Fall Camp: 5 Questions
Updated: Aug 2, 2019
Fall camp begins tomorrow for the Buckeyes. That means it’s time for a Five Questions blog. It is something I’ve found I enjoy doing before the start of spring practice and fall camp. I’m not going to breathlessly tell you these are THE most important questions like some writers will; I’m just not that pretentious. What I will say is these are the five questions that interest me most for fall camp.
1. Who will start on the offensive line? We already know who a couple of starters will be. Thayer Munford returns at left tackle where he started thirteen games last season; he missed the Rose Bowl with an injury. The junior was Honorable Mention All-Big Ten, and is on the Outland Trophy watch list. Wyatt Davis will be back at right guard after starting the Big Ten championship game, and Rose Bowl for the injured Demitrius Knox. Barring injury, or a total failure on his part I expect Josh Myers to be the center. Rutgers transfer Jonah Jackson should be the left guard. He has starting experience, and should be a good addition to this unit. Right tackle is the question
mark. If you remember Isaiah Prince struggling against Penn State during his first year as a starter, you know why I’m concerned. Nicholas Petit-Frere is the frontrunner, and is ultra-talented. He was the top high school tackle in the country when the Buckeyes recruited him. But, his weight is a concern. He was “only” 277 pounds last season, and has worked very hard to get bigger. He’s now listed at 295, but I still have concerns he’ll struggle to handle defensive linemen. Branden Bowen has moved to tackle, and is an option here. A starter at right guard for the first six games of 2017, before his season ended with a serious leg injury. He’s been battling his way back ever since. Josh Alabi is yet another option here. He’s very experienced (393 snaps in 2018), and started the Rose Bowl in place of the injured Munford. Both Bowen and Alabi are seniors, and outweigh Petit-Frere by ten to twenty pounds. The Buckeyes have the potential to have another very explosive offense, and need this unit to be solid.
2. Who will emerge as the other safety? With Brendan White moving to the newly created bullet (safety/linebacker hybrid) position, the battle for who will start opposite Jordan Fuller is wide open. Isaiah Pryor and Jahsen Wint began 2018 sharing time. Pryor struggled; Wint struggled greatly. Eventually White took over, and solidified the position. I expect Pryor to be one of the guys getting a long look from the coaches, but I’ll be surprised if Wint does. I really think sophomore Josh Proctor will be the one who ultimately battles Pryor for the starting job. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if special teams ace Amir Riep pushes his way into the middle of things if any of the others can’t separate themselves from the rest.
3. Can Jeff Hafley coach as well as he recruits? The Buckeyes’ new secondary coach is absolutely killing it on the recruiting trail. 247 Sports has him ranked as the third-best recruiter in the country right now. So, it’s obvious he’s proficient in that area, and by all accounts he can coach as well. But, after seeing longtime NFL coach Bill Davis’ complete fail with the linebackers over two seasons, I think all of us OSU faithful are a little leery of ex-NFL guys joining the Buckeye staff: Hafley spent the last seven seasons with various NFL teams. The good news is this: I’m hearing nothing but good things from guys who have seen Hafley at work with OSU defensive backs, and said they saw improvement in a short amount of time. Jordan Fuller loves him, and says there is a different vibe to the defense. Hafley won me over when he said he will have the OSU cornerbacks turn and face the ball when defending passes. If I had to look at one more pass completed against the Buckeyes while a cornerback had his back turned to the ball, and did nothing more than watch the receiver make the catch, I think I was going to have a stroke. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he does with this unit.
4. Who makes The Leap? Every year a guy who has kind of meandered through the program their first few seasons all of a sudden makes a big leap in ability. It’s like a lightbulb goes on for them. Last year it was defensive lineman Davon Hamilton. When I look at this year’s roster, there are a few names that jump out at me. Buckeye fans have been waiting on receiver Binjimin Victor to explode, and show the kind of ability Urban Meyer raved about since he was first recruited. He’s shown flashes of it (the catch and run TD against Penn State last year), but has never been able to put it all together for an entire season. Junior receiver Jaylen Harris is another good candidate for The Leap. Because the receiver rotation has been so loaded with talent since he arrived, I didn’t really expect him to get regular playing time, but I did expect him to make a real push for a spot in the rotation, and that hasn’t happened. He’s appeared in ten games over his first two years as a Buckeye, but has just four catches. Because of his size (6’5” and 215 pounds), I’d love to see him make that jump in ability, and become a matchup nightmare for opposing secondaries. To say cornerback Damon Arnette has struggled at times in his OSU career is a gross understatement. But, Arnette improved as last season progressed. I’m hoping that improvement translates into a big leap forward for him. Justin Hilliard was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. He’s an invaluable special teams player, and hasn’t exactly meandered through his first four years with the Buckeyes, but has never been able to crack the starting lineup. Because of the talent the team has at linebacker, I don’t think that will happen this year either, but he shouldn’t be overlooked. My longshot is Jerron Cage. The Buckeyes are loaded along the defensive line, so the redshirt sophomore would have to make a big jump in ability to get regular playing time.
