Ohio State Buckeyes: jalin marshall
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer is always trying to find new ways to motivate his players.
Last spring, he had a banner put up in the Ohio State field house reading “The Chase …” in reference to the Buckeyes’ championship pursuits. Meyer said he thought about changing the display for the 2014 offseason. In the end, though, he stuck with the same one.
“We didn’t accomplish it,” Meyer told ESPN.com. “We chased it but didn’t catch it. So the chase is still on.”
Ohio State, of course, nearly made it to its desired finish line. After going 12-0 for the second straight season under Meyer, the Buckeyes just needed to beat Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game to clinch a date with Florida State for the BCS national title. Instead, they fell 34-24 to the Spartans and closed the year on a two-game losing streak with a 40-35 setback against Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.
Experience is lacking in many key areas, but Meyer is ready to let some talented youngsters loose, including true freshmen. In retrospect, he wishes he had done so last year, when defensive end Joey Bosa and receiver Dontre Wilson were the only first-year players to make a big impact until safety Vonn Bell started in the Orange Bowl.
“We redshirted too many last year, and that was our fault,” he said. “There was a misunderstanding, and we just didn’t do a good job, especially on defense. When they show up on campus, we need to get them ready to play.”
This spring, early enrollees Raekwon McMillan (linebacker), Curtis Samuel (tailback) and Johnnie Dixon (receiver) were all heavily involved and have secured roles in the fall. Redshirt freshman are also at or near the top of the depth chart at strongside linebacker (Darron Lee and Chris Worley) and cornerback (Gareon Conley and Eli Apple), while true sophomores like safety Cam Burrows and tailback Ezekiel Elliott could force their way into the starting lineup.
“When you talk about inexperience, that’s a good thing right now,” said Chris Ash, who was hired from Arkansas as co-defensive coordinator to help fix Ohio State’s pass defense. “There aren’t a lot of habits that we have to change to fit what we’re trying to do. We don’t have older guys that are comfortable with where they’re at in their careers.”
An already young offense became even greener this spring because of injuries to three senior leaders: tight end Jeff Heuerman, receiver Evan Spencer and quarterback Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes will no doubt look a lot different when Miller returns from shoulder surgery. During the 15 spring practices, the two-time defending Big Ten player of the year often stood behind the offense and wore a camera on his head so coaches could go over what he was seeing on the field.
“We're exhausting every avenue and even inventing different avenues to make sure he's engaged and getting mental reps,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “We're doing the best we can with a bad situation. He has embraced it and is working his tail off, making sure he’s getting the most out of it.”
Herman says the Buckeyes should be more explosive on the perimeter this season, with guys like Wilson, Dixon, junior college transfer Corey Smith, sophomore Michael Thomas and freshman Jalin Marshall at receiver and a stable of athletic tailbacks. The safeties are longer and quicker than they have been in the past, and the defensive line -- which could be one of the nation’s best -- will have four starters who all used to be defensive ends.
The objective is clear: more speed. To that end, Meyer has hammered a new mantra in the players' heads: “4 to 6, A to B.” That means play hard for four to six seconds and get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. It's hard to interview an Ohio State player these days without hearing the phrase.
“That’s all he’s been preaching this spring.” defensive tackle Adolphus Washington said. “He said he’s not really worried about technique and all that stuff. It’s just about playing hard, because if you play hard, effort makes up for mistakes.”
Washington said the defense was greatly simplified this spring, with only about four or five different calls to learn. Aggressiveness trumped scheme.
“The culture of Ohio State is to go hard, not trick you,” Meyer said. “I just felt like there was too much stuff last year, instead of just going hard.”
By moving faster and playing harder, the Buckeyes hope to overcome their youth and track down what they've been hunting. They have been tantalizingly close.
“We’re still on a chase,” Washington said. “We’ve just got to finish it.”
With four senior starters gone from the line and bullish running back Carlos Hyde headed to the NFL, Ohio State is going to have to make some changes to its high-scoring recipe after rewriting the record books thanks in large part to all the meat it had in the middle of the field.
“As bad as we want an offensive line like last year, it’s going to take a while to develop that,” Meyer said. “I think at some point because we recruited well and with our line coach [Ed Warinner], that will happen. But no, it’s going to be different.
