Ohio State Buckeyes: Sam Hubbard

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.

Top spring position battles: No. 3

February, 19, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nobody is walking into a stress-free environment when Ohio State returns to the practice field in spring as long as national-title aspirations hang in the air and Urban Meyer prowls the sideline.

But the pressure isn't the same for all the Buckeyes since a healthy handful have their names etched at the top of the depth chart and won't be sweating a competition for a starting job -- obviously beginning with a quarterback who has finished in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting two years running. But who will back up Braxton Miller is just one of the intriguing positional battles that will be waged in March and April, and after already tackling that topic and another position on offense in the countdown, the series shifts to the other side of the ball for a critical competition in the middle of the defense.

[+] EnlargeTrey Johnson
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesTrey Johnson, a top prospect signed in the 2013 class, could step in for Ryan Shazier at outside linebacker.
No. 3: Outside linebacker

  • Predecessor: Ryan Shazier (143 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 4 forced fumbles; declared early for the NFL draft)
  • Candidates: Sophomore Trey Johnson, junior Camren Williams, sophomore Darron Lee, true freshmen Sam Hubbard, Raekwon McMillan
  • Why to watch: With two returning starters, on the surface there appears to be only one hole to fill, and it's the gaping one left behind by Shazier at the most beleaguered position group on the roster. But even with Curtis Grant in the middle and Joshua Perry looking like a viable option at strongside linebacker, there still could be shakeups at those spots, depending on just how quickly some of the young talent can transition to life at Ohio State and the Big Ten. Assuming Grant and Perry build on their steady, but certainly not spectacular, 2013 seasons and solidify themselves in those jobs, that will put an even brighter spotlight on the guys trying to replace a player who was one of the most productive linebackers in the country in the last two seasons. The Buckeyes counted on Shazier to do so much work from sideline to sideline, in the backfield and in pass coverage, that simply plugging in one guy and expecting similar results isn't realistic. That will make it imperative for Ohio State to weigh its options at each spot during the spring, regardless of previous position or experience, and make sure it has the best group of three it can put on the field as it tries again to live up to the high expectations the program has for its linebackers.
  • Pre-camp edge: There aren't many positions more difficult for a true freshman to make an instant impact than linebacker, but the hype around McMillan is already building thanks to his early enrollment and a mature body that clearly has impressed Urban Meyer. His development figures to be aided by going through spring practice, and that should also be a big benefit for the coaching staff as they get a look at where he might fit best. But either way, Johnson is a sure bet to line up with the first-team defense when camp opens in March, and he has been praised for his football intelligence and sharp instincts. He's certainly no slouch as an athlete, either, and the Buckeyes are expecting more from him than the six games and 11 tackles he chipped in as a freshman.

Top position classes: LB 

February, 17, 2014
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and SEC)
The Alabama Crimson Tide’s 2014 class fill just about every need on the board, and that includes linebacker. With designs on addressing pass rushing and the ability to play in space on the edge at outside 'backer in Nick Saban’s 3-4 scheme, Alabama signed the Nos. 1 and No. 2 outside linebackers in the country in No. 48 overall Christian Miller (Columbia, S.C./Spring Valley) and No. 52 overall Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn), who is pound for pound of the best pure athletes in the 2014 cycle. The Crimson Tide added two more talented linebackers in ESPN 300’s No. 102 Shaun Dion Hamilton (Montgomery, Ala./Carver) and No. 281 Keith Holcombe (Tuscaloosa, Ala./Hillcrest). Hamilton is an MLB.

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

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Either way, Urban Meyer admitted he was going to put on a smile.

After going down to the wire with one of his most important targets, the Ohio State coach made it clear that the one he was sporting on signing day on Wednesday was genuine and not the fake one he thought he might need if Jamarco Jones spurned his program.

Instead Jones delivered some good news on the phone, and the rest of the committed recruits all faxed in signatures without incident, Ohio State tacked on one unexpected addition and Meyer didn't need to force any grins after again putting together the best class in the Big Ten.

Jamarco Jones
Jared Shanker/ESPNGetting Jamarco Jones to sign with Ohio State helped make it a winning day for the Buckeyes.
"I think we won today," Meyer said. "I made it clear to our guys, I'm very pleased with their efforts. That was a good class."