5. Will Tuf Borland regain his 2017 form? In 2017 Borland was outstanding after stepping in at middle linebacker when Dante Booker was injured. He tore his Achilles during 2018 spring practice, and was expected to miss the entire season. After surgery he made a miraculous recovery, and played in every game last year. But, he was almost playing on one leg, and never showed the quickness he had the year before. Combine that with the overly complicated scheme that had the linebackers thinking more than reacting, and Borland had a very subpar season. Hopefully he regains that quickness we had seen before because he’s a PLAYER. Tough as nails, smart, and a leader. He’ll be pushed throughout the season, as he was last year, by Baron Browning.
I know you’re wondering why I do not have anything about the quarterbacks. It’s real simple. After watching Ryan day develop Dwayne Haskins, I don’t doubt for a second he’ll have the Buckeye quarterbacks ready to go.
The Buckeyes 2020 recruiting class keeps getting richer. Two more recruits have decided to become a part of what looks to be a stellar haul. On July 16th the country’s number four safety, Lathan Ransom from Tucson, announced he wants to be a Buckeye. He cited his relationship with Jeff Hafley, and how he feels the new secondary coach can develop him in ways other programs can’t. The Buckeyes outdueled Notre Dame and Texas for his services.
California safety/linebacker Kourt Williams chose the Buckeyes last week. He is the first player Day and his staff have recruited for the new bullet position. He’s already 212 pounds, and has the ability to play near the line of scrimmage in run support, or in space during pass coverage. That’s exactly what is needed at that hybrid position.
With Ransom being ranked as the country’s number 67 overall player by 247 Sports, that gives the Buckeyes eight commitments who are ranked higher than Michigan’s highest recruit. I seem to remember a lot of noise about a month ago coming from Wolverine faithful about what a great recruiting class they were putting together.
Earlier I mentioned 247 Sports has Jeff Hafley third on their list of top recruiters. It comes as no surprise at all that Buckeye receivers coach Brian Hartline currently tops that list. That’s right folks, the Buckeyes have two of the top three recruiters in the country. I’m almost ready to laugh out loud about all of the chirping about recruiting we heard from just north of the Great State of Ohio.
I looked at a few guys who I think are candidates to make The Leap, so here are two guys to keep an eye on because they look like they may have already made it during last season’s bowl practice. Cornerback Jeffrey Okudah looked like a different player to me in the Rose Bowl, and began to show the ability to be one of those shutdown corners Buckeye fans are used to. NFL scouts are now salivating at his potential. Another to keep an eye on is defensive lineman Taron Vincent. He played 19 snaps in the Rose Bowl, mostly when as a nose tackle when the Buckeyes went to a 3-3-5 look. That was more than any other game in 2018. He’s most certainly going to be in the rotation along the interior of the defensive line. But, he has the potential to be a dominant player.
July means it’s time for award watch lists. There is no shortage of Buckeyes on them. J.K. Dobbins and Justin Fields were named to the list for the Maxwell Award (nation’s outstanding player). Dobbins is also on the list for the Doak Walker Award (top running back). The Bednarik Award (best defensive player as named by the Maxwell Football Club) has put Chase Young on their watch list. Safety Jordan Fuller is on three lists. The Lott IMPACT Trophy, which considers defensive performance and character, the Thorpe Award (best defensive back), and he, along with Young, are on the Nagurski Trophy list (best defensive player). Tight end Luke Farrell is on the Mackey Award list. The Biletnikoff Award’s (top receiver) watch list includes K.J. Hill. Linebackers Tuf Borland and Malik Harrison are on the watch list for the Butkus Award. Drue Chrisman has been named to the Ray Guy Award list for the nation’s best punter, and as mentioned, left tackle Thayer Munford is on the list for the Outland Trophy (best lineman).
A couple of Ohio Valley Athletic Conference products playing for WVU have been named to a watch list. Union Local’s Colton McKivitz and Meadowbrook’s Josh Sills are on the list for the Outland Trophy.
Speaking of OVAC products, Steubenville’s Zach Collaros has been traded from the Saskatchewan Roughriders back to the Toronto Argonauts. He was a backup for the Argos during their 2012 Grey Cup winning season. Collaros is in his eighth CFL season. While in high school he led the Big Red to back-to-back state titles.
The Buckeyes are listed second on 247 Sports’ list of best college football uniforms. LSU topped the list. I have no problem with that, but Michigan third? Penn State fourth? If they were looking for drab and ugly, they should have listed USC a lot higher (they’re 18th).
Zake Elliot is a no-show at Cowboys’ training camp as he holds out for a new contract. Michael Thomas ended his impasse with the Saints the other day, but Zeke and the Cowboys don’t seem close to a resolution. So, there’s no telling when this will end. I’m completely against a player holding out when he’s under contract. He signed the deal knowing the terms, and I don’t care if he’s considered underpaid now. You signed the contract; honor the deal.
Former Buckeye safety Tyvis Powell has been signed by the Houston Texans. The defensive MVP of the national championship game win over Oregon has been with both Seattle and San Francisco in his first three seasons. He’s appeared in 18 games and made one start. Also, the Ohio State Sports Information Department put out a list of every Buckeye currently in an NFL training camp; 63 former Buckeyes are listed. You can see that list by clicking here.