“We’re going to have to lean on some perimeter ways of getting first downs and all that. Last year [it] was rushing for 300-plus yards per game. It’s because that offensive line was so good. We have other weapons, but it will be a little different taste to it than last year.”
Braxton Miller will still provide the most flavor heading into his senior year at quarterback, but there will be plenty of fresh faces around him as the Buckeyes transition from the veterans who helped pile up points over the last couple seasons to the younger talent Meyer has recruited since taking over the program.
The loss of the core group of linemen is certainly a blow, though Ohio State has prepared for it by working the replacements into games and getting them extra practice work last fall. Filling the void left by the workhorse Hyde might seem like a tall order as well, but the Buckeyes have as many as five candidates they have confidence in to carry the load on the ground in his absence. There’s also the matter of replacing leading receiver Philly Brown, a versatile athlete who supplemented his 63 receptions with a handful of rushing attempts in a hybrid role.
But if there aren’t experienced seniors ready to step up on the line, the Buckeyes at least have returning starter Taylor Decker around to bridge last season to the future at left tackle. Hyde’s production and consistency made him one of the nation’s best tailbacks and a potential first-round draft pick, but Ezekiel Elliott shined in his limited opportunities and senior Rod Smith has never had his physical tools questioned. Dontre Wilson is more than capable of taking over Brown’s role now that he has had a chance to grasp the responsibilities of the H-back position and improved his hands enough to be considered a full-time receiver.
Meyer has suggested that using Wilson and athletes like Jalin Marshall and Curtis Samuel on bubble screens or jet sweeps to get to the edge might be the best way to adapt while the offensive line develops, and he’s certainly been recruiting enough speed to perhaps more truly spread the field than the Buckeyes have done in his first two seasons. And as successful as they've been anyway, that different taste might not go down easily for opposing defenses.
“We’ll never leave our core values,” Herman said. “Spread the field horizontally and vertically, be in the shotgun, add the quarterback as part of our run game and have that dimension and to be a downhill, A-gap, tight-zone, vertical, power-run team with vertical play-action pass off it. What does that evolve to? I don’t know.
“But I think when people ask me maybe what I’m most proud of the first couple years here is we didn’t fit a square peg into a round hole. ... You've got to figure out what everybody can do, what they do well and try to mask the deficiencies while you’re improving them yet play to the strengths. Where that’s headed after six spring practices, I have no idea. But it will be different.”
The Buckeyes still have plenty of time to tinker, and the cupboards are far from bare.
A different number made for a decent disguise. The blinding speed, though, was a dead giveaway.
Dontre Wilson reported for spring practice with a new digit on his jersey, bumping up from No. 1 to No. 2 as part of his new look for camp at Ohio State as he tries to build on a solid debut season as a hybrid weapon in the spread offense. His first season might not have been quite as spectacular as anticipated, given the way he wowed his teammates and the coaching staff during training camp as a freshman, but it still provided glimpses of what he’s capable of doing as both a rusher and receiver thanks to his incredible natural ability.
Based on the early returns during the first week of camp, it appears the Buckeyes are intent on getting Wilson involved more frequently as a receiver, and he was almost impossible to defend on the perimeter during team drills during the open practice last week.
Wilson isn’t the only blossoming threat on a roster who has been successfully acquiring the kind of speed Meyer craves to run his system, and redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall and early enrollee Johnnie Dixon both look like legitimate options for the Buckeyes as they look to take the passing game to a higher level with some new faces involved.
A familiar one is still around to lead the way, and Devin Smith is still the safe bet to be Braxton Miller’s top receiver. But Wilson is already building a compelling case to become a more frequent target in the passing game, and it probably won’t take long for Miller or the healthy quarterbacks this spring to get used to looking for No. 2.
Illinois:The Illini might not be exceptional in the kicking game, but they're in better shape than they were when coach Tim Beckman arrived. Punter Justin DuVernois returns after a solid junior season, while Taylor Zalewski looks for a bit more consistency in his second full season as the placekicker. Zalewski made 12 of 17 field-goal attempts last fall. The return game is the real plus, as V'Angelo Bentley provides a major threat, especially on punt returns.
