We have two full months to go before our beloved take the field but that doesn’t stop us from thinking about who needs to step up to have the season we all expect. Last year saw the departure of some impactful players, many of whom were seasoned vets with several years of starting experience under their belt. And, while their replacments are largely known, it’s one thing to have the starting job and something entirely different to actually play to a level that’s needed to hoist this team into a different realm. Hey, most are expecting huge improvement from Terrelle Pryor so it goes with the territory to expect the same from others.
Some of these players may not be expected to even start necessarily but they’ve been in the progam long enough and their pedigree is such that the time has come for them to get off the sidelines and get between the hashes. No doubt the coaches have the same expectation because there comes a point when you starting thinking about whether it just didn’t work out.
I looked at players who have been in the program at least two years and who have a chance to either start or provide valuable minutes in relief, then whittled that list to five. These aren’t just guys who we took to fill out a class. No, all of them were very highly recruited and some were thought to be the cadillacs. Literally and figuratively, for these five guys, it’s time to showcase your talents or be prepared for others to take your spot.
Etienne Sabino - The departure of Austin Spitler, who just signed with the Miami Dolphins, paves the way for Sabino to grab the starting spot. Blessed with athleticism, Sabino has shown flashes but not the consistency needed to see the field more. Now with the inside track for the staring position, I look for Sabino to showcase his flexibility at LB by being able to handle a slot receiver or tight end but also rush from the edge when needed. The competition for his spot is perhaps the most intense of any with Storm Klein, Jonathan Newsome, Dorian Bell, Jordan Whiting and Andrew Sweat all vying for minutes at linebacker.
Garrett Goebel - If there’s a chink in the defensive line armor, it’s at defensive tackle. Dexter Larimore and workout freak John Simon make for a formible tandem, but the guys behind them are completely unproven. The depth is so fragile the staff chose to throw another body at the position by pinballing tune-carrying Evan Blanenship from the offensive line. This year will mark Goebel’s third in the program and one cannot draw up a better opportunity to begin to make his presence known. He will be needed for the rotation else we’ll have to rely on a younger player, the stamina of Larimore and Simon or a defensive end stepping up allowing Heyward to move inside fulltime.
Travis Howard - Truth be told, I’ve loved Travis Howard since he stepped foot on campus. He has good speed and change of direction skills coupled with great size for a corner at 6’1”. The Hurricane staff wept when the Miami native spurned their offer for the white winters of central Ohio. Now, Travis has a chance to play against his hometown team and become an essential piece of the secondary in either certain nickel or dime coverages.
Taurian Washington - Since legacy didn’t heed Luke’s words of advice, the receiver position has suddenly gotten a little shallow which makes Washington’s improvement damn near mandatory. Washington doesn’t do anything that will ‘wow’ you but he has a strong tool set to become a solid receiver and be another guy who can get 12 yards on a 3rd and 11. Perhaps the biggest obstacle will be the six inches between his ears where he needs to calm the paralysis by analysis syndrome which causes him to drop too many routine catches.
Mike Adams - Saddled with out of control expectations and comparisons to the legendary Orlando Pace, Adams will most likely man the left tackle spot this year. He is another on this list who is in his third year, highly recruited and hasn’t done much. When you see Adams, you see a football player but for whatever reason it hasn’t materialized on the field which is most disappointing because the left tackle spot was an open audition last year. To me, if Adams has matured, he only needs to rely on his God given size and talents and trust the footwork he’s learned from Coach Bollman.
There were several players considered but missed the cut, for better or worse, including Jake Stoneburner, Nate Oliver, Soloman Thomas and Donnie Evege. Keith Wells would have been another had he not bolted. And, in the case of Stoneburner, by all accounts, has stepped up is ready to shine but he still needs his number called to collect receptions, a situation he can’t really control.
Regardless of whether they were highly recruited, we have seen the value of players stepping up in the past. Defensive tackle David Thompson was pretty much unheard of before a breakout senior campaign in 2001-02. A few years later Antonio Smith went from walk-on to starting corner as a senior which led to a shot in the NFL. Better still, both players played for a National Title as seniors. They stepped up. So, the five above have a chance to go from question marks to star players themselves and even play for coveted hardware.
This is less to do about coaching and everything to do about the player making the strides on their own then actually producing on the field in meaningful ways. So, will they? Which players are on your list?