Good afternoon friends, nice to see you all again. The Buckeyes' biggest recruiting week of the summer is upon us so today we'll look a bit closer at some of the key players, storylines and general stuff to watch for as Friday Night Lights approaches.
Last year, under the bright (then temporary) lights of Ohio Stadium, Urban Meyer and his staff assembled a gaggle of highly-recruited 2014 prospects, a number of which turned out to be Buckeyes by the time signing day rolled around. Raekwon McMillan, Curtis Samuel and a large majority of the players who'd eventually comprise the "Dream '14" took in the sights and sounds of July in Columbus and it paid off in spades. Now, as this year's camp rolls back around, we'll take a look at the key players from each positional group; the players you should be watching.
Today, we'll begin with a look at the offense, where last year's camp was highlighted by current Ohio State commitment Eric Glover-Williams.
If there's one positional group that could be considered "underwhelming," as far as participating players, it's the quarterback group. Ohio State commitments Joe Burrow and Danny Clark will each be in attendance, although it's unclear if they'll work out. I suspect, knowing how each of them ticks, that they will workout simply because they're so eager to get the coaching from Tom Herman and his group. Outside of the Ohio State pledges, the rest of the guys at quarterback will seem somewhat anonymous
In the 2016 class, Gunnar Hoak, a 6-foot-4, 195-pounder from Dublin Coffman High School, may be one of the more intriguing prospects to watch. Outside of Hoak, one other guy to pay attention to is 2017 Cocoa, Florida standout Bruce Judson. Judson may not even work out at quarterback, but the 5-foot-10, 170-pounder handles the position for Cocoa and is an excellent athlete. He's a high school teammate of Ohio State commitment, cornerback Jamel Dean.
The running back position will be highlighted by a couple of commitments, one for the Buckeyes and one who could still be in play with Ohio State despite being currently spoken for. Hubbard, Ohio 2016 speedster George Hill will get his first chance to showcase his talents for Buckeye fans and if you're unfamiliar with Hill, you should prepare yourself to be impressed. At 6-foot-tall and 180-pounds, Hill is put together better than most high school junior-to-be running back and he's got a burst that most players simply don't. Seeing how well he catches the ball, how comfortable he is in the passing game will something to pay attention to.
Beyond Hill, and in a more immediate-dividends sort of way, there's Miami Hurricanes commitment Jordan Cronkrite. Since his pledge, Miami has added two additional four-star tailback commitments, so the writing may be on the wall that the consensus four-star Cronkrite, the 20th-ranked athlete in the country, could be up for grabs. In April, the Miami-native talked about a potential visit to Ohio State and this week he'll make it to Columbus. He's also a potential candidate at safety, were a coaching staff so inclined to give him a prolonged look there.
2016 Atlanta, Georgia running back Elijah Holyfield, son of former World Heavyweight Champion Evander, will also be in attendance. Whether or not he's the "real deal" is yet to be determined, but the junior Holyfield's early offer list is impressive. Ohio State, Michigan, Kentucky, Louisville, Wisconsin, California, Duke, Virginia and a handful of others have already come calling and this trip to Columbus could be a big one as far how high up the Buckeyes' big board Holyfield vaults.
Ohio State wide receiver coach Zach Smith has to be beaming from ear-to-ear thinking about the talent he'll see this Friday night. The group is deep, it's talented and it's varied — big-timers from 2015 to 2017 will all be in attendance — and Smith will get to go over each with a fine-toothed comb.
The 2015 group, which is actually the least "eventful" of the event, has a pair of unique and talented players each vying for more Buckeye attention. The first of which, Lawrence Cager from Townson, Maryland, has already had a pretty darn good week. Cager picked up three different SEC offers (Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama), and is a great-looking 6-foot-5, 210-pound wideout that has made no bones about his desire to get a Buckeye offer. If he shows up at camp and stands out, there's a great chance he leaves with that offer.
Devante Peete has been hotly and repeatedly linked to Ohio State despite never making a trip to Columbus before this week, and he'll be a player worth watching. Physically, you don't find many wideouts more interesting that the almost 6-foot-6, 190-pound Peete. He's got a better top gear that Cager, but off-the-field questions have plagued what looked to be a promising recruitment. The Buckeyes and Hurricanes have long been his top two schools, but is Ohio State really interested? The answer is coming.