Indiana: Like Illinois, Indiana brings back a dynamic returner in Shane Wynn, who averaged 14 yards on punt run-backs despite limited work. Punter Erich Toth also is back for his third season as the starter. Toth placed 18 of 52 attempts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. IU suffers a big loss at kicker as Mitch Ewald, the team's career field goals and field-goal percentage leader, departs. Aaron Del Grosso and Griffin Oakes will compete at kicker, and Jake Shake (shake and bake!) could enter the mix this summer.
Iowa: Here's another Big Ten team that looks very strong on returns, as Iowa boasts the Big Ten's most dynamic tandem in Kevonte Martin-Manley (punts) and Jordan Cotton (kickoffs). Martin-Manley had two punt-return touchdowns in 2013. Punter Connor Kornbrath ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in average, but placed 27 of 65 attempts inside the opponent's 20. Iowa loses kicker Mike Meyer, a four-year starter. Junior Marshall Koehn seems likely to step up, but could be pushed by incoming freshman Mick Ellis and others.
Maryland: Notice a theme so far? Most Big Ten teams are strong in the return game, and Maryland is no exception. If Stefon Diggs returns at full strength from his leg injury, he'll be a dangerous man with punts and kickoffs in his hands. Will Likely performed extremely well in Diggs' spot, averaging 26 yards on kickoff returns and 12.8 yards on punt returns. Maryland brings back an excellent kicker in Brad Craddock (21-for-25 on field goals last year), and punter Nathan Renfro enters his third season as the starter.
Michigan: Matt Wile has done a bit of everything for Michigan, but could settle into the starting placekicker role this fall. Wile handled kicking duties late last season and also served as Michigan's punter after Will Hagerup was suspended for the season. Hagerup, the Big Ten's punter of the year in 2012, will reclaim the role if he can avoid off-field problems that have surfaced throughout his career. Wile then could focus on kicking, as Kenny Allen is the only other option there. Michigan is still waiting for big things from kick returner Dennis Norfleet and must find someone to handle punts. Top recruit Jabrill Peppers could help.
Michigan State: Special teams once again should be a strength for MSU, which returns All-Big Ten punter Mike Sadler, a Ray Guy award semifinalist who will contend for All-America honors in 2014. Kicker Michael Geiger also is back after connecting on 15 of 16 field-goal attempts as a true freshman. Macgarrett Kings Jr. and Andre Sims Jr. both put up good numbers on punt returns. Michigan State had by far the fewest kick returns (18) in the Big Ten last year and will look for a boost from R.J. Shelton and others.
Minnesota: After an above-average year on special teams in 2013, Minnesota again should be good in the third phase. Punter Peter Mortell didn't get as many accolades as Sadler or Purdue's Cody Webster, but he had an excellent sophomore season, averaging 43.3 yards per attempt with 15 of 50 yards or longer. Marcus Jones is a major threat on returns after bringing back both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns last fall. Redshirt freshman kickers Ryan Santoso and Andrew Harte will compete as the Gophers lose Chris Hawthorne.
Nebraska: The Huskers are looking for some upgrades on special teams, particularly on punt returns, as Nebraska ranked 123rd in the FBS last fall. Primary returner Jordan Westerkamp is back, but he'll face some competition. Nebraska brings back punter Sam Foltz, who had a solid freshman season, averaging 41.6 yards per boot. Mauro Bondi is set to step in at kicker as Pat Smith departs. If Bondi struggles, incoming freshman Kris Brown could get a look this summer. Kenny Bell, who led the Big Ten in kick return average (26.5 yards per return), is back.
Northwestern: The Wildcats lose a huge piece in Jeff Budzien, named the Big Ten's top kicker in each of his final two seasons. Hunter Niswander can handle both kickoffs and punts but seems likely to slide into Budzien's spot. Northwestern's punting was a mess in 2013, ranking 118th nationally in net average (33.2 ypp). Brandon Williams departs and Chris Gradone or Niswander will take over. The big news is Northwestern brings back Venric Mark , an All-America punt returner in 2012. Primary kick returner Matt Harris is back after a solid freshman season.
Ohio State: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Indeed, the Aussie is back at punter as Cameron Johnston returns after an excellent debut season (I refuse to call a 21-year-old a freshman). Ohio State hopes for similar results from another first-year specialist in kicker Sean Nuernberger, an early enrollee expected to step in for the departing Drew Basil. Sophomore Dontre Wilson will continue to have a big role on returns after handling kickoffs last year. Ohio State must replace Corey Brown on punt returns and could look to redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall or true freshmen Curtis Samuel and Johnnie Dixon.
