11W Recruiting Mailbag: Discussing Ohio State’s Search for a Quarterback, Issues at Center and Top Tight End Targets

By Andrew Lind on March 8, 2018 at 10:10 am
Max Duggan

Max Duggan


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

How much clearer to you think the picture will be at quarterback after the spring? - BucksIan

With spring practice in full swing and official visits allowed starting next month, Ohio State’s search for a quarterback this cycle should really come into focus. 

The Buckeyes currently have offers out to 12 signal callers, four of which are committed to other programs. That doesn’t mean you can completely discount the staff’s chances of changing their mind, especially with more than nine months until the Early Signing Period. But I feel pretty confident in saying Alabama four-star Bo Nix will remain committed to Auburn, where he’ll follow in his father’s footsteps. 

If there’s one I’m not sold on sticking with his pledge, though, it’s Wisconsin four-star commit Graham Mertz. He’s repeatedly told inquirers he’s solid with the Badgers, but when programs like Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Michigan and Ohio State come calling, it’s gotta be hard not to listen.

Various sources have indicated Mertz is one of the top quarterbacks on the Buckeyes’ list of priorities, as well as that he has a lot of admiration and respect for head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day. If the staff can get him on campus this spring, it’ll be a clear sign he’s at least reconsidering his pledge. 

If you read my way-too-early predictions last month, then you’ll know I believe Mertz is going to be one half of the quarterback puzzle. But there’s still a lot that has to happen for that to become a reality. Ohio State has been wise in making sure not to put all of its eggs in one basket in case it doesn’t. 

That’s why the next two months may be the most important time period of the entire recruiting cycle, with regard to the quarterback position, that is. Six signal callers have made clear their intentions to visit campus, and we’ll get a better understanding of where the Buckeyes stand with each one — and vice versa. 

Both Iowa four-star Max Duggan and Texas four-star Grant Gunnell are visiting campus for the first time today, March 8. It’s safe to say the latter is the more highly coveted quarterback, but proximity is perceived to be the biggest threat to Ohio State’s chances. If he returns for an official visits later this spring, it’s clearly not an issue for Gunnell — though, as I’ve mentioned before, Arkansas and Oklahoma State would certainly still have the upper hand in his recruitment. 

Duggan, meanwhile, seems solely focused on schools in the Midwest. I know he’s intrigued by what the Buckeyes have to offer, but I get the sense he’s the type of quarterback the staff would circle back to later in the process rather than accept his commitment in April, when he intends to make a decision. I anticipate Nebraska or Notre Dame will be his choice if he follows through with those plans.

Maryland three-star Jalon Jones, who picked up an offer from Ohio State during an unofficial visit just last Friday, will return to campus again on March 29. And given his affinity for Meyer — Jones was a Florida fan growing up and told me the former Gators head coach was “a big reason I fell in love with football” — there’s no doubt the Buckeyes are at the top of his list right now. 

Jones’ visit later this month will allow him to build a stronger bond with Meyer and Day, and I think there’s a great opportunity for him to solidify himself as one of their top targets moving forward with each trip back.

California four-star Jayden Daniels, North Carolina four-star Sam Howell and Texas four-star Grant Tisdale also intend to visit campus this spring, though each prospect has not finalized a specific date. 

Daniels has never been to campus, while Howell attended a one-day camp last summer. I have a difficult time seeing either end up playing their college ball in Columbus — though I’m told Day is a big fan of the latter. Alabama and Clemson are considered the favorites for Howell, while USC has taken the early lead in Daniels’ recruitment.

And Tisdale, last but not least, has been high on Ohio State from the time the staff offered last summer. I was told he was extremely close to committing to the Buckeyes a few months back. That didn’t happen, of course, but that doesn’t mean the chances of him ending up in the class have diminished in the least — despite some reports to the contrary. 

A lot of that has to do with a bit of indecisiveness on the part of the staff. After years of deploying a dual-threat quarterback, the staff is giving serious consideration to gun-slinging pocket passers with functional mobility — like Gunnell, Howell and Mertz. And, again, that’s a big reason why I think Ohio State will take two quarterbacks this cycle, one of each mold. 

By the time Tisdale makes his official visit in April, most likely for the Spring Game, we should have a clear understanding of where the Buckeyes stand in their search for their next quarterback. And, with that said, I could see either him or Jones pledging their services to the staff shortly thereafter. 

Now, how many quarterbacks Ohio State brings on this cycle ultimately depends on whether or not the loser of this spring’s position battle transfers out of the program, as well. That’s why I would expect the quarterback search to continue well into the fall, even my prediction comes true.

In his presser earlier this week, Urban seemed very concerned about the center position. Do you regard this to be a problem as he does? - Buckeyearchie76

When Ohio State was tasked with replacing starter Jacoby Boren following the 2015 season, Meyer simply slid all-American guard Pat Elflein over to center. He then proceeded to win the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s best player at that position. 

When Elflein departed for the National Football League, the Buckeyes simply replaced him with all-American guard Billy Price. 

He, too, won the Rimington. 

But with Price having exhausted his eligibility, the Buckeyes must now find his replacement — and there’s no all-American to just move over in sight. Instead, garbage time contributor Brady Taylor; converted guard Matt Burrell; converted tackles Joshua Alabi and Josh Myers; and early enrollee Matthew Jones — who was recruited specifically for the position — are all fighting for that spot. 

With Meyer mentioning all five on Tuesday, it’s clear the position is wide open. But keep in mind, the seventh-year head coach does like to exaggerate his level of concern from time to time. 

We’re just a few days into spring practice, and one is bound to emerge by the time the season opener against Oregon State rolls around. But that said, I wouldn’t bet against Jones. Surely Meyer would rather avoid playing a true freshman at arguably the most important position on the field, but it would also solidify the spot for the next four years.

If he doesn’t win the position battle out of camp, Jones will certainly be the backup and get considerable playing time this fall and take over the position whenever the starter departs. And that, coupled with the Buckeyes’ pursuit of Georgia four-star Harry Miller, means center should be the least of Meyer’s concerns for the next several years.

Who do you think Ohio State’s top tight end targets are and do you think there is a potential of taking more than one? - Zdog4307

With five-star Jeremy Ruckert arriving on campus this summer, tight end doesn’t appear to be a priority this cycle. Then again, Ohio State could find itself with a significant lack of depth at the position if he pushes for playing time as a freshman. 

Redshirt junior Rashod Berry seems poised for a big year, so it’s not out of the question to think he’ll contemplate declaring for the NFL next offseason. And if redshirt sophomores Luke Farrell and Jake Hausmann get passed by Ruckert on the depth chart, they’ll be likely to look for an opportunity to play elsewhere. 

In that extreme scenario, Ruckert would be the only tight end on the roster in 2019. And that means Ohio State would certainly take two tight ends in this recruiting class. 

But remember, even Meyer admitted it’s difficult to project how many players will be needed at each position every cycle — with transfers, early draft departures, etc. And I apologize, but that’s why I can’t give an absolute answer. 

That said, there are a few names to keep in mind as the Buckeyes search for at least one tight end this cycle, including Chicago four-star Jahleel Billingsley — whom the staff offered last night — and Arizona three-star Brayden Liebrock. Neither has been to campus, but both have strong interest in the program. 

Fairfield three-star Erick All Jr. is an in-state prospect who could pick up a late offer with a strong senior season, meanwhile. 

NOTE: I’ll have more on Billingsley’s offer in tonight’s edition of The Hurry Up.

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