The 2016 wide receiver group could be the single most talented group in the entire stadium this Friday. The player most people will be watching, in my opinion, is Cleveland Benedictine's Justin Layne. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound Layne already has offers from Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan, and now it's Ohio State's turn to step up and get into the race or risk falling too far behind to catch up later. Adding intrigue to Layne's recruitment of course, is the fact that his high school teammate, Jerome Baker, just turned down Ohio State. Why does that impact Layne? I don't think it really does, but you know, people like the intrigue...they love the intrigue.
Another Ohioan, Demario McCall from North Ridgeville, should be another of the most watched players in attendance. The 5-foot-10 McCall could take some reps at running back or wide receiver, but with a Buckeye offer already in tow, expect him to be a priority for Ohio State's staff come Friday night. Don't be surprised if he breaks out at this year's camp like Eric Glover-Williams did last year. It won't be a shock if McCall drives home Friday night as a committed member of Ohio State's 2016 class.
Fort Wayne, Indiana's Austin Mack has staked his claim in recent months as the best 2016 around, thanks in part to offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan and Michigan State. He's big (6-foot-2 and 205 pounds), fast (ran a 4.57 at Ohio State in June) and he's been impressive in front of the Buckeyes before, so expect another strong showing from Mack, currently the 16th-ranked wide receiver in the entire 2016 class.
One player already in Columbus, Florida's Binjimen Victor, is a composite four-star wide receiver in 2016 as well. Despite strong ties to the Hurricanes, Zach Smith is getting a lot of time with the 6-foot-4 Victor this week: the Fort Lauderdale native will be in Columbus for almost a full seven days. Already holding offers from Alabama, Florida State, Auburn, LSU, Michigan and a number of others, the opportunity for extended one-on-one time is huge for the Buckeyes early in the process.
When 11W first introduced you to Farmington Hills, Michigan 2016 wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick over a year ago, he was waiting for his first scholarship offer. Now, as he prepares to enter his junior season, Fitzpatrick is waiting for his first big offer and hopes to prove to Ohio State's coaching staff that he's ready for the big-time. He has offers from Cincinnati, Toledo, Eastern Michigan, Kentucky, Illinois, Wake Forest and others, but Fitzpatrick's a player who will end up going bigger than that. One of the more polished receivers in the country, regardless of high school class, the Michigan native runs routes better than most collegiate wideouts and is as sure-handed as they come. If there's a question on Fitzpatrick right now it's whether or not he's got that extra gear to run away from defenders, but he does so many other things well that might not matter.
There are a number of talented 2017 wide receivers scheduled to be in attendance as well, including Detroit Cass Tech's Donovan Peoples-Jones and St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) sensation Trevon Grimes. Peoples-Jones already holds an offer from Ohio State, and it'd be very surprising if Grimes left Columbus without one.
Another strong position at this year's camp, the tight end competition could end up being an important one as far as the future of Ohio State recruiting. Any number of possible outcomes could not only change the plans for 2015, but also 2016 and beyond. Despite some urging from Ohio State, one player who won't be in attendance is Kentucky commitment C.J. Conrad, who is content with his Wildcats pledge and won't camp for the Buckeyes.
With Conrad out of the picture, the Buckeyes will turn their focus to a number of out-of-state attendees. Kansas' Josh Moore has the Buckeyes in his final five schools and hopes to make a decision soon after this visit (and perhaps the most inspiring high school football story of the year). Burke, Virginia's A.J. Alexander, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound flex-wide receiver/tight end could be key player to watch this week as well. The Buckeyes are interested his ability to line up in different places and with a good showing he could move to the top of the 2015 wishlist.
Another pair of interesting 2015 tight ends — Pennsylvania's Amir Ealey and New Jersey's Jake Pickard — will both make return visits to Columbus just a month and a half or so from their last trips. Pickard has offers from Wisconsin and Oregon among others, but has little experience playing tight end and that could be what's holding Ohio State back. Ealey, the country's 30th-ranked tight end is as physically talented as any but is very raw in his craft. The Buckeyes are hoping he's taken their previous meeting, and subsequent instruction, to heart. An offer to Ealey would put the Buckeyes in the driver's seat for his recruitment.
We'll take a look at the offensive and defensive lines, along with the key players to watch on the defensive back seven, on Wednesday and Thursday.