This week’s this and that: things I’m curious to see, trouble in paradise, someone else’s lists this time, another “volunteer”, the four-letter network strikes again.
On August 3rd, Urban Meyer will declare Ohio State’s 2018 football season officially open, as the Buckeyes begin preseason practice. Yes folks, that time of year is pretty much upon us, so it’s time for me to get serious writing about the world’s greatest college football program.
Every team in college football has questions entering each season; some more than others. Here are five that most interest me about Ohio State through August camp and the early part of the season. Now I’m not saying these are THE most important questions facing the Buckeyes and the fate of the season hangs on them; I’m just not that pretentious. Quite simply, these are the questions which I’m most curious about.
1. Is Dwayne Haskins who we think he is? The first thing we need to do is establish just who we think the D-train is exactly. I’m guessing most of us view him as a laser-armed quarterback, who showed the poise and leadership of a veteran, when thrust into the spotlight against Michigan, after J.T. Barrett was injured. We, also, see him as an opportunity to open up the offense because of that accurate laser arm.
Looking back at a few of the throws he made against Michigan, I’m of the belief that’s just the tip of the iceberg of his passing ability. I’m not just basing that on the ball he threw to Austin Mack between two defenders. He, also, hit K.J. Hill twice, in stride, on shallow crossing routes and, because of the accuracy of the throw, allowed Hill to get up the field for a sizeable gain. In addition, he threw a slant to Parris Campbell, which was an absolute dart. Yeah, I think Haskins is exactly who we think he is when it comes to throwing the ball. Also, I think the poise and leadership he showed against the Wolverines is what you’re going to see this season as well. He takes his role as the starter serious and has worked very hard, off the field, assuming a leadership role. At the Big Ten Media Day, Meyer said, “...he has earned the respect of our players and staff.” How good do I think he can be? To me, he’s a dark horse to be invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
2. Can the defensive line pick-up where it left off in 2017? I’m not just talking about the “Rushmen” package; I mean the unit as a whole. In the final two games of the season, the Big Ten Championship and Cotton Bowl, they were as dominant a unit as you could find in college football. They harassed and tormented Wisconsin’s and USC’s offensive lines in those games and seemed to be constantly in their backfields. They’ve lost a lot from that unit; Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes, Sam Hubbard and Tracy Sprinkle are gone. But, Nick Bosa and Dre’mont Jones return, and that’s reason to smile because both are among the best in the country. Jones will be an every down player this season and join the Rushmen, along with Chase Young and Jonathan Cooper. When the Rushmen are not on the field, Robert Landers will join Jones on the interior. This group certainly has the potential to be as good and possibly better than last year’s. They need a fourth defensive end to emerge and viable backups to Jones and Landers for depth. Keep an eye on Chase Young, he could be something special this year.
3. Who will emerge as the starting middle linebacker? One of the more interesting position battles in preseason camp will be for this job. I should say the starting middle linebacker job UNTIL Tuf Borland returns from an achilles injury. Junior Justin Hilliard and sophomore Baron Browning came out of spring practice neck and neck. At Big Ten Media Day, Meyer said of Borland, “I anticipate he will be ready early in the season.” But, the question is how early? Why am I so interested in this battle? Because Borland is a difference maker on that defense; its entire complexion changed when he became a starter. The Buckeyes need either Browning or Hilliard to be that type of player. I’m going to go with the ultra-talented Browning to start the opener against Oregon State.
4. How much will the loss of cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs make? This might be the question which concerns me most. Coombs, who is now with the Tennessee Titans, produced one shutdown corner after another during his time in Columbus. Eli Apple, Marshawn Lattimore, Gareon Conley, and Denzel Ward to name a few. When one of those guys would move on, you knew there was a talent ready and waiting to take their place. I’m hoping that’s the case again and one (or all three) of Kendall Sheffield, Damon Arnette, and Jeffrey Okudah will turn into the type of cornerback we’ve grown used to seeing. Last season all three improved under Coombs (could Arnette have been any worse early in the season?), so my hope is they’ll continue to do so with new cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson leading them.
5. Who will be the starting center? Coming out of spring practice, Brady Taylor was named the
starting center FOR NOW. The key words there are FOR NOW, because I’m not convinced Meyer is sold on him. Redshirt freshman Josh Myers pushed Taylor throughout the spring, after moving over from guard. At Big Ten Media Day, Meyer spoke of left guard Michael Jordan taking some reps at center during August camp. This is why I really believe the coaching staff is still looking for their guy at this position. If Jordan makes this move, that allows Meyer to get his five best linemen on the field because someone like Demetrius Knox or Malcolm Pridgeon will step in at left guard. Knox played very well at right guard last season, after Branden Bowen was injured, and Pridgeon made a giant leap in ability during the spring.
Not The Way You Want To Make A Change
On July 23rd, Meyer announced receivers coach Zach Smith had been fired, after multiple incident reports of domestic violence surfaced. I was never all that impressed with the coaching job Smith did. Overall I thought the receiver group underachieved in his six years on the staff. But, he was a very good recruiter and brought in more than a few quality players. Initially there was concern Smith’s firing could affect the commitment of five-star receiver Garrett Wilson from Texas. But, Wilson quickly assured everyone he still intends to be a Buckeye with a, “I’m SOLID” tweet. It could still have an effect on two other receivers the Buckeyes are recruiting from the St.Louis area, which is part of Smith’s territory. OSU is considered the frontrunner for both.
Meyer named former Buckeye and ex-NFL receiver Brian Hartline as interim receivers coach. Hartline spent last season as a quality control assistant with program. The Canton GlenOak product played for the Buckeyes from 2005-09 and caught 90 passes for over 1,400 yards. A fourth-round draft pick of the Dolphins, he had back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons at one point in Miami. Hartline finished his NFL career with the Browns in 2015.
