11W Recruiting Mailbag: Talking Defensive Line, Wide Receiver Development and the Impact of a Loss on Recruiting

By Andrew Lind on September 14, 2017 at 2:15 pm
Micah Parsons and Eddie George
Micah Parsons and Eddie George

The 11W Recruiting Mailbag is your one-stop shop for all things Ohio State recruiting. You have questions. We have answers.

247Sports Director of Recruiting Steve Wiltfong Crystal Balled Pennsylvania five-star defensive end Micah Parsons to Nebraska. Any intel on that situation? - SoulPatrol32

Quite a bit happened with Parsons on his official visit this weekend. It all started when he appeared on the set of ESPN's College GameDay, where he posed for photos with former Ohio State quarterback and current host Kirk Herbstreit and Heisman Trophy-winning running back Eddie George (seen above). Parsons said he was having the time of his life.

But within minutes of Ohio State's loss to Oklahoma, Parsons took to Twitter to share his frustrations about the loss by calling for a change at the quarterback position. Madness ensued shortly thereafter on social media.

Wiltfong, who is as plugged into the Ohio State football program as any recruiting analyst out there, then placed his crystal ball prediction in favor of Nebraska. But he said it had nothing to do with Parsons' tweet:

“I think Nebraska is the one pushing the hardest for Parsons,” he said. “Parsons plans on taking all five official visits so things could develop with some other programs, but at this moment I like Nebraska. Parsons had a strong visit to Lincoln in the summer and returns for his official Oct. 7. He was at Ohio State this past weekend and returns to Happy Valley this weekend but again I think it's the Huskers pushing the hardest”

Sources close to the Ohio State football program tell me otherwise, however. Parsons has faced maturity questions from the start of his recruitment. There are additional questions surrounding those with whom he surrounds himself at home, and some believe the risk of bringing him in is greater than the reward.

The Buckeyes aren't the only program considering those factors, either, as sources close to the Penn State football program have told me the Nittany Lions have all but moved on from Parsons — a one-time commit — entirely. And on the flip side, those conversations are part of the reason schools like Miami and Nebraska have become potential and attractive destinations.

For the Cornhuskers and Hurricanes, Parsons' superstar potential outweighs his off-the-field issues. That's a risk programs starving to become nationally relevant must take.

But for Ohio State, that tweet was another strike against Parsons. At some point, head coach Urban Meyer will have to decide if defensive line coach Larry Johnson can straighten Parsons out, or if there's too much bagage that comes along with him.

Luckily for the Buckeyes, that decision doesn't have to be made anytime soon, as Parsons plans to take all five official visits and then decide. It'll be interesting to see, though, if the Buckeyes are still there to accept his pledge when that time comes.

How does a loss, if at all, impact the recruiting process with a target? - Hovenaut

A single loss shouldn't impact a recruit's decision, no matter how big the game was, after all, almost every team in the country will drop a game at some point this season. The key is to not let it the loss linger, especially for those who are on an official visit that weekend.

Despite Ohio State's on-field performance, the energy of the second-largest crowd in stadium history and the coaching staff's attitude toward fixing the problems that contributed to the loss seems to have stood out to those who were in attendance and those who remained on campus on Sunday. Ohio State, particularly under Meyer, has always been able to rebound rather quickly from a loss. 

As long as the offensive issues don't continue to be the main theme of the season, the Buckeyes shouldn't worry too much about a single notch in the loss column have an impact on the recruiting trail. And, as you saw on Tuesday with JUCO defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson's pledge, the best prospects want to make sure a loss like that never happens again.

When you're on the sidelines for games taking photos, are you allowed to talk to recruits? - Desymond

Ohio State's compliance department doesn't allow anyone on the sidelines that is not affilliated with the football program to talk with recruits. However, since I've developed relationships with both the recruits and their parents, most of them say hello, shake my hand or ask how I'm doing as they walk past me while I'm taking their photos prior to the game.

I was actually told by a member of compliance — well, one of the hostesses — this weekend that I'm not supposed to have any interaction with them at all. But I'm not going to be rude when Jaelen Gill and his dad reach out and shake my hand to say hello or Master Teague III's father asks how I'm doing.

It's a weird dynamic all around, to be honest, since they walk the recruits right past photographers and recruiting analysts like myself and Land of 10's Jeremy Birmingham. But I also understand their reasons for not wanting us — or anyone in a position of possible influence — to interact with them while under Ohio State's watch.

I just have to catch up with them afterwards.

Where does Ohio State stand with Cleveland Heights four-star defensive end Tyreke Smith? It looks like there may be growing concern that he's beginning to favor Penn State. - JacksonOhio5

You may recall Smith announced a Top 5 of Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State and USC shortly after he arried in Beaverton, Oregon, in late June for Nike Football's The Opening Finals. And it was there that I first got a sense of how real of a threat the Nittany Lions truly are.

For starters, his mom absolutely loves Penn State head coach James Franklin. As a former basketball player who went through the recruiting process herself, she appreciates his honesty with and compassion for her son. For example, Franklin will reach out to Smith when he knows he's traveling and wish him a safe trip.

Meyer, meanwhile, reaches out almost daily with what is perceived to be the same message he sends other recruits. Just making contact isn't going to work with Smith and his family. Meyer has to go above and beyond in his efforts.

Ohio State has also floated the idea of moving Smith to the interior portion of the defensive line, something he doesn't want to do at the next level. Penn State, meanwhile, is saying defensive end all the way.

