Meyer Gets His Man: The Dontre Wilson Impact
By Brandon Castel
Ohio State averaged a league-best 37 points per game during Urban Meyer’s first year as the head football coach in Columbus. Yet those who know Meyer, and offensive coordinator Tom Herman, know the Buckeyes barely scraped the surface of what the offense could look like when this coaching staff really gets rolling.
Speaking at the Ohio State Coaches Clinic last spring, Herman stressed the idea of forcing opposing defenses to defend the entire field – all 100 yards by 53 1/3 yards.
In order to do that, an offense has to be able to stretch the defense, both vertically and horizontally. In other words, there is no substitute for speed.
The Buckeyes found a way to stretch defenses vertically with Devin Smith during the 2012 season, but they never really had a guy who could move east and west the way Percy Harvin or Chris Rainey did at Florida.
If the Buckeyes don’t have one between Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson, who flipped his commitment from Oregon to Ohio State on Monday night, they might have two. While Marshall was a dynamic high school quarterback at Middletown, Wilson was a do-everything back for DeSoto High School just outside Dallas.
What the Buckeyes are getting in Dontre Wilson, first and foremost, is a kid who can flat out scoot. He reminds me – and I’m not the only one – of current Oregon playmaker De’Anthony Thomas, who was a 5-star prospect and the No. 5-rated player in the country coming out of high school.
Maybe that explains why Wilson was initially planning to leave Texas in order to play in Chip Kelly’s offense up in Eugene.
He isn’t as highly-rated as Thomas – Wilson is listed as the No. 5 all-purpose back in the country by Rivals.com – but there were few players in America who were more productive this past season.
He carried the football 294 times for DeSoto, racking up 1,895 yards and 37 touchdowns on the ground. There were plenty of times when he wasn’t even touched on his way to the end zone, and this wasn’t Pee Wee football out there. The Texas Division 5A is one of the stronger leagues in the entire country.
Wilson is at his best on screens, tosses and sweeps to the outside, where he can turn the corner or split a pair of unsuspecting defenders on his way to wide open spaces. He also flashed a nice ability to catch the ball, both out of the backfield and out of the slot, this past season.
The 5-10, 185-pound back had 37 catches for 750 yards and nine scores on top of his gaudy rushing numbers, but Wilson is also a dynamic return man. He is a north-south runner who can spin away from a head-on collision. Once he makes a move, he can get upfield in a hurry.
How He Fits
Wilson was mostly lined up in the backfield at DeSoto, but he is coming to Ohio State as a hybrid slotback in the mold of a Percy Harvin or Chris Rainey. It would be much better to use an OSU reference here, but the Buckeyes simply didn’t have a player like that on their roster during Meyer’s first season.
Jordan Hall has the potential to be that type of player if they use him the way they are planning to use Wilson and Marshall next season, but even Hall doesn’t have Wilson’s blazing speed in the open field.
He is not going to come in and suddenly take everyone else’s touches as a freshman next season. That is simply not going to happen. With Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith, Corey Brown, Devin Smith, Jeff Heuerman, Jordan Hall, Michael Thomas and Nick Vannett, there are plenty of other guys who need the football.
That of course includes Braxton Miller, but the addition of Wilson – and Marshall – gives the Buckeyes a new dynamic to the offense that will be too hard for Meyer and Herman to ignore.
He has to come in and show he can learn the offense and handle the physicality of playing football at this level, but speed translates across the board, especially for a kid who has a lot more than just top-end speed. He has quick feet and good vision. He accelerates quickly and has just enough power to run through defensive backs when he gets to the back end of the defense.
What it Means
The OSU coaches would like to run a more up-tempo style next season and Wilson fits the mold perfectly. He has speed to burn and the coaches sold him on the idea of coming to Ohio State so he could see the field as a freshman.
That doesn’t guarantee he will be ready, but Meyer and his staff will do everything in their power to get him ready to make an impact as a freshman in the fall. His touches are going to be limited because of the other options, unless he proves to be one of the most dynamic players on the team.
Meyer is not afraid to put the ball in the hands of the guys who are going to make the plays. He thinks about that stuff during the week. He dreams about it. He agonizes and anticipates ways to get those guys involved in the offense.
That tells us Wilson is going to have a chance to get some reps early in the season, but where he could provide an instant impact is as a return man. Ohio State simply lacked an explosive kick returner who could take one to the house.
Corey “Philly” Brown emerged as a dependable punt returner throughout the season, and Jordan Hall has shown glimpses as a return man in the past, but Wilson brings a little bit of a different dynamic to the role than either of those other two guys.
For Meyer to go out and land a kid like Wilson at this stage in the game shows just how good he can be as a recruiter. It also reminds us how much of an impact an undefeated season can have, and how quickly Ohio State regained its footing as one of the “it” programs in college football.
If Wilson had come out of Ohio or Michigan or Indiana, it still would have been a significant night for Meyer and the Buckeyes. The fact he comes out of Texas and chose the Buckeyes over the in-state Longhorns, who made a push to get him on campus this past weekend, is monumental.
It’s a testament to the job Herman has done recruiting the state of Texas over the last year. He started his career as a receivers coach at Texas Lutheran, and he clearly knows Texas football. He worked as a graduate assistant under Mack Brown at Texas from 1999-2000 and then coached at Sam Houston State, Texas State and Rice before coming to work for Meyer in Columbus.
With his help, the Buckeyes landed three of the top 20 players in one of the three big states for recruiting. That includes quarterback J.T. Barrett, who is already enrolled at Ohio State, and 5-star linebacker Mike Mitchell.
It’s harder to tell which of three was the biggest get for Meyer and Herman, but they have certainly caused some tension down in Austin and College Station with what they were able to do in this 2013 class.
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