Watching The Watch Lists
Each year the various postseason awards come out with their preseason “watch list.” It’s a way to generate interest and give the voters some names to keep an eye on during the season. Thanks to my membership in the Football Writers Association of America, I get a vote in the Outland Trophy. Yeah, guys like me are the ones who decide these awards.
Outland Trophy (top interior lineman): Dre’mont Jones, Michael Jordan, Isaiah Prince
Nagurski Award (top defensive player by Charlotte Touchdown Club): Nick Bosa, Dre’mont Jones
Bednarik Award (top defensive player by Maxwell Football Club): Nick Bosa
Maxwell Trophy (outstanding player by Maxwell Football Club): Nick Bosa, J.K. Dobbins
Doak Walker Award: J.K. Dobbins
Mackey Award (top tight end): Luke Farrell
Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back): Jordan Fuller
Ray Guy Award (top punter): Drue Chrisman
Paul Hornung Award (most versatile player): Parris Campbell
Walter Camp Award (player of the year): Nick Bosa, J.K. Dobbins
It is considered a thin year for quality quarterbacks in college football, but including Alabama’s Jalen Hurts on the Davey O’Brien Award watch list is a head scratcher. This is the same guy who was benched in the national championship. That list, also, includes Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook and Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke. Wow, really?! Both were tortured by the Buckeyes. Lastly, Mike Weber not included on the Doak Walker list is a mistake. I wouldn’t sleep on this guy. Just ask Michigan State.
By having two Tennessee natives a part of the 2018 recruiting class (early enrollees Master Teague and Max Wray) and another committed for the class of 2019 (Kane Patterson), you’d think the Buckeyes would be finished raiding the Volunteer state for talent. Wrong. Memphis Whitehaven tight end Cormontae Hamilton committed to the Buckeyes on Friday, about a month after receiving their offer. He isn’t the highest rated of prospects; only number 718 overall nationally. But, he’s a tireless worker, has great hands and attention to detail. Playing in a run-heavy offense, the 6-foot-1, 256-pounder is viewed as more of a blocker than receiver. In other words, he seems to be the perfect complement to current Buckeye Jeremy Ruckert, who is expected to push for playing time as a true freshman this fall.
Hamilton really wanted to be a Buckeye and I mean REALLY wanted. As OSU’s “Friday Night Lights” camp approached last month, he found himself with a sprained shoulder and no way to get to the Buckeyes’ most important recruiting camp. So, he bought a Memphis to Columbus roundtrip bus ticket for $289. Urban Meyer and his staff were so impressed with Hamilton’s performance at the camp, and the way he fought through the shoulder injury, combined with his dedication and sacrifice to just get to the camp, they offered him a scholarship. I love this kid already.
The Four-Letter Network Strikes Again
Buckeye fans know all too well why ESPN is referred to as the “four-letter network” at times. Since climbing into bed with the SEC and trying to pass off clowns like Paul Finebaum and Booger McFarland as college football “experts”, the network has been known to disrespect the Big Ten and, especially, the Buckeyes. The latest swipe at our beloved scarlet and gray comes courtesy of a list ranking the last 20 national champions. They rated the 2014 Buckeyes 14th. You know, the team that went to the heart of SEC country and BEAT Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and then went to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game and RIPPED an “unstoppable” Oregon team. OK, ranking that team so low is one thing, but listing the 2002 team last on the list is another. That’s right, I said the 2002 team is listed LAST.
The team, who snapped Miami’s 31-game win streak, is last. The team, who became the first in big-time college football history to go 14-0 in a season, is last. The team, who had every starter on defense and all but one on offense, go on to play in the NFL, is last. The team, who defeated five ranked opponents that year, is last.
Too many look down on this team because they played a few close games. What they’re not given near enough credit for is how resilient they were in finding ways to win. Then there is always the “they benefited from a bad call” crowd, in reference to the correctly called pass interference penalty on Miami in the first overtime of the Fiesta Bowl. What too many of the “bad call” folks don’t want to acknowledge is Hurricane defensive back Glenn Sharpe held OSU receiver Chris Gamble so badly at the snap, he nearly ripped Gamble’s jersey off. Also, on the pass itself, Sharpe never made an attempt to play the ball. He had his back to the ball and CLEARLY made contact with Gamble. Take a look at the picture. This call was a no-brainer.
For those who still want to cling to the “bad call” way of thinking, let’s take a look at one call and one non-call late in regulation, which allowed the Canes to tie the game. The first came on a third down pass from Buckeye quarterback Craig Krenzel to Chris Gamble. If complete, the Buckeyes maintain possession and, most likely, run out the clock. Krenzel’s pass was low, but Gamble did a great job of getting his hands under the ball for a clear catch. The official ruled it was incomplete; replays showed the ruling was incorrect. On the ensuing play, the Buckeyes punted to the Hurricanes. Roscoe Parrish’s return put Miami in great field position thanks to an egregious, jersey-stretching hold on OSU’s A.J. Hawk. The picture below is from my shot of the play (I was fortunate enough to get to cover the game). If Hawk either makes the play on Parrish or a penalty is called as it should have been, the Canes don’t tie the game and we never get to OT. So, if you want to go the “bad call” route, go right ahead, I’ll be waiting here with plenty of ammo to blow apart your feeble argument. The worst national champion of the last 20 years? Please. But, I guess you have to consider the source on this one.
This is my 25th blog. To those who read each week, thanks for coming along for the ride. When I started this, I said I was doing it for fun and it has certainly been that for me. The first week of high school football in the Great State of Ohio begins in less than a month; the Buckeyes start their season soon after. “The most wonderful time of the year” is nearly upon us.