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Last updated: 02/10/2012 2:36 PM
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Opinion
Around the-Ozone Water Cooler
- Which Player From Ohio State's Recruiting Class (Offensively and Defensively) Will Have the Most Immediate Impact for the Buckeyes in the Fall?

By the-Ozone Staff

If you follow recruiting at all, you've no doubt asked yourself this same question over the last month or so. After all, imagining the future is one of the reasons people actually pay attention to recruiting.

But it also extends the season and gives fans something else to root their teams on about. Being able to know the players before they step foot on campus gives fans a sense of ownership and allows them to see each of these players grow.

However, actually projecting how well any freshman is going to fare is right up there with alchemy in terms of exact sciences.

Fortunately, being exact never stopped any of us from commenting before, and we don't imagine it will start now.

So, with that said, the following is how each of us here at the-Ozone thinks the freshman impact crafter will shake out.

WaterCoolerBrandon Castel — There is still a possible late addition to this class who could change my mind offensively, but for now I am going to go with a sleeper pick and say that Ricquan Southward will make an impact as a freshman at Ohio State. 

Southward was good size and showed excellent playmaking ability as a senior at Lakeland (Fla.) High, a school known for sending big-time prospects to not only the college level, but also the NFL.

We don’t know a lot about Southward because he was stuck in a logjam at receiver until his senior season, but it didn’t take him long to set a new school record for catches and yardage in a game. He seems like a perfect fit for Urban Meyer’s offense, and we already know this OSU team is lacking playmaking ability at the wide receiver position.

My original pick was going to be Taylor Decker, but we have to see how quickly he comes on once he gets to Ohio State. If he makes it in time for spring practice, Decker could compete for a starting tackle spot in the fall. Either way, he is in the two deep, but if he isn’t starting, he won’t have as much opportunity to make an impact.

Defensively, my pick is a lot more straightforward. In my mind, no one in this class fills a need for this Ohio State defense quite like Noah Spence. There is a reason Meyer called him the night he was hired, as the Buckeyes sorely lack an athletic pass rusher to line up across from John Simon.

I would also expect Adolphus Washington to make a big impact as a freshman, but the Buckeyes would love to move Simon back to a more natural position. He played Leo, which is OSU’s rush end, this season because of the injury to Nathan Williams.

Williams is trying to make a comeback, and he would be a huge addition to the defense in 2012, but if he doesn’t make it back to the player he used to be, the Buckeyes desperately need someone to emerge at the Leo spot.

It’s not easy to learn the Leo spot—as we saw with Steve Miller a year ago—but Spence is a smart kid (3.2 gpa) who understands how to position himself on the field. He had 56 tackles for loss and 32 sacks his final two years at Bishop McDevitt and was named Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Pennsylvania.  

WaterCooloerScott Dame — On offense, I’m going with an early enrollee at a position of need. Michael Thomas, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound receiver from California Taft High School just outside Los Angeles.

Thomas spent last season with Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy with another Buckeye commit, quarterback Cardale Jones.

Thomas had 82 catches for 1,656 yards and 22 touchdowns in his senior season at Taft, which is 17 more receptions, 597 yards and 14 TDs more than the entire group of Ohio State wide receivers netted last season.

Thomas most closely resembles Devin Smith (6-3, 190 pounds) in terms of physical ability among returning receivers, so beating out Smith could be the highest hurdle in terms of Thomas’ immediate playing time as the coaches evaluate their talent pool at receiver. But both players will be learning a new offense, and there is nothing preventing the coaches from using Thomas and Smith in tandem.

There can be plenty of glitches when you judge incoming college freshmen on only their high school stats and highlights, but I couldn’t keep myself from comparing him to former Notre Dame wideout Michael Floyd in the way he’s able to manhandle corners and high-point jump balls. And like Floyd, he’s a matchup nightmare in the red zone.

On defense, I think linebacker Jamal Marcus will have the most immediate impact.

Three qualities that jump off Marcus’ highlight reel are speed, aggression, and a mean streak. These assets will serve the Durham, N.C., native well in his quest for early playing time on the Buckeye defense and special teams.

Although Marcus is one of five highly regarded linebackers in this class, Urban Meyer and Luke Fickell raved about Marcus on signing day, which leads me to believe the coaches are expecting him to shine early.

Marcus not only comes in at a position where the Buckeyes are thin, his skill set makes him flexible in terms of where he might line up. I could see him playing Will or Sam backer, as a Leo speed-rusher or even at Star if necessary. 