Penn State: The kicking game continues to be an area of concern.Sam Ficken owns the team record for consecutive field goals (15) and started strong last season but ended with just 15 of 23 conversions, including four misses inside 40 yards. Penn State needs a new punter after losing Alex Butterworth, and will turn to Chris Gulla. Jesse Della Valle did a good job on punt returns, but Penn State needs a boost on kickoffs after finishing last in the league (19.1 yards per return). The Lions could stick with Geno Lewis or look for a newcomer such as De'Andre Thompkins to emerge. PSU also must shore up its coverage units.
Purdue: As if the Boilers didn't have enough to address on offense and defense, the kicking game needs attention. Punter Cody Webster finished his spectacular career with All-America honors, and the Boilers finished second nationally in net punting (41.7 yards per punt). Incoming freshman Austin McGehee will take over for Webster. Paul Griggs and Thomas Meadows continue to work at kicker, as Griggs made only 50 percent of his attempts (6 of 12) last season. The kick return game is strong with Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, but Purdue must replace punt returner Ricardo Allen. B.J. Knauf could be a good fit there.
Rutgers: The kicking game historically is a strength for Rutgers, which has a knack for blocking kicks and pulling off fakes. Rutgers loses a productive piece in punter Nick Marsh, who also handled kickoffs. The Scarlet Knights will turn to Joseph Roth as their replacement. Kicker Kyle Federico finished the season well, particularly in the Pinstripe Bowl, and returns for his junior season. Rutgers has a major weapon on returns in Janarion Grant, who brought back both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown during his freshman season.
Wisconsin: The kicking game has held back Wisconsin in the past, so it's definitely an area to watch during the offseason. Kicker Jack Russell converted 9 of 13 field-goal attempts after taking over for Kyle French. He'll try to hold off incoming freshman Rafael Gaglianone. Andrew Endicott, who handled kickoffs last fall, also returns. Wisconsin is looking for more from punter Drew Meyer, who averaged just 38.6 yards per attempt in 2013. Top returner Kenzel Doe is back and should handle both punts and kickoffs, although Wisconsin could look to others for help, such as newcomers Serge Trezy and Natrell Jamerson.
More position breakdowns
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.
• Safety Christian Bryant's request for a medical redshirt and an extra year of eligibility has been denied by the NCAA. The senior broke his ankle late in the win over Wisconsin in September. NCAA rules state that a player can compete in no more than 30 percent of a team's games -- bowl games not included -- to be eligible for a medical redshirt. Bryant's injury occurred in Ohio State's fifth game. Meyer said there may be room to appeal the ruling but added "appeals haven’t been real good to the Buckeyes here lately." Ohio State just lost an appeal to the Big Ten over Noah Spence's three-game suspension.
• Speaking of Spence, sophomore Jamal Marcus is poised to take Spence's defensive end spot in Friday's game. Meyer said Marcus has practiced well this week, and the coach is expecting big things out of a guy who played sparingly in the regular season.
"Jamal Marcus is going to be a disruptive guy," Meyer said. "He's one of the more talented guys on our team. I'm anxious to watch him play. We had a staff meeting this morning at 7 a.m. and [defensive line coach] Mike Vrabel made that comment to me. He's a quick-twitch guy. This is his kind of game."
• Linebacker Ryan Shazier is from Fort Lauderdale and will have many friends and family in the Sun Life Stadium stands. Meyer said Shazier, who took over Bryant's No. 2 jersey number after he went down, has also assumed a lot of Bryant's leadership responsibilities.
"He has done a really magical job at that," Meyer said. "He was not a leader a year ago. He was a very good player -- by the end of the year a great player. He's been a very good player this year, but he's done a nice job leading, leading by example, practicing hard and even being more vocal."
• Not surprisingly, Ohio State is using this trip to Florida as a way to recruit. Meyer and his staff plan to visit powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas High School on Thursday night. That's the same school that produced current Buckeyes standout Joey Bosa.
"I can list at least two dozen high schools right in this area that are loaded with talent," Meyer said. "We have not good relationships but great relationships with these high school coaches. A lot of them came to visit us at a bowl practice.
"We attack it. It's a primary area for us. Because we have so much experience down here, it's nothing new. We know most of these coaches. And the good thing is, people know Ohio State."