Missing out on Jones after he flirted late in the process with Michigan State might have changed Meyer's tune, though there still would have been plenty of talent coming to campus even if the talented offensive lineman hadn't decided to stick with his pledge to the Buckeyes.

But in the end, Meyer had little to complain about after putting the finishing touches on his third batch of signees with Ohio State. Now the real work begins for the Buckeyes, but not before taking a look at what they accomplished on national signing day.

Biggest need filled: Offensive line

  • The Buckeyes notably came up short on the recruiting trail last year in an effort to add depth to the offensive line, and with four senior starters departing after the Orange Bowl, they couldn't afford to miss out on big bodies again. Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman got exactly what they needed to bolster that critical position group, and they're expecting at least two of the five linemen they signed this year to at least be in the two-deep by the fall. Kyle Trout and Marcelys Jones are already on campus, but it was Jamarco Jones who drew the most mentions from Meyer on Wednesday and was hailed as the make-or-break player in the class. Throw in Demetrius Knox and Brady Taylor and the future should be in good shape again up front.
Late surprise: Darius Slade

  • Around noon, Meyer left the door open to potentially add one more player to the class, despite coming up short in a head-to-head battle with Michigan State for Malik McDowell and already having signed letters from the rest of the anticipated class. A couple hours later, Meyer once again unveiled a late surprise, swooping in for defensive lineman Darius Slade, a 6-foot-5, 240-pounder who had been committed to the Spartans before his change of heart. Meyer gave all the credit to new defensive line coach Larry Johnson for that final addition, and an already deep, talented group added one more talented piece.
Deepest position: Linebacker

  • The crown jewel of the class was already on campus for the Buckeyes, and after catching a glimpse of Raekwon McMillan working out on Wednesday morning, Meyer suggested he could easily be confused with an upperclassmen given how mature he already appears physically. But he's not the only linebacker Meyer is counting on to lend a hand as quickly as possible at the thinnest position on the roster, and the other three options all seem to be just as appealing for the Buckeyes. Sam Hubbard, Dante Booker Jr. and Kyle Berger won't have the benefit of going through spring practice like McMillan, but the foursome collectively had praise heaped on them -- and Meyer vowed there were "no redshirt plans for those players at all."
Instant impact candidates: Offensive skill players

  • The handy guide for predicting the likelihood of a freshman making a big splash, per Herman: The further away a player lines up from the snap, the better the chances. Given both the need for more playmakers on the perimeter and the speedy guys they signed, the search for new Buckeyes who might leave the biggest mark this fall starts with the wide receivers and another potential hybrid weapon. Noah Brown, Parris Campbell Jr., Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin all bring the kind of game-changing athleticism Ohio State covets so desperately, and there should be playing time to be had at receiver. But it's the dual threat Curtis Samuel could pose as both a target in the passing game and as a rusher that really seemed to have the coaching staff fired up, and like Dontre Wilson a year ago, he could become a factor in a hurry.
Typically losing a defensive line coach wouldn’t get too much publicity, but when Ohio State defensive line coach Mike Vrabel announced he would be leaving for the Houston Texans, it made some noise.

Vrabel was one of the best recruiters in the country and helped the Buckeyes reel in plenty of prospects over the past few years.

While Ohio State won’t likely lose any commitments from this departure, it is a big blow to the recruiting efforts overall. Vrabel was well liked among recruits and had a lot of success with his targets.


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It’s called the Big Ten Conference for a reason.

From big offers, to big official visits to big commitments, the Big Ten has been abuzz with activity.

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Best Big Ten recruiters 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Urban Meyer doesn’t miss an opportunity to impress.


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

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

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Each class within the Big Ten has its strengths and weaknesses, but there is a lot of talent joining the conference. Here is a look at the top classes in the Big Ten by position.

Quarterback
Strongest class: Penn State


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The opening weekend of college football and the beginning of a fall evaluation period means there is plenty to talk about in recruiting. Here is a look at what happened this weekend in Big Ten recruiting:


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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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Recruiting is about momentum, and right now Ohio State has a a lot rolling its way.

