Monday Morning Kickoff: Early Birds, a Late Surge and a Scrambling Urge
By Tony Gerdeman
* Classes start today at Ohio State and the OSU football team will have five early enrollees from the 2013 class taking part.
Defensive backs Eli Apple and Cameron Burrows, defensive linemen Tracy Sprinkle and Tyquan Lewis, and quarterback J. T. Barrett will all get to experience the joys of trying to make it from one side of the campus to the other in 12 minutes when you basically have no idea where you are going.
By enrolling early, these five freshmen (aside from Barrett who is recovering from a knee injury) will be able to take part in spring football, which will give them a leg up on the rest of the incoming class.
Burrows and Apple start their careers at an opportune time as the Buckeyes are looking for cornerback depth. It is expected that Doran Grant will be starting opposite Bradley Roby next year, but somebody is going to have to take over Grant's spot as the third cornerback.
Similarly, the defensive line is going to be looking for depth as they replace all four starters from 2012. Sprinkle and Lewis will have an extra seven months in the Ohio State weight program to be transformed into the players that their coaches have foreseen.
For Barrett, who was always a likely redshirt candidate due to the current depth, there is no better place to be to recover from an ACL tear. There will be plenty of mental reps for him.
* When spring football starts in March, there will very likely be a future Heisman Trophy winner on the roster for the Buckeyes, and I don't mean quarterback Braxton Miller. Rather, I'm referring to the aforementioned J.T. Barrett.
What am I talking about? Well, you see, Barrett is from Wichita Falls, Texas, and he has something in common with the last three Heisman Trophy winners — they all played high school or junior college football in the state of Texas and they were never offered by Mack Brown and the Longhorns.
When Cameron Newton was at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, the Longhorns weren't interested. When Robert Griffin III was in high school in Copperas Cove, Texas, the Longhorns halfheartedly recruited him as an athlete, specifically as a receiver or defensive back. Obviously, he declined said offer. Kerrville, Texas had a six-foot tall quarterback in Johnny Manziel, a lifelong Longhorns fan. The Texas coaches were interested in him as a defensive back, but never actually extended an offer.
Barrett, whom 247 Sports rates as the top dual-threat quarterback in the 2013 class, wasn't deemed worthy of a Longhorn offer either. Though when fellow Texas high school quarterback prospect Tyrone Swoopes committed to the Longhorns, they didn't really have a need for a second signal caller.
Still, Barrett finds himself in very good company when it comes to in-state snubbing, and if history is any guide Barrett will one day reap the rewards. Of course, this probably means that Kenny Guiton should be winning it in 2013 as well.
* If you were watching the Army All-American Game on Sunday, you saw five-star receiver prospect James Quick choose Louisville over Ohio State. Earlier in the week, Quick stated that Ohio State was his slight leader. That was also what I had heard prior to him proclaiming it publicly. But almost immediately after calling OSU as his leader, however, there was talk that Quick was throwing up a smokescreen.
In the never-ending quest for playmakers, Urban Meyer now has to look elsewhere. That elsewhere should still be in the form of Cleveland Heights receiver Shelton Gibson, who started for the East team in the Army game with Quick, and is actually rated higher than Quick according to Rivals.
While some believe the ultimate hold up on Gibson committing to the Buckeyes to this point has been grades, he has told the-Ozone that he could commit to Ohio State right now if he wanted to.
With Quick out of the picture, expect the OSU coaches to turn up the pressure on Gibson. He is the most explosive athlete left on their wish list, and I don't think Meyer plans on losing this battle.
It's probably too soon to get very worried, however. After all, this isn't Meyer's first recruitment of a Cleveland Heights kid that has gone down to the wire. Last year, Meyer had to wait until Signing Day to land offensive lineman Kyle Dodson.
There is now likely room for one of Corn Elder or Ryan Timmons in this class as well. Elder is from Tennessee and Timmons is from Kentucky. Both are smallish tailbacks who would also likely fit into a slot role at Ohio State. Both are also visiting Ohio State this coming weekend. Timmons does not yet have an offer. If he gets one this weekend, many expect him to be a Buckeye. However, that offer may only be coming if the staff feels like Elder is likely to go elsewhere. Clearly, with Quick choosing Louisville, there are a lot of moving parts at the moment.
As an aside, Quick's recruitment was eerily reminiscent of what the Buckeyes went through with quarterback Michael Bush back in 2003. Bush selected Louisville over Ohio State in a hotly contested battle. The Buckeyes then had to rely on redshirt freshman Troy Smith as their quarterback of the future. Could Gibson be that same type of consolation prize?
* By the way, if you happened to catch the Under Armour All-American Bowl on Friday, you may have seen Michigan quarterback commit Shane Morris looking less than stellar.
Morris, a five-star prospect out of De La Salle in Warren, Michigan, struggled throwing the ball. His struggles prompted a high school football coach to text me and tell me that there were folks at Cleveland St. Ignatius who believed that Mentor quarterback Mitch Trubisky (who is going to North Carolina) was twice the quarterback that Morris was.
How would they know? Well, they played both quarterbacks this past season. St. Ignatius defeated De La Salle 49-13 in the second week of the season, and led 47-0 deep into the third quarter. Morris finished that game 9-20 for 104 yards with two interceptions. He also lost 27 yards on the ground.
St. Ignatius played Mentor twice this season, including the week following the De La Salle game, and Trubisky didn't fare much better than Morris the first time. The second time, however, they met in the playoffs, and Trubisky had a game for the ages.
He threw for 410 yards with four touchdowns and an interception, and ran the ball 35 times for 140 yards and four more touchdowns in a 57-56 win for Mentor.
* It wasn't all disappointment on the All-American game front for the Buckeyes, however, as they landed a pair of talented linebackers in Trey Johnson and Mike Mitchell.
Johnson and Mitchell finally filled the void left in the spring when linebackers Alex Anzalone and Lewis Neal decommitted. It would appear that the Buckeyes didn't make out too badly in the deal either, as Rivals rates Johnson the #4 inside linebacker in the nation and Mitchell the #3 outside linebacker. Anzalone is Rivals' #3 inside linebacker while Neal is their 27th-ranked weakside defensive end.
The linebacker haul continues a trend that Meyer started last year, bringing in three linebackers in the final weeks of the recruiting season. Next year, however, looks to be an even bigger haul as three of the nation's top 2014 linebackers all have Ohio State near the top of their wish lists, and are always talking about playing together.
Those three, Raekwon McMillan out of Georgia, Clifton Garrett out of Illinois and Dante Booker out of Akron, are all very highly-touted prospects, and the Buckeyes have a great shot at all of them. And that's not even mentioning other guys they have offered, like Cleveland St. Ignatius' Kyle Berger and Florida's Dillon Bates, son of long-time Dallas Cowboy Bill Bates.
While Meyer is rightfully getting attention for the defensive linemen that he is bringing in, don't forget about the linebacking corps that could be in Columbus over the next few years.
* Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have both said that while Braxton Miller is a great runner, he is not a great scrambler. I couldn't agree more. I do think he will improve at this, thanks in part to his work with QB guru George Whitfield recently, but he's nowhere near where you would think his athleticism would put him.
My humble suggestion to help him improve his scrambling ability would be to load every single Johnny Manziel scramble into "the cloud" and have Miller watch it daily on his iPad. No, it won't help him with his pocket awareness or his field vision, but it will show him what's possible when a quarterback feels everything around him.
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