• Shazier and quarterback Braxton Miller have big decisions to make about whether to enter the NFL draft. Meyer admitted that NFL decisions have created distractions for teams "hundreds of times." But he said he knows this group of players well enough to spot potential distractions and "I haven't felt that at all. I've had a couple conversations, many about, 'Hey, we'll discuss this afterwards. Let's go win this game.'" Meyer also said he had no idea what to expect from Miller's postgame decision process even though he has a great relationship with the quarterback.
• When asked what young players have stood out during bowl practices -- something Ohio State didn't have the luxury of using last year -- Meyer named the following guys: Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell, Joshua Perry, Chris Worley, Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith, Michael Thomas and Billy Price.
• Meyer's most famous former player, Tim Tebow, agreed this week to serve as an analyst on ESPN's new SEC Network this fall. Meyer said he and Tebow still talk frequently, and he hopes the former Heisman Trophy winner hasn't finished playing football yet. Meyer said he's never had a serious conversation about Tebow joining him in some capacity at Ohio State.
"I don't want to disrupt his dream," he said. "His dream is to go play quarterback in the National Football League, and I don't think we're there yet in his mindset that he's done."
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.
The ESPN Junior 300 athlete took pause after an improbable 13-10 win where his squad converted a fake field goal to win on the last play of the game, to look at Ohio State past, present and future.
Named the face of the 2015 recruiting class, the 29th-ranked junior in the nation pointed to the big numbers Ohio State has put up in the last 100 years and alluded to the fact it has had 78 consensus All-Americans and 369 first-team All-Big Ten picks as a big draw to become a Buckeye.
“You know you’re going to a place that always has a winning tradition and one that is known for winning championships and being in the big game,” Glover-Williams said. “They’re almost always great.”
But the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Glover-Williams wasn’t just talking about the teams of the past. Since he has been on the Buckeyes' radar the last 14 months, he has paid extra close attention to the school.
He saw a team bounce back from a 6-7 record in 2011 to become the only BCS team without a loss last season.
He knows the Buckeyes have won 18 games in a row and hold the nation’s longest winning streak among BCS teams with Alabama (10) its next closest threat.
He has also seen Ohio State hold on for wins against Wisconsin and Northwestern this season when both teams were nationally ranked.
“They can be great,” Eric Glover-Williams said. “I think they have a chance and I would like to see them play Alabama in the national championship. That’s something I hope I can see them do.
“Their success is all about the personnel on the field. They have to find whoever is clicking and keep doing what they do to win the game. I still think the same about Ohio State win or lose, but those games, they’re finding ways to win.”
While the Bulldogs standout loves to talk about Ohio State past and present, it only makes sense to talk about the future as he’s set to be a Buckeye in 2015.
Barring something strange happening, Glover-Williams knows players like Devin Smith and Braxton Miller will be out of the lineup at Ohio State when he gets there. That doesn’t mean the stable will be empty with J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones or Stephen Collier at quarterback.
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The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Collier was seeing just how good Ohio State’s offense can be under Urban Meyer in a 52-34 win over California. That got the 2014 Buckeyes pledge thinking about a few years from now, when he could be leading the offense.
“Oh man, it’s going to be like a kid in a candy shop, and I’ll be that kid,” the quarterback said. “I’m so excited to play with that level of talent. It’s not every day you’ll be able to play with those kind of guys.
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Here’s a look at a few programs that highlight a busy week in this week’s Big Ten storylines.
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Urban Meyer dipped into his bag of zoom yet another time Monday evening and picked up four-star athlete Noah Brown (Sparta, N.J./Pope John XXIII).
After finishing up on an official visit in Columbus on Sunday, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Brown didn’t waste much time in picking the Buckeyes over Rutgers.
He is the 18th member of the Ohio State class and the sixth wide receiver/athlete in the class.
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FIRST DOWN: Defensive tackles
Schutt wasn't listed as a starter on the depth chart for the opener, but the sophomore impressed in limited action last season and had turned in a productive training camp before the injury bug bit him again on Monday. The Buckeyes know what life is like without Schutt after ankle issues limited him throughout spring, but for a unit that is replacing all four starters, having everybody healthy and ready to contribute was obviously important.
