot on campus there was hope Bell could contribute in at least the nickel or dime packages. That didn't quite pan out during the regular season, though he was a contributor on special teams and was still doing enough on the practice field to keep the optimism high about his potential. Given some of Ohio State's issues defending the pass while recovering from the loss of Christian Bryant in September, it's a bit of a surprise Bell hasn't been able to crack the rotation late in the year. But he's had more time to get comfortable now, and he might be seeing plenty of action as early as Jan. 3.

WR Jalin Marshall: Initially the conversations about the expansion of the hybrid, H-back position in the Ohio State offense weren't about just one newcomer filling the role. Dontre Wilson was usually the first name mentioned, and he made the most of his touches during his debut season as both a rusher and receiver. But Marshall was typically referenced just as quickly by the Ohio State staff, who raved about his athleticism and clearly thought he was every bit as capable of providing an instant jolt to the attack as Wilson would prove to be. Injuries during training camp slowed him down and ultimately forced Marshall to redshirt, but the Buckeyes obviously could have used another weapon at wide receiver this year and will definitely need somebody to help fill the void Philly Brown's graduation will leave next fall.

LB Mike Mitchell: The lack of depth at linebacker was glaring as the season progressed, but Ohio State was patient with another of its prized recruits in the 2013 class, and that should help restock the cupboard moving forward. Mitchell has tested off the charts athletically, and whether or not the starting unit returns intact pending Ryan Shazier's decision about his final season of eligibility, simply having Mitchell in the rotation along with classmate Trey Johnson should be a lift as the Buckeyes look to get back to the elite level they've been accustomed to at the position.

Bowl prep: Ohio State's to-do list

December, 12, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The ultimate goal slipped away along with the longest winning streak in school history, but Ohio State certainly isn't short on motivation with one game left to play.

For starters, the No. 7 Buckeyes are still in the BCS with a marquee matchup against No. 12 Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl. After dropping the Big Ten championship against the best opponent they've faced since Urban Meyer took over the program, taking on the Tigers also represents another opportunity to show off nationally and perhaps earn a bit of redemption. And, obviously, the Buckeyes can potentially start a brand new winning streak if they can knock off Clemson on Jan. 3.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsMichigan State chased down Braxton Miller and Ohio State in a memorable Big Ten championship game.
But there's plenty of time between that date and now, and Ohio State also has no shortage of things to work on during bowl practices this month. After not getting the chance to put on the pads last December, it surely won't be taken the workouts for granted this year -- and they also need them for what could be a shootout with the Tigers.

Shore up the secondary: This issue is nothing new for the Buckeyes, but they need to make a correction now more than ever if they're going to end the season on a high note.

Coverage breakdowns, poor communication and missed opportunities nearly cost Ohio State a perfect regular season as Michigan picked it apart in late November. Michigan State actually finished the job a week later with Connor Cook making it look far too easy to throw for more than 300 yards, a feat which would have been stunning to even consider back in the preseason with all the veteran talent returning in the backend for the Buckeyes.

The loss of Christian Bryant to a fractured ankle in September was a huge blow, and the secondary never seemed to fully recover from it. The Buckeyes certainly appear to have a bright future after landing arguably the nation's best class of cornerbacks and safeties last year, but those newcomers weren't quite ready for regular roles as freshmen and need another offseason of development before they can make a difference.

That won't do much good against the Tigers, though, which puts the pressure on Bryant's replacement at safety, Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown, and the other three starters to raise their games to slow down a team which is more than capable of airing it out and scoring points in bunches.

Brax to basics: Braxton Miller remains one of the most dangerous open-field runners in the country, and his individual rushing numbers have improved late in the season. But that might be out of necessity, because his passing numbers have dipped dramatically after showing off the improvement in his arm during a red-hot stretch in late October and the first week of November.

Since carving up hapless Purdue with 19 completions on just 23 attempts, Miller and the passing attack have struggled to generate anything consistently, and the junior has hit on less than 50 percent of his throws in three of the last four games. The weather can partially be blamed for the recent problems with his accuracy, but the Buckeyes were playing indoors last week against the Spartans when Miller was often missing the target during an 8-for-21 performance.