WaterCooloerBen Axelrod — On offense, wide receiver Michael Thomas might not be the best bet for the freshman to make an immediate impact, but he’s the best bet for the freshman that the coaching staff is hoping will make an immediate impact. No receiver tallied more than 14 receptions for the Buckeyes all of last season. You could chalk that up to a run-heavy offense and an inexperienced freshman quarterback- both valid points- yet, DeVier Posey finished with 12 receptions in just three games.

At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Thomas is very similar in size to a receiver that thrived under Urban Meyer at Florida in Dallas Baker, but whether he can replicate Baker’s production will depend on where he finds himself on the Ohio State depth chart. Assuming that Devin Smith already has the No. 1 receiver spot on lock, that leaves Evan Spencer, T.Y. Williams, Chris Fields, Verlon Reed, and Thomas as Buckeyes who will be enrolled for the start of Spring ball. In the best case scenario, Thomas winds up as the No. 2 receiver, giving the Buckeyes a starting wide receiver duo that consists of players of 6’3 and 6’4. In the worst case scenario, Thomas falls to the bottom of that list, which would still leave him with plenty of opportunities to play in Meyer’s spread offense.

The answer is probably somewhere in the middle, as I think Thomas has a good shot at jumping Williams, Reed, and Fields on the depth chart, but either way, I’d be surprised if the Los Angeles-native didn’t make an impact for the Buckeyes in 2012.

As for the defensive side of the ball, Armani Reeves will be Ohio State’s No. 4 corner the instant he steps on campus. Considering there’s no true linebacker/safety hybrid to take up a corner spot at the ‘Star’ position this season, that might be enough for Reeves to make an immediate impact, but there’s no reason to think that his presence will be limited to OSU’s dime package.

Returning at cornerback from a season ago are Bradley Roby, Travis Howard, and Doran Grant. That’s it. Roby is the undisputed No. 1 corner of that group, but after that, it’s really a toss-up. Howard has the talent and is a 5th-year senior, but given his first shot at real playing time in 2011, he was consistently inconsistent. Grant will be a true sophomore and was one of the more heralded members of OSU’s 2011 recruiting class, but he is yet to prove anything at the college level as the majority of his playing time in 2011 came on special teams. Given the uncertainty and lack of depth behind Roby, it’s not inconceivable to think that Reeves could finish 2012 in the OSU starting line-up at the No. 2 corner spot.

WaterCooloerTony Gerdeman — First off, I believe that it's going to be very hard for a freshman to make much of an impact on this team in 2012. With so many starters returning, there aren't that many spots to fill. And certainly not of the kind of spots that get the attention that merit an “impact” descriptor.

Because of this, I actually had some trouble thinking of which player to pick on offense.  However, when Urban Meyer says that they are still lacking an explosive player in this class, my eyes have to turn from the skill players and towards the offensive line. Nobody knows exactly what the offensive line is going to look like next season, so the more spots a player can handle, the better his chances of fitting in are. That's why my choice on offense is for Jacoby Boren.

Boren (6-2 285) is already enrolled, and can play any of the three interior positions. With the offensive line in flux, which includes the prospects of interior players like Jack Mewhort and Andrew Norwell moving out to tackle, almost any lineup is possible in September. With Boren already in school, he will be the beneficiary of fifteen spring practices. The staff will certainly have an idea of what he is capable of by that point. Offensive line coach Ed Warinner has said that they only need eight good offensive linemen—five starters, and a backup tackle, guard and center. Boren is certainly a decent bet to fall into one of those two latter spots. And it's not like it would be the first time that a Boren came out of nowhere to surprise everybody as a freshman.

(Note: If Stefon Diggs chooses Ohio State on Friday, I want a rewrite.)

On the other side of the ball, my inner Skip Bayless was trying to get me to pick somebody other than defensive end Noah Spence, but I just couldn't do it, even if it does make some sense. Barring complications with Nathan Williams' return, I'm not convinced Spence will play all that much. And given that he's not the biggest guy in the world—Luke Fickell says he's got “linebacker size”, I'm not convinced he's ready physically yet. However, when you actually see him on the field, he's just phenomenal. Fickell calls him “a guy that is a true speed guy”, and the highlights don't lie.

But Spence has his work cut out for him. There are a slew of defensive ends on the roster, including the ones that were in the 2011 recruiting class. The staff clearly has intentions for him, however. Last year, the coaches wanted to be able to move Nathan Williams around more on defense. Spence's pass-rushing ability may allow them to do just that this coming season. I can foresee some passing downs next season where Spence, Williams and John Simon are all getting after the quarterback. And I'm guessing the coaches can as well.

 

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