Ohio State has no shortage of confidence in Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington at end, but in some respects Joel Hale and Michael Bennett are still unknown quantities despite having been in the program for a couple years. Now with Schutt out and Farris moving to fill the void, the pressure is ramped up for a newcomer such as Michael Hill or sophomore Chris Carter.
SECOND DOWN: Freshmen skill players
The Buckeyes have no shortage of pieces returning from the Big Ten's best offense a season ago, but it's the fresh additions that figure to allow Urban Meyer to truly unleash his spread attack this fall.
They still have to prove themselves in a game though, and Dontre Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott and Jalin Marshall are all likely to touch the ball a few times as the Buckeyes evaluate what they have in what is shaping up to be an offensive class capable of making an early impact.
Wilson, in particular, could get his hands on the football right away with Ohio State trotting him out to return kickoffs. His electric speed could be put on display early, but the Buckeyes will really be watching him closely in the H-back role as they try to add more diversity to the playbook.
THIRD DOWN: Cornerbacks
The starting job Armani Reeves is filling this week is only temporary, and the sophomore is well aware of that. But he's got a huge opportunity to impress with Bradley Roby sitting out his one-game suspension, and potentially down the road it might help him make a push for the other first-team job at cornerback.
Doran Grant has something to prove himself after playing minimally in reserve of Roby and Travis Howard a year ago, so the junior bears monitoring as well as he transitions into the starting lineup. There hasn't been any question about the pecking order since spring -- with Roby and Grant leading the way for a talented, deep secondary -- but only one career start separates Grant from Reeves. Both would benefit from making a strong first impression against the Bulls.
FOURTH DOWN: Braxton Miller's arm
The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive for the junior's development as a passer, and he publicly lobbied after practice to air the ball out at least 25 times -- then joked that he would call his own plays to get to 30.
If Miller is eager to show off the improvements he's made mechanically both in terms of accuracy and his footwork, the Buckeyes would certainly like to get a gauge of how far he's come in a meaningful setting as well.
There's been little doubt since a productive spring game that Miller is sharper and more confident delivering the football, and he's only had more time to fine tune his arm since then. The Buckeyes were far from a balanced offense last season, rushing twice as often as they passed, with Miller's skills as a runner helping drive up the margin.
But if his arm has managed to make up some ground with his feet, the offense could be unpredictable with what it could do on any down, making it a nightmare to try to defend.
The passing game improved dramatically, but it wasn’t a consistent threat vertically or able to generate as many backbreaking plays as planned.
The Buckeyes were one of the most successful rushing teams in the nation, but they really didn’t rely much on the kind of read plays Meyer has been known for and could occasionally be slowed by defenses loading up near the line of scrimmage.
And without somebody like Percy Harvin to line up all over the field to drive opposing coordinators crazy or a blindingly fast runner with the hands of a receiver to torment defenders, there was an entire element of the system missing a year ago.
The dirty, little secret? Without being able to feature anybody in the hybrid, H-back position, the spread as Meyer has known it almost didn’t exist at all last season.
“If you evaluate last year’s offense, we were a pro offense,” Meyer said. “There was not a lot of read components. The whole equation where there’s one extra guy in the box, read one -- whether it’s second level, first level, which is kind of the essence of what spread football is -- really didn’t exist for us.
“You’ll see a different style of offense this year.”
There are any number of factors involved with the evolution of Meyer’s offense with the Buckeyes heading into his second season with the program, and likewise simply trusting a player with the various responsibilities of the H-back isn’t enough to completely alter the approach by itself.
More development of the receivers and the offensive line, a deeper stable of running backs and the marked improvement as a passer by quarterback Braxton Miller all will play a hand in turning Ohio State into a unit that more neatly fits the definition of a spread offense. But there might not be a spot that highlights the difference from a year ago to what the Buckeyes will unveil Saturday against Buffalo better than H-back. There might not be a Harvin, but there are at least a couple of options on hand now capable of filling those shoes.
Jordan Hall was expected to do it a year ago before a series of injuries forced him to redshirt, and his elusiveness with the football and soft hands again make him an intriguing candidate when he’s not starting at running back. But it’s freshman Dontre Wilson who may actually be the final piece of the spread puzzle with his track-star speed and a set of skills that allow him to be deployed all over the field, potentially giving Meyer and his offensive staff a chance to put a few more chapters back in the playbook after editing them out a year ago.
