Future prospects will be watching many points of interest that most Ohio State fans will be watching in 2019.
Every program in every season has something to prove, in one way or another, to upcoming recruiting classes. Many of those points of emphasis align with general points of concern that most fans typically have with the program, but those concerns can bleed into recruiting, as well as on-field production.
For Ohio State, there are five specific aspects of the team that future prospects will be watching for in 2019. Those points of interest could have a significant effect on the future of recruiting success at positions like the bullet and tight end.
Even though it is only Ryan Day’s first season as the head coach, there is some pressure to perform in these areas during this season.
Ryan Day's Performance in First Season as Head Coach
The obvious point of interest is how the program will perform not only without Urban Meyer as its head coach but also with Ryan Day in that position instead. Day is a good recruiter and has proven to be a good coach, but, as has been discussed on a near everyday basis since he was promoted to the helm, it’s a lot of pressure to demand an Urban Meyer-portion of success from a successor’s first season.
But that’s what it will take to earn commitments from some of Ohio State’s top remaining 2020 targets, like Elias Ricks. Before the Buckeyes entered late-June, early-July, it seemed that they would need to put on a show for more of their 2020 targets, but now that 22 of them are committed, Day and his team will likely just need to avoid a disastrous season to maintain those commitments.
The same standards apply for those left uncommitted or committed to other programs. Ohio State must defeat the teams it’s expected to defeat – with emphasis on Michigan, compete for a Big Ten Championship and get back to a major bowl in 2018. These are expectations most prospects tell Eleven Warriors they associated with Ohio State.
Most prospects take comfort in Day’s performance as interim head coach during the first three games of the 2018 season, particularly the TCU game. Putting together an entire season is another story, though Day and his staff are nearly batting 1.000 leading up to the season.
The Buckeye staff must also put on a show during its biggest recruiting weekend of the season Nov. 23 against Penn State, when several top targets, including Ricks and others, will be in Columbus.
Can New Coaches Develop As Well As They Recruit?
Ohio State’s newest coaches have splashed onto the recruiting scene – Brian Hartline and Jeff Hafley in particular. It’s understood that the Ohio State staff can recruit at the highest level. But what some recruits will be watching is how those new coaches, including Greg Mattison, Al Washington and Matt Barnes, develop their players.
Two areas that will be dissected under that lens the most are wide receivers and linebackers.
Hartline’s room lost three NFL-caliber receivers this offseason, and the way his group works to replace the production those three wideouts created in 2018 will be a reflection of his coaching in different ways. The obvious way is how Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor step up as seniors within the room. They will need to be relied upon heavily to stretch the field. The second way it reflects on Hartline is if Garrett Wilson steps in and makes an immediate impact. Hartline is at the center of why the 2020 wide receiver commits and 2021 wideout Jayden Ballard chose Ohio State. It’s his personality and how it shines through his coaching, as well as his knowledge of the position and his experience in the NFL. Seeing that conveyed on the field for a second consecutive season will stretch the potential recruiting success into future classes. For 2021, that includes Marvin Harrison Jr., Beaux Collins, Lorenzo Styles and several others.
Al Washington steps into a linebackers room that saw quite a dip in the 2018 season. Most of the position returns for the 2019 season, though, including Malik Harrison, Pete Werner and Tuf Borland. With one of the linebacker spots dedicated to the bullet now, the room got a lot deeper, with Baron Browning, Teradja Mitchell and Dallas Gant likely backing up the others. Washington is an expert-level recruiter. He was one of the best at Michigan and was a large part of why Michigan brought in six Ohio prospects into its 2019 class. If he can push the current linebackers to shore up the interior of the Buckeye defense in any better way than they did last season, it will only help him land the 2021 linebackers like Reid Carrico, Greg Penn and Raesjon Davis.
What Exactly is the Bullet?
The bullet has been defined as a hybrid between a safety and a linebacker. It’s not too complicated, and many teams use a variation of the position. It’s typically given some type of motivational moniker specific to the team or coaching staff.
Ohio State’s staff has immediately identified its models for what the position should look like. Brendon White will be the first to provide that model on the field in 2019, but Kourt Williams was the first commit to choose Ohio State specifically for the bullet position. The body type is typically a bigger safety rather than a smaller linebacker – Williams had been classified as a safety before being changed to a linebacker but already plays a bullet-esque position for St. John Bosco.
As the season inches nearer, it seems like Ohio State will be using the bullet primarily as a linebacker that can drop back in coverage. It gives the bullet more free range and extra responsibilities within reads. That can be attractive for prospects like Williams, who find themselves too big or too small for either safety or linebacker yet have a grasp on how to play both positions.
What Role Tight Ends Have in Passing Game
When current Notre Dame tight end commit Cane Berrong talked with Eleven Warriors earlier this year, he said Ohio State offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Kevin Wilson had expressed a desire to use more 12 personnel in 2019, meaning one running back and two tight ends in more packages this season.
Berrong was told to watch the Ohio State offense in 2019 and report back what he thought. Then Berrong committed to Notre Dame shortly after. While Berrong likely won’t be suiting up for the Buckeyes anytime soon, the topic remains a hot one in Columbus. Will this be the year that tight ends are included in the offense?
While that seems to be the question every year for the last decade, it would make sense for this year to be that year. In an effort to replace three NFL wide receivers in the offenses, looking to tight ends wouldn’t be a bad idea, and with Ryan Day now at head coach and a set of pass-catching tight ends – including former No. 1 tight end Jeremy Ruckert – maturing and progressing, a case could be made for more tight end targets in 2019.
That could be crucial for 2021 recruits outside of Cane Berrong. The tight ends that Ohio State is really pushing for – Moliki Matavao, Dametrius Crownover, Gage Wilcox, Jordan Dingle and Sam Hart – all have good potential within the passing game.
How Running Back Plays Out in 2020, Within the Room
There has been no shortage of running back recruiting discussions throughout the last couple months in Ohio State’s recruiting calendar, and it’s suddenly become the most glaring need within the 2020 class.
Running backs coach Tony Alford said Wednesday that Ohio State “will be fine,” and it should be fine, but J.K. Dobbins is expected to head to the NFL after 2019 with Demario McCall and Marcus Crowley backing him up. Obviously, adding a five-star freshman like Bijan Robinson wouldn’t have answered every question at running back for the 2020 season, but adding Tre Bradford, EJ Smith or anyone remaining uncommitted in the 2020 class likely won’t either.
Right now in the 2021 class, Ohio State is gunning hard for No. 4 running back Donovan Edwards and No. 5 running back Evan Pryor. They’ve also hosted No. 1 running back Camar Wheaton on a visit this summer and have a strong relationship with No. 11 in-state running back Jaylen Anderson.
As the door to early playing time continues to swing ajar, those targets become more and more likely to be attracted to the Buckeyes as the cycle progresses. But even if a running back like McCall, Crowley or Steele Chambers proves to be productive out of the backfield, there’s still room for a top 2021 running back in that room. The question that is yet to be answered is how many of those 2021 running backs will be coming to Columbus.