Miller has shown off his arm strength and accuracy plenty of times, and there's not really any question about what he's capable of leading the offense. But his footwork and decision-making have let him down at times late in the season, and a couple weeks to go back and stress fundamentals could do wonders for him ahead of a showcase game against Clemson.

Eyes on the road: There was no way to truly replace the bowl practices Ohio State missed last year due to the NCAA sanctions that kept it out of the postseason, though it did inspire "The Chase" as Meyer challenged his players to make up for the workouts on their own at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

But the coaching staff couldn't be around to offer instruction then, and the full practices in December are often invaluable for young players who didn't see the field much as they try to springboard into larger roles the following season. Considering both the lack of depth at key positions like linebacker and wide receiver and the need to replace veterans all over the offensive line and in the secondary, the coaching staff will need to make the absolute most out of its chance to get its hands on the players this month.

The Buckeyes, of course, are trying to win a game. But they'll need to bring along five-star safety Vonn Bell to groom him for a much larger role in the secondary next year. They have to find more help for Taylor Decker and likely starter Pat Elflein on the offensive line. And even with the possibility of having all three starters back at linebacker if Ryan Shazier decides to stick around for another season, Ohio State could clearly use some help filling out the rotation from Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson.

The balancing act is making sure the current starters are ready for a bowl game while still prepping their future replacements. But since the Buckeyes couldn't do either a year ago, that challenge is surely going to be readily embraced.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- No matter how much confidence Urban Meyer has expressed in the personnel and his coaching staff, there's obviously still one area that has his attention and perhaps leaves some reason for concern.

Even his only holdover at linebacker isn't so sure of what exactly Ohio State has in the middle of the defense just a few days out from the season opener.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesRyan Shazier is putting a lot of pressure on himself to carry an inexperienced unit.
Ryan Shazier is certainly a sturdy cornerstone to begin a rebuilding project for any defense, and the junior linebacker has had nothing but positive reviews for the two new starters breaking into the lineup with him on Saturday at home against Buffalo. But just like his coach, that doesn't mean there isn't some uncertainty for a unit that will be under intense scrutiny.

"I feel like the biggest concern right now is we have a lot of inexperience in the front seven and a lot of young guys," Shazier said. "So when you’ve got a lot of guys who haven’t played together, it’s kind of a struggle.

"I have to try to get [the linebackers] right. Everything else, I feel like the defensive line is doing a great job, the secondary is doing a great job, I’ve just got to get the linebackers right. We really aren’t right now, but I just have to get everybody ready for this first game."

Shazier isn't going to be held directly responsible for what Curtis Grant does in the middle or Joshua Perry does at strongside linebacker, but he has put the pressure on himself to get them up to speed as a thin group of linebackers tries to get back to the traditionally high standard the Buckeyes hold for the unit.

The depth chart released by the program on Tuesday offered only another reminder of the lack of experience among the Buckeyes expected to contribute this fall. There's a true freshman in Trey Johnson listed behind Shazier. Another true freshman in Mike Mitchell is bracketed with walk-on Joe Burger in support of Grant. And sophomore Camren Williams, who was largely limited to a role on special teams last year, is listed after Perry.

With Shazier the only real known quantity of the bunch, the veteran has at times been overly stressed about setting the tone and leading that group, pressing to do too much on his own and maybe even stressing himself out ahead of the opener. And while Meyer has made it clear that development at linebacker is of critical importance early in the season, lately he has been making sure to deliver another message: Shazier doesn't have to do it all on his own.

"I have seen a guy that was pressing ... and he feels the void of what was there last year," Meyer said. "The last week, he's been Ryan Shazier again, not worrying and just playing. His actions will take care of it. Just lead by example and know when the time is right to be a vocal leader.

"He was certainly feeling pressure about it, and we've had a couple conversations about it."