NFL players have made it very clear over the years they don’t want to hear about a fan’s fantasy football team. That’s fine by me because I don’t want to hear about a guy’s fantasy team either. But, I also don’t want to hear NFL players whining about their ratings in the latest addition of the Madden video game. Talk about fragile egos.
Former Miami Dolphins linebacker great Nick Bouniconti passed away at the age of 78. After beginning his career with the Boston Patriots in the AFL, he was traded to the Dolphins in 1969. He anchored the Dolphins famous “53” defense (they would insert Bob Matheson as an extra linebacker in passing situations; Matheson wore number 53) during their 1972 undefeated season. Bouniconti was named to the American Football League’s all-time team.
The Petty Brothers
College football coaches have fragile egos also. Two of my favorites put their pettiness on display recently. We’ll call them the Petty brothers (how many of you thought NASCAR when you saw the title of this section?). We’ve all seen Jim Harbaugh’s antics all too often, and he was at it again at the Big Ten’s media get-together recently. While appearing on a podcast he was asked
about Urban Meyer. He said, “Urban Meyer’s had a winning record. A really phenomenal record everywhere he’s been. But also, controversy follows everywhere he’s been.” Ok, that’s actually a fair statement because Meyer has been involved in his share of controversies. But, here’s the problem with Jimmy Wolverine’s statement: it comes off as unnecessary, said with a mouthful of sour grapes, and PETTY. Harbaugh went winless in four games against Meyer, and was outcoached, outprepared, and outworked by his scarlet and gray nemises. He comes off looking like the guy who just got his butt whipped in a fight, and is hurling taunts and insults at the guy who pummeled him from a VERY safe distance. Typical Harbaugh. He’s rarely, if ever, won a really meaningful game in his four seasons with his alma mater, but he’s always generating attention.
The other Petty brother opened his mouth and reminded us of his tenuous ego. This one isn’t as attention-getting as his “brother’s” statement, but still lets us know he hasn’t changed a bit. Alabama head coach Nick Saban recently said the blame for the blowout loss to Clemson in the national championship game should be put on some of the assistant coaches. Well, of course he said that! What else is new?! When the Tide wins a big game Saban is front and center taking in the praise. But, if they lose one, he’s still there front and center, but he’s usually pointing a finger for the loss. It took a little over seven months for him to do it this time, but he didn’t disappoint. All of us remember the crap that went on last August with Urban Meyer and the Smith’s. What refrain did we constantly hear? A head coach is responsible for EVERYTHING that happens in his program. EVERYTHING. Maybe ESPN needs to point that out to their guy Nicky because they certainly didn’t hesitate to remind Buckeye fans of this. What makes Saban’s swipe even more petty is the fact that all of the coaches he pointed the finger at have left to take jobs elsewhere.
Jim Harbaugh and Nick Saban. The Petty brothers. They’re perfect for each other.
Get Used To It
We all know ESPN has been in bed with the SEC since the four-letter network launched the SEC Network. That’s why it came as no surprise to me when they completely ignored the story of the LSU booster paying the father of a player with money stolen from a hospital. You could read about that story everywhere except ESPN’s website. It was nowhere to be found. Even the NCAA is looking into it.
Well, it’s only going to get worse because our favorite sports network is launching the ACC Network soon. They’ve already started slobbering all over the conference. In their list of the top-25 games of 2018, they included Clemson’s 35-6 win over Duke. Really? To me that’s nothing
compared to the way they’ve ignored the story of how Clemson, and their beloved (by the media) head coach, Dabo Swinney, may have “accidently” given PED’s to players. When the story broke, I checked ESPN’s website, and there was not a solitary mention of the team that had just won the national championship giving PED’s to their players. They jumped all over an uncorroborated story from a disgruntled ex-wife making accusations about Urban Meyer, but ignore the national champions doing something illegal. And yes, giving it to players by “accident” is still breaking the rules as far as I’m concerned. But, ESPN will lap up whatever meager excuses Tiger head coach Dabo Swinney throws their way, just like they always do. Dabo is a scumbag, but he’ll toss out a few Bible verses, and their writers will crank out article after article about what a great guy he is. It's like Bobby Bowden all over again.
So, you’d better get used to SEC-like treatment for the ACC from ESPN. I don’t doubt they’ll hire some beat writer from around the conference, and try to pass him off as a college football expert like they did with Paul Finebaum. Like Finebaum, he’ll be nothing more than a shill for the conference. Want to know the most scary thing to me about that possibility? You may start hearing a lot of discussion about having two ACC teams in the College Football Playoff. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but don’t say I didn’t warn you if it begins to happen.
I make it clear I don’t waste the offseason counting the days until the season begins. Too many things in life to do and enjoy for that. But, I’d not be truthful if I said I don’t begin to get excited for the season opener as August moves along. I still plan on enjoying the month because crappy weather isn’t that far away, but I’m really beginning to look forward to seeing the Buckeyes take the field on the 31st.