Opportunities Abound for Freshmen to Make Impact

By Kyle Rowland on August 6, 2013 at 9:30a
The freshmen are coming.

When freshmen arrive on campus, they better be prepared to play from Day 1 and make an impact. Urban Meyer is not in the traditional mold when it comes to first-year players. Many coaches will bide their time with rookies and allow them to become acclimated to college football and college life. Not so with Meyer.

The game has changed tenfold in the past two decades. The high caliber recruits that matriculate to Columbus can leave in three years, prompting coaches to get the most out of them. High school seniors have also started enrolling in college early, boosting their knowledge after going through spring drills. Then there is the size and speed faster.

In 2013, 17- and 18-year-olds have become bigger, faster and stronger. In other words, they are ready for primetime.

A year ago, the freshmen class made their mark on special teams. The “piranhas,” as they were affectionately known, evolved into one of the top units on the team. But as soon as they were elevated, it all went kaput. Three of those heralded freshmen – Najee Murray, Devan Bogard and Armani Reeves – suffered injuries, as did senior Zach Domicone.

“When they say ‘piranhas,’ it’s something that we all have to keep us together. It’s a really cool nickname that we all just take pride in,” Reeves said last season. “We’re going to play it like piranhas. We’re going to play fast, nasty and just get down the field as fast as we can.”

The names may change in 2013, but the attitude and philosophy will not. With Kerry Coombs directing the special teams, the intensity will only go one direction: up. Meyer has long been a special teams aficionado. The quickest way out of the doghouse, or if you just want on the head coach’s good side, is to be impactful on special teams. The selflessness displayed is admired. And when athletes load up, game-changing plays can occur.

“We want to change the game through special teams,” Meyer said.

Said Reeves: “Coach Meyer pays a lot of attention to special teams. He really prides himself on having the best special teams in the country.”

The Buckeyes ended the season giving up almost 21 yards per return, an average that rose considerably the second half of the season once injuries mounted. They allowed one touchdown, to Purdue, and had 19 touchbacks.

Names like Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall, Ezekiel Elliott and James Clark have already become the household variety to Buckeye Nation. But coming to a field near you could be the names Eli Apple, Chris Worley, Cam Burrows, Darron Lee, Trey Johnson and Gareon Conley. Ohio State’s 2013 recruiting class was filled with athletic types who scream special teamers. 

“We want to change the game through special teams.”

Worley, in particular, already features a frame dreamed about by special teams coaches. He’s strong, fast and can hit hard and tackle even better. He has the body of a linebacker and speed of a safety. He’s almost assured of being a presence on kickoff and punt coverage units throughout the season.

But there are other areas freshmen are expected to contribute, namely offense. Wilson, Marshall, Elliott and Clark have garnered attention since the moment they committed. Now that they are finally on the practice field, even more coverage is devoted to the talented freshmen.

It’s no secret that Meyer covets a player similar to Percy Harvin, whose electrifying style of play helped Florida win two national championships. He didn’t get it in his first recruiting class or from a current player, though Jordan Hall’s return could change that thinking. Regardless, the 2013 recruiting class did produce playmakers.

The most noticeable void on last season’s team – albeit undefeated – was the lack of speed and elusiveness on offense. Big plays were few and far between. It was never more apparent than on the stat sheet from the Buckeyes’ 17-16 win over Michigan State. Philly Brown had 12 receptions for just 84 yards. His longest catch of the day went 24 yards.

“Break a tackle, Philly,” Meyer said facetiously after the game with a hint of seriousness.

He continued on that subject at Big Ten media days.

“I'm hoping this year we have a nice little contingent of playmakers, that our only playmaker isn't No. 5,” Meyer said. “I think last year we didn't have very much confidence in the surrounding personnel.”

In comes Wilson, a one-time Oregon commit, so he has to be as fast as lightning; Marshall, who couldn’t be corralled from behind in high school; Elliott, an All-American talent from Missouri; and Clark, a Florida native who arrives with the requisite Southern speed.

Quantity and quality are both positives for Ohio State. As a collective group, the freshmen skill players can give the offense a jolt of energy and production, instead of one player being depended upon.

The defense has also been injected with a dose of speed and depth. Apple, Worley, Johnson, Vonn Bell, Joey Bosa, Mike Mitchell, Billy Price and Tyquan Lewis could see considerable minutes and growing roles as the season progresses.

The defensive line is in need of more bodies; the linebacker corps is short on production; and the defensive backfield could be stretched thin based on playing nickel and dime coverages. The fifth DB is Everett Withers’ idea. Opposing offenses have made it difficult for teams to use their base defense.

“Today’s offenses are so much three and four wide receivers, you need more speed and athleticism on the field,” he said.

Orhian Johnson gave Ohio State an added dimension with his play at the “Star” position. Now that he’s gone, the Buckeyes are left searching.

“It’s a big question mark for us,” Withers said.

There’s probably a freshman who can provide the answer.