The Buckeyes should have much more to discuss after the weekend when they finally get some game film to break down. They already know what to expect from an unburdened Shazier, but the guys next to him have something to prove -- both to a veteran teammate and the head coach.
One freak play has Kyle Berger (Cleveland/St. Ignatius) itching to get back on the field this season.

That the chance of that happening is very slim is hard to take for the Ohio State pledge and his high school coach, Chuck Kyle.

Berger confirmed a tear of the ACL in his left knee on Tuesday. Kyle added that it’s one of the toughest things to comprehend for both he and the standout ESPN 300 outside linebacker.


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Position preview: Linebackers

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
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Breaking down the Ohio State roster as training camp winds down and the program turns its attention to the opener on Aug. 31 against Buffalo.

LINEBACKERS

Top of the depth chart: Ryan Shazier on the weak side, Joshua Perry on the strong and Curtis Grant in between them.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesOhio State linebacker Ryan Shazier led the Buckeyes in tackles, tackles for loss and forced fumbles in 2012.
Next in line: There is hardly any depth to speak of on the Ohio State roster at a position that has long been a source of pride for the program, and the numbers are low enough that walk-on Joe Burger could be a valuable part of the rotation. The Buckeyes have high hopes for a pair of freshmen signed in February, and Mike Mitchell has already emerged as a viable second-team option behind Grant. Trey Johnson has been somewhat slowed by injury during training camp, but he should contribute along with sophomore Camren Williams as the Buckeyes try to replace Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino.

New faces: The Buckeyes could have perhaps used more than two linebackers in the last recruiting class, but they did land a couple who have the athleticism and intelligence to lend a hand early in their careers. Mitchell has long been a student of the position and is well versed in the tradition at middle linebacker, and if for some reason the injury bug keeps following around Grant or he struggles in September, he could be on the field quickly. Johnson has been a bit banged up this month, but the Buckeyes will need him to speed through the learning curve to supply some much-needed depth.

Recruiting trail: The 2014 class already includes a pair of outside linebackers, including four-star prospect in Kyle Berger (Cleveland/St. Ignatius). But the real prize would be a pledge from Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), a monster inside linebacker currently ranked No. 14 in the nation among all players in the ESPN 300. Assuming Shazier returns for his senior season, the cupboard might once again start looking full at Ohio State in the heart of the defense.

Flexibility: Until the roster gets back where defensive coordinator Luke Fickell needs it, there’s only so much he can do with his unit. Shazier isn’t likely to leave the field under any circumstance, and the desire, and perhaps, necessity to play more nickel and dime packages, somewhat lessens the number of bodies needed on hand. Perry is expected to be a factor as the second option at linebacker in the nickel, and even with Grant’s injury concerns during camp, he remains the top option in the middle.

Notable numbers:

-- Nobody offered more to the Ohio State defense a year ago than Shazier, even while fighting through a painful sports hernia that required offseason surgery and slowed him down physically during the second half of last season. He still led the team in tackles (115), tackles for a loss (17) and forced fumbles (3), and his 5 sacks are the highest total of any returning defender.

-- Neither Perry or Grant were able to supply much off the bench a year ago, and the two combined for just 13 tackles in 18 combined appearances. The Buckeyes obviously need both of those numbers to improve dramatically given their high-profile roles moving forward.

-- In roughly half of a season each, Boren and Sabino couldn’t match the ruthless efficiency and production of Shazier -- but the combined contributions weren’t too shabby. Putting their statistics together, the tandem chipped in 95 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, an interception and a fumble recovery.

Big question: Can the Buckeyes survive again?

Whether it was through injury or ineffectiveness, an already thin group of linebackers a year ago was dwindling to the point of desperation when Boren made the shocking switch from fullback to middle linebacker in the middle of the season. But if one more injury had struck Fickell’s unit, what then? The Buckeyes are increasingly loading up with the type of talent the program has long been known for across the roster, but the linebacker position has been lagging behind so far and this season could once again require a test of creativity if injuries pop up to the starting unit. Few teams in the country could sustain the loss of a player as gifted as Shazier, so keeping him fresh and on the field is obviously a priority. But the Buckeyes also need Perry and a rejuvenated Grant on hand and playing at a high level if they’re going to be a true championship contender, and the focus will be on their development as much as their health moving forward.