“It’s just playmaker ability [at H-back],” running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “You have to be able to play in space, you have to be able to catch the ball, you have to be able to run the ball.
“It’s a unique skill set that is required at that position, and we feel like we’ve got three or four guys right now that provide that mindset and skill set we’re looking for.”
The Buckeyes surely would have settled for one last season, though they ultimately didn’t need anybody in that role on the way to leading the Big Ten in scoring.
Now with Hall, Wilson and maybe another newcomer like Jalin Marshall, Ohio State has quickly stocked up on guys suited for the sideline-to-sideline game and capable of providing the big-play ability as both a rusher and receiver that was largely absent a year ago. And plugging at least one of those options into the rotation could change the entire complexion of the offense around them.
“We led the Big Ten in scoring, but it’s not to our standard, that’s not what we were expecting,” Meyer said. “The theory, what is a spread offense? It has a read component, and you force a defense to defend 53S yards. The Ohio State Buckeyes did not do that a year ago. Didn’t have to defend it.
“It’s all speed. That’s creating space and guys in space doing things with the ball, and I’m seeing more of that.”
It will all be on public display soon enough. But at this point, it’s no secret that the Buckeyes are much closer to what Meyer envisions from his offense than they were a year ago.
They might only need one position to prove it.
Big Ten fodder is never hard to find, especially in recruiting. Here’s a look at a few programs that highlighted a busy recruiting week:
Cotton getting close
Linebacker Micquell Cotton (O’Fallon, Ill./O’Fallon) has narrowed his list down to Indiana and Iowa State. The three-star back holds offers from both schools as well as Syracuse and Michigan State.
Cotton has visited both already and will take official visits this fall before making a pick.
The Cyclones have some appeal with a solid 2014 class that includes ESPN 300 wide receiver Allen Lazard (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale), running back Tommy Mister (Chicago/St. Rita) and a few other good looking commitments.
We’ll see where things stand after he takes his trips.
Iowa adds cornerback
Cornerback Josh Jackson (Corinth, Texas/Lake Dallas) committed to Iowa on Thursday. He confirmed his commitment in a text message.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior becomes Iowa's 13th commit and the unranked defensive back becomes the third player to be taken in the secondary in the Hawkeyes’ 2014 recruiting class. He joins cornerback Omar Truitt (Washington, D.C./St. John’s College) and safety Jyaz Jones (Dallas/South Oak). Jackson’s commitment continues the youth movement at Iowa, as six underclassmen will return next season from Iowa’s two-deep chart.
"I think it's going to be great," Jackson said. "With the guys coming in, we'll definitely make a big impact in the Big Ten and for the team."
Defensive end Torey Hendrick (Brooklyn, N.Y./ASA College) hasn’t broken down his top five yet, but the junior college sensation already knows one he’ll take a visit to Iowa.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Hendrick hasn’t set a date, but Iowa City be a destination. Expect Kansas to maybe earn a visit as well.
Hendrick currently has offers from Arizona State, Florida State, Kansas State, North Carolina State and Rutgers to go with Iowa and Kansas.
Lacrosse commit getting looks
Jason Alessi (Birmingham, Mich./Brother Rice) is committed to Michigan for lacrosse, but that might not be the sport he ends up playing in college as he is starting to get noticed for football as well.
Alessi is a 2014 defensive back who already holds football offers from Cornell and Air Force. He has heard from Yale, Harvard and most recently Michigan State.
The 6-foot, 170-pound safety took a visit to East Lansing last week and is now waiting for the Spartans to make a move. The coaching staff told him they want to watch film on his first few games this coming season and then make a decision.
If he has a good start to the season the Spartans might not be the only team to come calling.
Linebacker U looking again
Penn State has opened up its search to replace outside linebacker Jared Wangler (Warren, Mich./De La Salle), who decommitted from the Nittany Lions before pledging to Michigan.
With Syracuse commit Jason Cabinda (Flemington, N.J./Hunterdon Central) already in the mix of candidates, Penn State has offered outside backer Brandon Lee (Indianapolis/Lawrence Central). That means Northwestern has some company in landing the standout as Lee will travel to California on an official visit when the Golden Bears play the Wildcats on Aug. 31. Lee currently has a top five of Cal, Louisville, Northwestern, Oregon and Virginia Tech.
London a wanted man
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