Comments Show All Comments

RBuck's picture

If Vonn Bell can grasp the various defensive coverages quickly, I can see him as the first team 'Star'.

Long live the southend.

GoldenBuckeye's picture

Wasn't Tyvis Powell excelling at the star position in spring ball?

bucks15's picture

Yea he was, the coaches had high praise for him if I remember correctly.  They also said good things about Bogard before he went down with a torn ACL.  Bell is going to have to earn that spot if he wants to be on the field, he isn't gonna get it because of his 5-Star reputation.
Love all this competition, brings the best out of players.  

Kyle Rowland's picture

I've heard several people have high opinions of Bell; say they think he'll be starting at some point this season.

gumtape's picture

Pittsburgh Brown also plays star and is only a junior. The question is who will start at corner opposite grant due to Roby's suspension.

High and tight boo boo

sfgoody's picture

Corey is a 5th yr sr actually. I think Reeves gets first shot at Roby's spot. Gotta believe Apple is more talented, but, is he game ready day 1? If so? Look the hell out for that kid


bucks15's picture

Hard not to get excited about this class.  You never want to rely to heavily on freshman but I would be shocked if there weren't 4-5 impact players this year already, and that's not even including special teams.  
Really hope these guys can live up too the hype. 

chicagobuckeye's picture

Every time I hear of Orhian Johnson all I can think of is short ass braids.

Nutinpa's picture

Interesting that the Sparty game last year was picked as the game that showcased OSU's "lack of speed".   I am not arguing with the concept, but the irony in that example is the breakaway TD pass to Devin Smith....in which he beat the secondary, won the game that day.
I think a better game to showcase that fact would have been the Wisconsin game...in which our WRs ran poor routes and rarely, if ever, got open or bailed Miller out.

InHartWeTrust's picture

Blown deep coverage is different than having speed on offense.  Speed is highlighted by slashing routes, quick slants, drag routes, short passes, lots of YAC, making people miss, etc...not exclusively, or even primarily, by deep bombs.

KingsRite's picture

We will definitely have much more Team Speed. Can you imagine if all these guys pan out how dangerous of an offense we will have. Try to stop Braxton and there will be several other "fast" options to contend with. The defense will take some time to gel but it will be "wicked" when it gets going!

“I have yet to be in a game where luck was involved. Well-prepared players make plays. I have yet to be in a game where the most prepared team didn't win.” -Urban Meyer-

OldColumbusTown's picture

I'm really, really excited to see Jalin Marshall and his role in this offense.  My hope is that he does not get lost in the shuffle at receiver right off the bat, learning an entirely new position and all.  He's dynamic with the ball in his hands, and with all the talk of Wilson, I think Jalin gets lost a bit in the shuffle.

InHartWeTrust's picture

I'm excited as well for Jalin.  The hype is more prevalent for Dontre based on early reports, but Jalin is getting love too.  Ultimately the hyper doesn't matter; under Urban, if Jalin performs, Jalin plays early, regardless of who the publics hype is about.
I think Jalin mixes in early at both the Pivot and true WR positions, and ultimately shifts towards playing true WR for us by year end. 

nfischer's picture

I think the fans may lose him in the shuffle but the coaches are hunting for the best. I don't think they will allow that to happen. If he's the best option, I think he will see the field.

JYBUCKEYE's picture

I'm very excited about this freshman class. I no longer make prognostications for Freshman though. I once told all my friends Mike D'Andrea was the next great Lber at TOSU. I feel personally responsible for his career!! Sorry fellas. 

2014nationalchamps's picture

dont feel too bad. We all thought it. He was highly ranked coming out of Avon Lake. Then he could never stay healthy.
I live in Lorain county and the rumor about him in hs was that he used roids. It was confirmed by ppl who played on the same hs team as him. I dont know if its 100% true, but based on his career and injuries, it might have been true.

O-H-I-O  for life

The TresselMeyer's picture

Soooo are you thinking that Devin Gardner will be the next great Michigan quarterback....?!?

Brady Hoke's reaction to the Urban Meyer hire: "Not good."

JYBUCKEYE's picture

lol.  I'm way too superstitious to say anything like that.  

buckeyedude's picture

One thing we know for sure, is that after TTUN's home opener vs. Central Michigan, there will be proclamations of "Devin Gardner 4 Heisman!"
As Baretta used to say: "You can take that to the bank."



Jabba the Hoke's picture

What do you mean after the Central Michigan game? I hear it already, after a few decent games last year. (by decent I mean better that Debate Puntarm Robinson)

buckskin's picture

No worries, I thought the same thing.  When he was healthy I would watch him exclusively on the field.  He had no instincts for the game, he looked lost every play.  I remember thinking if we could take Chris Speilman's nose for the ball and instill it in him, he would be the best ever.  Still love him as a Buckeye though.

zbd's picture

Looking forward to an improved passing game. Urban was right on in pointing out lack of broken tackles. Finishing 105th in passing yardage is not acceptable. Chris Fields, Jalin Marshall, Philly Brown, Evan Spencer, Michael Thomas, Devin or Corey Smith.... need to step it up.