Ohio State season preview

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
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Let's take a look at Ohio State as it tries to build off an undefeated season and compete for titles now that its postseason ban has expired.

OHIO STATE BUCKEYES

Coach: Urban Meyer (116-23, 11 seasons; 12-0 at Ohio State)

2012 record: 12-0, Leaders Division champions (ineligible for postseason)

Key losses: DE John Simon, DT Johnathan Hankins, RT Reid Fragel, WR/TE Jake Stoneburner, LB/FB Zach Boren, LB Etienne Sabino, CB Travis Howard

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Al BehrmanUrban Meyer has an experienced QB in Braxton Miller and depth at running back entering his second season at Ohio State.
Key returnees: QB Braxton Miller, WR Philly Brown, CB Bradley Roby, SAF Christian Bryant, SAF C.J. Barnett, LT Jack Mewhort, LG Andrew Norwell, C Corey Linsley, RG Marcus Hall, RB Carlos Hyde, LB Ryan Shazier

Newcomer to watch: Meyer was never able to find somebody to play his hybrid H-back position last year, so the Buckeyes simply didn’t use it. Now the program has two options on hand who appear to fit the mold, and freshman speedster Dontre Wilson could make an instant impact in that role thanks to his wheels and elusiveness. Wilson has quickly made a splash during training camp, and he has the ability to be a factor in both the rushing and receiving game.

Biggest games in 2013: The last week of the regular season is always a cut above the rest, and Ohio State’s trip up north to take on rival Michigan on Nov. 30 could have enormous stakes for a team eying a national title this year. A visit to Northwestern on Oct. 5 will also be a test, and home games against Wisconsin (Sept. 28) and Penn State (Oct. 26) will be critical in the divisional race.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Almost the entire front seven has undergone a face-lift since last season as six starters have moved on from the program, but there isn’t that much concern about the defensive line because sophomore sensations Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are poised for breakout campaigns.

There is some hand-wringing going on at linebacker, though, and the depth issues that forced Ohio State to move Boren from fullback to lend a hand on defense last season haven’t yet been corrected. Newcomers Trey Johnson and Mike Mitchell may need to develop quickly to fill out the rotation, because otherwise an injury or two to Shazier, middle linebacker Curtis Grant or sophomore Joshua Perry could create significant problems at the second level for coordinator Luke Fickell.

Forecast: While there might be some uncertainty about a younger, more inexperienced defense, there is absolutely nothing but booming confidence on the other side of the ball for the Buckeyes.

Braxton Miller returns for his third season as the starting quarterback, fresh off a fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy race and an offseason of improvement as a passer. A deeper stable of rushers joins him in the backfield to add even more versatility to a ground game that was among the nation’s best last year. Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball give Meyer enough talent to tinker with the idea of putting three of them on the field at the same time. Somewhat shorthanded at receiver a year ago, the Buckeyes also have more targets at their disposal in the passing attack and a pair of tight ends who can create major mismatches for opposing defenses. It obviously doesn’t hurt to have four senior starters paving the way up front and offering some protection for Miller.

That personnel, of course, is coached by Meyer, who has a proven track record of success in his second season with a program, boasting a combined record of 34-4 in his three previous Year 2s -- not to mention an undefeated record at Utah and a national title at Florida.

It all adds up to an offense that might be the most explosive Ohio State has ever had, which should allow the rebuilding front seven on defense some time to develop as the program hunts its first crystal football since 2002.
It’s no secret Ohio State wants to close out the 2014 recruiting class strong. The number of pledges could reach as high as 23, as BuckeyeNation thinks that’s the number moving forward.

With that said, here are the top five targets we feel are currently on top of the Buckeyes’ wish list.

Please note, we said it could go up to 23, so just because you don’t see the names such as Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J.), Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.Y./Nassau Community College), Braxton Berrios (Raleigh, N.C./Leesville), Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) or Noah Brown (Sparta, N.J./Pope John XXIII) doesn’t mean Ohio State is shut out in grabbing them.