The Buckeyes have received two big pledges on consecutive days -- from ESPN 300 offensive lineman Demetrius Knox (Fort Worth, Texas/All Saints Episcopal) and four-star athlete Malik Hooker (New Castle, Pa./New Castle) -- and a few other OSU pledges made some big moves in the latest release of the ESPN 300.

Ohio State also surged up three spots in the class rankings to No. 11, which is second in the Big Ten behind No. 6 Michigan.


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When Ohio State battles Michigan for players in the Buckeye state, it doesn’t lose too often. That said, it does happen.

Two of the biggest notables were Heisman Trophy winners Desmond Howard of Cleveland St. Joseph and Charles Woodson from Fremont Ross.


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The state of Ohio, on the heels of exiting the annual Big 33 all-star game with Pennsylvania, has invited the state of Michigan to a new high school all-star game.

The Ohio–Michigan Border Classic will feature high school senior football players from Ohio and Michigan and will put the best 40 prospects from each state against the other. The inaugural game will take place on June 14, 2014, which will allow prospects from the 2014 class to participate in the event.

Larry Merx is the Executive director for the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association and says that they felt this was a great opportunity for their state.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Ways
Tom VanHaaren/ESPN.comBeverly Hills, Mich., wide receiver Maurice Ways is excited about the opportunity to play an all-star game against top Ohio prospects.
“We were invited by Ohio to participate in it, and the thought process was that it’s exciting. It’s a chance to get our best players involved with a game that we think there will be a lot of interest in,” Merx said. “When Pennsylvania withdrew (from the Big 33) it left Ohio high and dry. Ohio was looking around and said we have a natural rivalry and they invited us, so we thought it sounded pretty good.”

The game will also replace Michigan’s East-West all-star game that took place every year featuring some of the top high school talent in Michigan. That game featured 88 players that were nominated by the coaches to play in the game, something that will change with the Border Classic.

“We’re going to first select six coaches for the game. Our regional directors will nominate coaches, the all-star committee will meet and select the six coaches that will participate in early December,” he said. “Then the coaches will go about recruiting players. The all-star coaches will go out and get the best players in the state and get them in the game.”

From an Ohio standpoint, the Border Classic is one prospective players are looking forward to. Some standouts such as Kyle Berger (Cleveland/St. Ignatius) and Sam Hubbard (Cincinnati/Moeller) already play a few schools in Michigan, but the majority do not, and that has a wave of excitement running through the state.

ESPN 300 cornerback Darius West (Lima, Ohio/Central Catholic) lives 90 minutes from the Michigan border and was recruited by the Buckeyes and Wolverines.

The Kentucky commit sees it as much more than bragging rights at the next level, however, as Ohio and Michigan have always measured themselves up against the other.

“It would be pretty fun,” West said. “There are a lot of people that think Michigan football is better than Ohio and that Ohio is better than Michigan.

“This would prove which is better. It would be a real good game between two great states. We’re right by each other and Michigan and Ohio already have a rivalry.”

Hubbard, whose team won both games against schools from Michigan last season, sees the game as an extension of what is already a heated battle.

He also sees it as a way to play some of the best competition in the nation.

“We’re obviously already rivals,” Hubbard said. “There’s always talk on Twitter about who is better, so it should be fun.

“Obviously the game doesn’t mean anything, but it is bragging rights. It’s something people can get into. It will give you a leg up in confidence when the real games come around. We played Detroit Central Catholic and Grand Rapids Christian last season, so we played against Drake Harris. That was intense. I think it’s a great thing to switch over to Michigan. It’s one of the greatest rivalries in college football.”

That view is no different in the state of Michigan. The Michigan prospects are excited about the idea of being able to compete against some of the top prospects, but they know there is a bigger picture to this game.

Michigan wide receiver commit Maurice Ways (Beverly Hills, Mich./Country Day) says it would be an honor to represent his state, but this wouldn’t be an ordinary all-star game.

“Both states are going to select the best and top players from their state to make sure they win. This won’t be just a friendly all-star game, it will be serious and a big deal,” Ways said. “Neither states like each other and I’m sure you’ll have a guy going to Michigan and a guy going to Ohio (State) so the hate will already be in the air. It’s going to be taken seriously and I’m sure it would be an exciting game.”

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