What Happened to All Those Freshmen?
By Patrick Murphy
2013 was a season of high expectations for the Ohio State Buckeyes. They were in the second year of the Urban Meyer regime and much of the talent from the 2012 undefeated team was returning.
The Buckeyes also had a consensus top-two recruiting class according to the three major outlets and everyone was expecting the incoming freshmen to contribute.
It soon became apparent though that the freshmen were not getting the playing time many assumed they would.
After the Florida A&M game, Meyer even discussed redshirting players (http://theozone.net/football/2013/Wisconsin/Redshirts.html), a concept that was supposed to be foreign at Ohio State.
Meyer said the Buckeyes wouldn’t waste an entire year for a player to get meaningless snaps in a 76-0 win, but what about when they need help?
In the later stages of the season and after a series of injuries Meyer talked about having a depleted roster, travelling and playing walk-on players.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Safeties Christian Bryant and Devin Bogard were lost for the season. Defensive backs Adam Griffin and Jamie Wood both had career-ending injuries. Bradley Roby was suspended for the opening game and had to exit the field at times with small ailments. Linebacker Curtis Grant missed time as did Joshua Perry.
The most devastating injury occurred in the Wisconsin game when safety Christian Bryant suffered a season-eding broken ankle. But despite all the disruption to the lineup of the Ohio State defense the freshmen were not called upon to be play significant minutes.
Safety Vonn Bell was one of the top ranked defensive backs coming out of high school. Almost everyone wanted him. He was a player that figured to challenge for the star position and fill in when needed, but he only played in three games and had four total tackles.
When Bryant went down the coaches elected instead to go with the experience of Corey “Pitt” Brown. Brown had recorded a tackle in just six games during his preview three years.
Highly touted cornerbacks Eli Apple and Cam Burrows both would have been options to provide cover, but Apple was never used – in order to save him for a redshirt – and Burrows remained behind Armani Reeves and saw minimal action.
Linebacker has had a depth issue since Meyer took over. This year, five-star Mike Mitchell and four-star Trey Johnson (according to Rivals.com) were brought in to add depth, but Mitchell was one of the players saved and Johnson was used sparingly when injuries hit.
Freshman Joey Bosa did fill in when Adolphus Washington was hurt and earned a starting role, but he was the only first-year player on the defense to contribute extensively.
On offense, Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott were both expected to have roles. Meyer stated during fall camp that they added a level of electricity that was not present the previous year.
Wilson in particular was the talk of preseason and was set to add a dynamic that Meyer’s offense was missing in 2012. He was expected to take on the “Percy Harvin role” and be the H-back that Meyer covets.
The hype surrounding Wilson made it difficult to believe he would ever be able to rise to the expectations, but the thought was he would have plenty of opportunities.
Elliott on the other hand was expected to compete for playing time at running back, but the excitement around him was more for the future.
In the end, there wasn’t much difference between the two.
Wilson finished the regular season with just 49 touches – 28 carries, 21 receptions – for a total of 441 yards and three touchdowns. Elliott was on the field less. He had 33 touches, 285 yards, and three touchdowns.
Meyer said during the season they needed Wilson to become a complete player – carrying, catching, blocking – before he could earn a fulltime role. Judging by his touches, he did not accomplish that this season.
All of these players are freshmen and likely have bright futures ahead, but with the expectation of the class, year one was a letdown.
Meyer says he plays the best players regardless of age, and he’s shown that to be true, but what does that say about those players who did not play when needs arose?
Is Bell not the college-ready safety that everyone was coveting on signing day? Are Apple and Burrows really no better than Reeves? In such a shallow linebacker pool, how does a five-star player like Mitchell get left out? Is Wilson not the answer at H-back Meyer hoped or is that role just something he hasn’t grasped yet?
Recruiting is not a science and you can never be sure on a player, but in such a highly regarded class surely there would be more than one contributor.
Or is that why the Buckeyes will be watching instead of playing on January 6?
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