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There’s a stretch in every recruiting cycle where the class takes shape.

Last year it can be argued a three-week stretch that began in mid-December and stretched to the first week of January was the key time period, as ESPN 150 targets Gareon Conley, Mike Mitchell, Trey Johnson and ESPN 300 lineman Donovan Munger committed. However, nabbing ESPN 150 targets Dontre Wilson and Vonn Bell in the final week, while holding onto ESPN 150 running back Ezekiel Elliott and nabbing four-star recruits James Clark and Corey Smith, was big for the Buckeyes.

As the 2014 recruiting class nears the halfway point, there’s still plenty of time to go. But an eight-day stretch, when ESPN 300 defensive end Jalyn Holmes committed and was followed by quarterback Stephen Collier, wide receiver Terry McLaurin and ESPN 300 offensive tackle Jamarco Jones, could define the 2014 class.

Here’s a look at the four commits and what they meant:

Jalyn Holmes (Norfolk, Va./Lake Taylor)

Vitals: 6-foot-5, 235 pounds

When he committed: June 20

Why he chose Ohio State: Holmes fell in love with the family aspect, but it was the education he will receive that really won him over. He already has a great relationship with line coach Mike Vrabel and that factored in as well.

Who else was in the mix: Florida State and Clemson

What it means: Life after Noah Spence will be all right. Holmes is being recruited to play the viper role for the Buckeyes and his athleticism and length should transition well to the college game.

Stephen Collier (Leesburg, Ga./Lee County)

Vitals: 6-3, 205

When he committed: June 21

Why he chose Ohio State: Like Holmes, he felt like Ohio State was home. He also believed the coaching staff could push him to new heights. He mentioned the chance to compete for a national championship as playing a role.

Who else was in the mix: Auburn, Cincinnati, Harvard and Wake Forest

What it means: The belief is a quarterback should be taken every year, and Collier is a good one. He’s coming out of a spread offense, so the transition should be easy. He’s got great size and can run, which helps in the move from high school to college as well. Collier is also very smart and can make quick decisions.

Terry McLaurin (Indianapolis/Cathedral)

Vitals: 6-foot, 180

When he committed: June 23

Why he chose Ohio State: The idea of playing for Urban Meyer and winning a national championship was big. He felt strongly about the Buckeyes as he worked out at the June 9 and June 21 camps and picked up a coveted offer.

Who else was in the mix: Missouri and Purdue

What it means: Fans saw what it meant at The Opening when McLaurin finished second to only Speedy Noil in the SPARQ Championship. Though underrated, McLaurin is as fast as they come, can leap to a high point like no other and has the shiftiness to get open. This was a steal for Ohio State.

Jamarco Jones (Chicago/De La Salle)

Vitals: 6-4, 300

When he committed: June 27

Why he chose Ohio State: Championships and Meyer go a long way with recruits and they did with Jones as well. He also has a great relationship with line coach Ed Warinner that played into his decision.

Who else was in the mix: Michigan and Michigan State

What it means: A ton. With four starters gone after this season and Jones coming in, he could make the depth chart as early as next year. He’s not coming in and starting, but Jones’ impact could be felt sooner rather than later.

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With Luke Roberts following David Perkins out the door as a transfer, the linebacker depth chart at Ohio State became even thinner.

It also opened up another scholarship for Ohio State in the Class of 2014, should the Buckeyes choose to use it that way.


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New ESPN 300 Top 10 Revealed
National recruiting analysts Tom Luginbill and Craig Haubert count down the top 10 recruits in the latest ESPN 300 player rankings update. The complete ESPN 300 will be released April 16.Tags: Tim Settle, CeCe Jefferson, Torrance Gibson, Mitch Hyatt, Terry Beckner Jr., Byron Cowart, Josh Sweat, Kevin Toliver II, Martez Ivey, Trevon Thompson, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Tom Luginbill, Craig Haubert
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