Ready for Take Off
Meyer May Finally Have Speed He Needs to Stress Defense
By Brandon Castel
Two years after missing out on Stefon Diggs, Urban Meyer may have finally assembled enough speed to make him forget about the fleet-footed wonder out of Maryland.
With the addition of 2014 signees Curtis Samuel, Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin, Noah Brown and Parris Campbell, Meyer may have the type of future playmakers he needs to run a more diverse offense in Columbus that what we have seen the last two seasons.
It’s going to start with sophomore Dontre Wilson, who showed flashes as a rookie this past season but should play a much larger role in Ohio State’s offense come this fall. Wilson will be joined by classmate Jalin Marshall, but things might have been different if Meyer had landed one of those hybrid players back in 2012.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Diggs’ decision to sign with the hometown Terrapins instead of Meyer’s Buckeyes didn’t stop Ohio State from winning the next 24 games without him. It didn’t stop them from leading the Big Ten in scoring the last two seasons, and it didn’t stop them from finishing with the third most offensive touchdowns in college football this past season—behind only Florida State and Baylor.
Photo by Jim Davidson
What it did do, essentially, was leave the Buckeyes one playmaker short of truly being able to run the kind of offense Meyer would like to deploy when he has the right personnel.
“In our offense, we're still lacking that game-changer that you can hand the ball to speed-wise,” Meyer said on National Signing Day back in 2012.
In his fifth game at Maryland, Diggs caught three passes for 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns against West Virginia. A week later he caught five passes for 105 yards, and against Boston College, Diggs snatched 11 balls for 152 yards. He finished his rookie season with nearly a thousand yards of total offense and eight touchdowns, including two kick returns.
“When you watch some of those other teams hit it out there, that's one‑on‑one,” Meyer said after signing his first class.
“You can't get tackled for six yards. I think we got some bigger guys, but we're still looking for a difference maker in one of those 10.4 100 meter guys that can change the game.”
Chasing Down the Speed
After missing out on Diggs, Meyer quickly went out and secured one of those in Middletown’s Jalin Marshall, but the state champion long-jumper was a skilled quarterback who rushed for a school-record 4,759 yards during his high school career.
While making the transition to wide receiver, Marshall suffered a concussion early in fall camp and never played a down of football for the Buckeyes as a freshman this past season.
It wasn’t until the very end of the 2013 recruiting cycle, just before National Signing Day, when Meyer finally got a pair of guys in Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott who could both transform and diversify Ohio State’s offense. Now Meyer will add at least one more guy like that to the mix with the signing of Curtis Samuel and the 2014 class.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“Right now we've Ezekiel Elliott and Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson are those prototype guys, hybrid type players we're looking for,” Meyer said on National Signing Day 2014.
“Although really Ezekiel is more a pure tailback, but Curtis Samuel guy, he's electric fast, to go with Dontre.”
When Meyer brought in Wilson a year ago, he brought in a dazzling track star with both breakaway ability and make-you-miss shiftiness in the open field. Along with his accolades on the football field – 3,200 rushing yards, 1,200 receiving yards and 81 touchdowns at DeSoto High School – Wilson was also clocked at 10.5 seconds in the 100 meters and 20.9 in the 200, along with a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash.
The Buckeyes are hoping they have a similar player in Samuel, who is considered to be one of the fastest prospects in the country. The Brooklyn native reportedly ran a 4.36 in the 40-yard dash and was the New York state runner-up in the 55- meter dash this past spring.
“You know, they're similar in the fact they can run from point A to point B really fast,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said of Samuel and Wilson.
“So we've got a very dynamic player in Curtis Samuel. He's of that trick. He brings speed you mentioned to our backfield that I don't believe we've had since I've been here, just that type of speed.”
Adding Game-Changes to the Mix
At Florida Meyer and Drayton had guys like Percy Harvin, Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps to stretch the offense horizontally, which is something he has not really done very effectively at Ohio State.
Part of that is by design.
The Buckeyes tried to mix Dontre Wilson into the flow of the offense this season, but it was difficult for Meyer and Herman to take the ball out of the hands of two guys they trust – Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde – and give it to an untested freshman.
Maybe they would have felt differently about a guy like Diggs in his second season in the offense, but Wilson averaged fewer than four touches per game on offense during the Big Ten season; he had the ball in his hands a total of four times offensively in Ohio State’s two postseason losses to Michigan State and Clemson.
A big part of that was the emergence of Hyde, who became Meyer’s first ever 1,000-yard running back – rushing for over 1,500 and 15 touchdowns. And of course Miller put up Heisman caliber numbers for the second-straight season.
The Buckeyes won their first 12 games, extending Urban Meyer’s unbeaten streak to 24, but all season it felt like the team was a little bit too one-dimensional. They were one consistent playmayer on the edge away from being an unstoppable offense, and in the end they were too reliant on Miller and Hyde to carry the ball and when they faced off against arguably the best defense in the country in the Big Ten title game.
Meyer’s offense failed to stretch the field horizontally in that game, which would have pulled the Spartans’ second level across the field and prevented them from crowding the box with too many defenders.
“In theory, our spread is we're going to attack you vertical and horizontal,” Meyer said in 2012.
“We want the defense to defend the width and length of the field. There's only one way to defend the width, that's flat speed. We've tried it. There's no other way that you can make a defense defend the entire width of the field, and our horizontal guy has to be able to shake loose on a couple of those.”
Wilson wasn’t quite ready to be that guy as a rookie last season, but Meyer is hoping he found a couple of them in Wilson, Marshall and Samuel. Another guy who could help the Buckeyes in that department is Parris Campbell. The 6-1 running back out of Akron powered Saint Vincent-Saint Mary to the 2013 Ohio state outdoor track and field championship by anchoring victorious 4x100 and 4x200-meter relays and taking second in the 100. He set personal bests of 10.77 in the 100 and 22.09 in the 200 during the 2013 outdoor season, before racking up over 1,500 yards and 22 touchdowns on the football field.
“Parris Campbell should be one of the fastest guys in state of Ohio. 10.5 100 meter guy,” Meyer said this month.
“And we also have to get our speed up, but overall offensive skill but we have from where it was two years ago to where it is now much different.”
Getting them ready
Now they only question is how quickly they can get those fast guys ready to play.
“Based upon Curtis Samuel's maturity how he picks up on things we're hoping he can fill that void for us,” Drayton said of the 6-0, 185-pound athlete who rushed for 1,461 yards, averaged 15.8 yards per rush and scored 17 touchdowns as a senior this past season.
“What we don't know about Curtis Samuel right now is how is he going to respond when he's in the ‘Shoe with (106 thousand) people looking at him. When the ball is in the air, is he going to muff it or bow up and embrace the moment?
“We do know that Dontre Wilson doesn't flinch in that situation.”
That’s something they didn’t know a year ago, which is why Wilson is all but guaranteed to be a focal point of Ohio State’s offense in 2014. As for guys like Samuel, Marshall, Campbell and the others? Only time will tell.
“It’s a lot of those intangible things that have an effect on the productivity of a young football player at this level,” Drayton said, “so we’ll see.”