Kindell's picture

I think Eli Apple has a good shot at playing early as well.  We don't know what is going to happen with Roby, and everyone is pretty much unproven after Roby at CB.  If Robby gets suspended anything of the first few games, I am sure Coombs is going to see what he has early.  Apple enrolled in the spring and has had some more time to adjust.
There is going to be plenty of chances for the freshman on defense.  It's going to come down to who wants it the most and who picks up on things the quickest.  

MassiveAttack's picture

Corey "Philly" Brown and Devin "I drop 2 TD passes a game" Smith, each began to show a lot of elusiveness towards the end of the season (Indiana, Illinois).  Hopefully they both can continue to improve, while our freshman pick up the 4 and 5 WR spots.

The Ohio State University - "Haters love us!"

Grayskullsession's picture

"Team Speed" has a lot to do with it, but also "Team Elusiveness". Its great if you have the speed to run away from the defense, but you usually have to break and avoid several tackles first.

"if irony were made of strawberries, we' d all be drinking a lot of smoothies right now."

SGTBuckeye83's picture

When is the next practice that gets media coverage?

Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.

pjtobin's picture

I'm hoping that Mike "The Missile" Mitchell is a starter. He is very fast, very explosive , and is ball seeking. That is why I came up with the missile. What do you all think?

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

gumtape's picture

He already has a nickname "The abusement park"
If he is starting, it means that Grant has not figured it out or there is an injury. We will probably spend 80% of the time in nickel defense with just two linebackers and Tyvis Powell or Pittsburgh Brown playing star.
Mitchell and Johnson will likely make the two deep, but there is such a transition from HS, primarily the mental aspects, that it would be difficult for either of those guys to get past grant or Perry on the depth chart.
I see him starting the season as a special teams player and maybe a situational pass rusher. If

High and tight boo boo

pjtobin's picture

I have seen ppl reference the abusement park. I had no idea. Thank you for correcting me. I still like the missile though.
Could Mike play star? He has the speed. I read somewhere that he is raw. And he needs work on his pass coverage. Either way he is a beast. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

Crimson's picture

Mike is fast enough to play any position, but like most HS LBs he doesn't have much film against the pass.  I would doubt he could play the pass well as a star (we have many others who will get a look first), but I don't see why he couldn't take on pass coverage responsibilities as necessary from MLB.

Mirror Lake Jump's picture

The Abusement Park is one of the great nicknames in sports

Squirrel Master's picture

probably a freshman can provide an answer? I think at least 3 can; Worley, Bell and Lee. Now will they get the starting spot, I doubt it because I think Powell and Bogard are going to be battling for that with some fight from Corey "not from Pittsburgh" Brown. As much as I think it will be between Powell and Bell for the long haul, I would love to see Worley in there. He is a big man and would be unreal. I can see him being a blitz safety but with the power of someone like Aldon Smith as a standup blitz at the LoS. At least that would be awesome if it were to happen.
I don't think it is just team speed. This class is ripe with some big dude who can play. Billy Price and Bosa should at the very least get some decent PT in the OOC schedule. I really think there is a niche specialty that Tracy Sprinkle will fit that could add something very interesting to this defense. and it sounds like Evan Lisle is starting to bulk up and get ready for the opportunity to get some PT as well. Who knows, could steal the starting RT spot for all we know. That would be something!
Need some camp news. Is Braxton going to straight up knock holes in the sky with his new weapons? I wonder how many times the camera guy is going to lose one of our speed demons after a nasty juke?

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

TWCBUCKEYE's picture

Vonn Bell is one of those guys you look at and just know will be great.

"Nothing cleanses your soul like getting the [Mark May] kicked out of you."

Hovenaut's picture

I tell you all what, I think Cameron Johnson will own that punting spot...

InHartWeTrust's picture

Dude has a boot, with very nice hang time.

darbnurb's picture

Right on!  I was going to post something similar and then saw your comment.  Of all the freshman, I predict Johnson will have the greatest impact.

buckskin's picture

I am a little more reserved regarding Mike Mitchell because of Mike D'Andrea and Curtis Grant.  Sometimes, all that athleticism can hide lack of instincts.  I am more excited about the playmakers on returns and on offense.  This team will have speed like back in the Cooper days.  

InHartWeTrust's picture

One reservation I have on Mitchell is that on film, he doesn't hit anyone that hard.  At least on the tape I saw.  Love his speed, etc. though and hope he learns to play angry.

luckynutz's picture

I'd say that's a byproduct of his speed. He seemed to overrun a lot of plays and make a lots of arms tackles. Once they get the technique in place, I can see him being a serious hitter.

Crimson's picture

He wraps up.  I'll take it.

ChazBuckeye's picture

I like the Piranhas...hope they stick with that nickname.

Some people think we’re the hunted.I don’t feel that way at all.We’re the hunter.Everybody wants an angry football team.Everybody wants a team on edge and a hungry team.If you’re a hunter,that usually equates to being hungry.