Smith is originally from California, so it's not as if his ties to Ohio State run deep. And had the Buckeyes not offered him a scholarship when they did this winter, he seemed ready to move on altogether. This isn't a normal in-state recruitment, and it shouldn't just be assumed he'll end up in Columbus just because he lives in Cleveland.

Now, sources close to the Penn State program have told me they have only one spot along the defensive line left open, which means the Nittany Lions will have to decide between Smith, Parsons and New Jersey four-star defensive end Jayson Oweh. Ohio State doesn't have that problem, and could eventually land all three. But at some point, Franklin is going to have to decide which prospect he wants to go all-in for.

I believe Ohio State and Penn State are on even footing for Smith at the moment, with the Buckeyes pulling even because of Johnson and his ability to mold prospects into men both on and off the field. But landing Smith isn't going to be easy or a foregone conclusion by any means.

How much additional pressure is four-star safety commit Josh Proctor going to be under after the loss to Oklahoma, and will it affect his commitment? - Chemicalwaste

Proctor — an Owasso, Oklahoma, native — recently said that his friends, teammates, coaches and teachers have been pressuring him to switch his pledge from the Buckeyes to the Sooners. But I can assure you he remains 100 percent committed to Ohio State and has no plans to take any visits to Oklahoma... or anywhere else for that matter.

Just as you would expect Meyer to do for an in-state prospect who was committed elsewhere, Lincoln Riley continues to recruit Proctor heavily. I'm certain he'll remind him of the score of last Saturday's game every chance he gets, too.

But Proctor, who said he was shutting his recruitment down altogether following his visit for Friday Night Lights in July, won't be pursuaded by the result of one game. He and his family fell in love with Ohio State, and that's where his pledge will remain.

Ohio State has been recruiting and getting some of the best wide receivers and athletes in the country since Urban's arrival. When do they start to develop them? - MAVBuck

Until Ohio State's most recent class, recruiting the wide receiver position seemed to be about finding the best athletes in the country and hoping their overall athleticism could translate to a position that is just as much about running smooth routes, using your hands well and beating defenders off the line — you know, the guys who were quarterbacks or running backs in high school but don't quite fit the mold of those positions at the college level.

But as we've seen, that was the wrong strategy.

That's why the Buckeyes went big earlier this year by bringing in 6-foot-5 Jaylen Harris, 6-foot-4 Trevon Grimes and 6-foot-4 Ellijah Gardiner. And while they aren't expected to do much this season — offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said on Wednesday they've each shown flashes, but are inconsistent — their unique blend of size and speed should get the wide receiver position back on track sooner than later.

Some players, like Harris, Grimes, Michael Thomas, Devin Smith, Noah Brown and Curtis Samuel, are simply big, strong and athletic enough to be great at the position and seem destined for the National Football League from the moment they step on campus. But for those who aren't, like the current crop of starting wideouts, they must be developed — and that falls upon the shoulders of wide receivers coach Zach Smith.

Smith is a great recruiter, but — to me — hasn't proven he can mold players into good route-runners or reliable go-to options. And at some point, he should be held accountable for the subpar play of his unit. Until that happens or someone like Grimes and Harris' natural talent take center stage, the wide receiver until will continue to show a lack of true development.

With more recruits talking about how J.T. Barrett should be replaced at quarterback, is this the first sign of players maybe secretly planning on decommitting or not commiting to Ohio State? - Keze

Above all else, this is happening because of an emotional reaction from an unexpected loss. All three recruits who publicly advocated for a change at the quarterback position — Parsons, four-star safety commit Jaiden Woodbey and five-star offensive tackle target Jackson Carman — were at the game and obviously fully invested in the Buckeyes coming out on top.

In Carman's case, however, there's growing concern that he's not actually interested in playing for Ohio State as so many have assumed was a foregone conclusion since the time we first saw him maul a defender. He continues to go out of his way to show that he's not a lock for Ohio State, naming Clemson his leader this spring and raving about his trip to USC this summer. And his subsequent tweets about Tigers' head coach Dabo Swinney and the Trojans' Clay Helton give the impression that he's looking for reasons to not pick the Buckeyes.

Getting in Twitter spats with fans and former Ohio State quarterback and current ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit only speak to that thought process.

Of course, the Buckeyes won't stop recruiting him and there's a good chance he's just playing the recruiting game. After all, he said this spring he was annoyed with the fact everyone thought he was going to end up at Ohio State because of proximity.

But while it looks as if Parsons and Woodbey just got caught up in the moment — and/or are hoping to see one of their good friends and possible future quarterback, Dwayne Haskins, flourish — it appears Carman is hell-bent on burning every bridge on his way out of the state.

Idaho four-star defensive tackle Tommy Togiai is going to be a...? - Toad1204

When I first learned of Togiai's interest in Ohio State, my immediate reaction was to compare his recruitment to that of Jay Tufele, a four-star defensive tackle from Utah who took an official visit last fall before ultimately choosing USC. The perceived distance between his hometown and Columbus was just too much for the Buckeyes to overcome.

However, Pocatello Highland head coach Gino Mariani recently told me Togiai has no qualms about playing far from home. And with USC and Washington considered the only real threats to land his pledge, Togiai's parents are going to have to fly to wherever he decides to play anyway.

Sources within the Ohio State football program are becoming increasingly confident in their chances to land Togiai, even with the recent addition of the aforementioned Antwuan Jackson. The Buckeyes will have room for both, and that will make for one heck of a haul with five-star Taron Vincent already in the fold.

Ohio State will have to withstand late-season official visits to Los Angeles and Seattle, but my gut tells me right now Togiai ends up with the Buckeyes.

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