Hunting for the Next Big Bear: Is there a Joey Bosa in the 2014 Class?

By Michael Citro on March 6, 2014 at 2:15p

Last season, true freshman Joey Bosa exploded into the spotlight, adding quickness, strength and aggression to Ohio State’s front four on defense.

Bosa made an immediate impact — something most collegiate freshmen can’t do because they lack the physical attributes necessary to compete with mostly older guys who have been in top notch strength and conditioning programs for two or more years. Size does matter in college football. So does strength. It’s a physical game.

The rookie from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., finished with 7.5 sacks last year, second only to Noah Spence’s eight on Ohio State’s roster. Bosa also was third in tackles for loss (13.5), tied for first in quarterback hurries (6), 10th in tackles (44), and scored a defensive touchdown on a fumble recovery at Northwestern.

Guys like Bosa don’t come along very often, obviously. However, with the success of Urban Meyer’s 2014 recruiting class, might there be someone who could step in and become the surprise starter this year as Bosa did in 2013?

Here are the top candidates to bust out as freshmen, Bosa-style*:

(* as selected by a person using his scientifically-proven gut feelings — i.e., me. Also, this is about surprise starters, so I won’t be discussing Sean Nuernberger here, since he might actually be a favorite to win the starter’s job.)

Raekwon McMillan

The much-heralded freshman linebacker has the sufficient size at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds to keep from being overmatched at the college level. This was one of the keys to Bosa’s ability to produce in his first season. Freshmen are usually in the midst of the transition from boy to man, but Bosa arrived on campus with the size and strength to compete. McMillan similarly has the physique to compete, and with his early enrollment, he’ll have a head start in Mickey Marotti’s strength and conditioning program.

The Hinesville, Ga., product also has great speed to accompany his size. With the depth issues the Buckeyes have at linebacker, McMillan could post his breakout year right off the bat a la Bosa. But there are a lot of nuances to the position in college and he’ll have to be a quick study to step right into Luke Fickell’s defense in 2014.

Johnnie Dixon

At 5-foot-11 and 198 pounds, Dixon has enough size to compete at wide receiver right away. Another early enrollee, the Florida native will have a little more competition in his position group than McMillan, but it’s still a spot that will be wide open.

While Philly Brown and Chris Fields are gone, Corey Smith and Jeff Greene will get long looks, along with returning players Devin Smith and Evan Spencer. A healthy James Clark will also be a contender for playing time. Dixon will have to beat out a lot of guys to see the field, but he’s got the physical tools to do just that.

Erick Smith

At 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Smith doesn’t have the same physical advantage at his position as McMillan and Dixon, but his size is sufficient to play defensive back. With Smith, his advantage is instinctual. Smith has a knack for being around the ball.

Smith has more competition in his position group due to Meyer’s outstanding recruiting efforts the last couple of years. The former Glenville Tarblooder also won’t have the advantage of enrolling early. He’ll arrive in the fall with an opportunity to make his mark in year one.

Damon Webb

Speaking of instinctual players, Webb is precisely one of those. Webb has great coverage skills and a terrific fall camp could draw the notice of new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash. Armani Reeves and Doran Grant seem to be the favorites to lock down the corner spots. But a new coach means new opportunities.

Detroit Cass Tech product Webb eschewed Michigan to play for Urban Meyer. He’ll make his mark on the program at some point. It may be a longshot, but that point may just come in 2014.

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