The-Ozone Rewind: First Glimpse at Future Buckeyes, 2004

[Editor’s Note: From now until Big Ten Media Days, we’ll be reaching into The-Ozone’s 23 years worth of archives and each day we will be posting a story from yesteryear. Big moments, small moments, big games, bigger games, and the random recruiting updates about guys you haven’t thought about in a decade or two.]

July 25, 2004 | It is always interesting to go back and see how accurate first impressions end up being. This piece from John Porentas follows the 2004 Ohio North-South Game and the Big 33 Game between Ohio and Pennsyvlania’s best, and in it Porentas gives his impression of the future Buckeyes involved in the games. There are some blasts from the past, including a former 5-star cornerback who never ended up doing anything on defense for Ohio State. He wasn’t bad on offense and special teams, though. While it wouldn’t take a genius to project great things for Ted Ginn, Jr., the rest of the thoughts here ended up being pretty spot-on as well. — TG

Both the North-South and Big 33 All-Star games are in the books. That means we’ve had a chance to get our first glimpse of the incoming Buckeyes.

We’d love to be able to tell you that we know all about the newcomers, but that would be less-than accurate. While the glimpses we got in the All-Star games were nice, they were just that, glimpses, and not enough of a look to come to conclusions about the players if for no other reason than the special rules involved in All-Star games. On the upside, the Big 33 game in particular seemed like a really competitive game, with both teams doing their best to come out with a victory.

“It definitely meant something,” said future Buckeye Alex Barrow. “There was so much trash talking going on during the week,” said Barrow.

That being said, we can give you our early impressions of the players we’ve seen.

DE Alex Barrow: Barrow was impressive in both the North-South game and the Big 33. He picked up the South Team Defensive MVP award in the North – South game, and probably would have been the defensive MVP for Ohio in the Big 33 if they gave a defensive award. Unfortunately for Barrow, only one MVP award is given per team in the Big 33, and is usually goes to an offensive player.

Barrow has shown an uncanny ability to defeat blockers and consistently plays in the offensive backfield, wreaking havoc on both the running and passing games. He has a big frame and will probably get stronger, but his primary asset is his speed and quickness. He also is adept at delivering a blow, a trait you like to see in a defensive lineman. In the All-Star games he was a particularly strong pass rusher. In the Big 33, he lined up across from future Buckeye Jon Skinner and gave him fits all night.

“He’s really tough,” said Skinner after the game. “He got me a couple of times, beat me fair and square. I’m just glad he’s going to be on my side for the next four years.”

RB Erik Haw: Haw played in both the North-South and Big 33. Haw comes to OSU with a rep for great speed, which he did show from time to time in both games. He also exhibited good hands, particularly in the Big 33 where he had four catches for 62 yards and one touchdown. He did not strike us as particularly elusive, and had trouble scoring from close in in the North South game. He seemed most effective when running outside, but did not seem particularly strong between the tackles.

LB Brandon Smith: Smith appears to be a bit of project, but a project worth undertaking. He has very good size and runs very well for a big man. He covered kicks in the Big 33 and was usually one of the first players down field. Smith will probably not make an immediate impact at OSU, if for no other reason than the depth chart is full, but don’t write him off. He has all the tools and impressed us as a bright guy capable of learning a system. He was listed at 6-4 and 230 for the Big 33, and after standing next to him, we’d say that was about right, and like we said, it looks like he runs real well.

DB Brandon Underwood: We were pleasantly surprised by Underwood both as a run support guy and particularly as a cover corner. Underwood made some big plays in both All-Star game, none bigger than his defense of a fourth down pass on Pennsylvania’s last possession of the Big 33. Underwood got the job done on that play, forcing a turnover on downs that effectively ended the game and sealed the win for Ohio. Unfortunately, he also injured his shoulder on the play, an injury that was obviously very painful. He was down of the field for several minutes and seemed to be in a lot of pain on the sidelines after they got him up.

DB/WR Ted Ginn Jr.: Ginn did not play in the North – South game, but played in the Big 33. Seeing him play was worth the wait.

Ginn played on offense in the game, snagging five passes for 142 yards and touchdown. He also threw a touchdown pass on a double-pass play that resulted in the winning score of the game. He also lined up on defense in the second half and was very effective as a cover corner. He defended against future Buckeye Devon Lyons in the second half and limited Lyons to just one catch.

Ginn’s obvious asset is his world-class speed and athleticism. He simply ran past defenders in the Big 33 game to get open, and showed good hands once the ball arrived. He also showed good elusiveness after the catch, but is not in the league of say Michigan’s Steve Breaston. That does not, however, mean that he is without moves, because he has plenty of them, and when it comes to speed, it is hard to imagine anybody faster on a football field, including Breaston. Ginn also ran back kicks in the Big 33, and Pennsylvania elected to squib kick in the game rather than to kick to him.

On the downside, he is small, not in height, but in build. He was listed at 170 in the Big 33, a weight we think is pretty accurate. We saw him miss at least one tackle on kick coverage where he seemed not to shy away from contact, but didn’t seem overly eager to initiate it either, and ended up falling down and not making the play. If he has a weakness, it might be that he is rather slight and perhaps is not as physical as you would like a defensive player to be. For that reason, his future may well lie on the offensive side of the ball or perhaps as a two-way player, playing offense and coming in as a coverage specialist in sure passing situations. He also has a huge future as a return man.

“They haven’t told me yet (at Ohio State) where they want me to play, on what side of the ball,” he said after the Big 33. “I’m just going to go down there and see where they put me.”

DB Sirjo Welch: Welch’s rep is that of a hitter, and he did nothing to harm that reputation in either All-Star game. What concerned us in both games is that he seemed to have some trouble playing in space. He seemed to be in position to make plays most of the time, but in both games allowed deep balls to be completed on him even though his coverage was actually pretty good. He seemed to have some problems locating the ball once it was in the air, allowing receivers to make catches on him. If he can overcome that problem, he can be a very good defensive back, because he did appear to be a very hard-nose kid in both games and was not really allowing receivers to get open. He just didn’t make the play once the ball arrived.

TE/LB Chad Hoobler: We were a little lukewarm on Hoobler after the North-South, but really liked what we saw of Hoobler in the Big 33.

In the North – South, Hoobler played exclusively on offense, and frankly looked kind of ordinary in that game. In the Big 33, however, he played exclusively on defense, and seemed to constantly be around the ball and making tackles. He looked much, much more comfortable on defense, and said after the game that if he had his druthers, that is where he would play. It also seems that the OSU coaching staff wants to see him there too.

“The coaches have decided on me playing linebacker now. Linebacker is the position it looks like I’m going to be at, and I’m real happy with that. It’s the position I’d really rather play, but I’ll do whatever they ask,” Hoobler said after the North – South.

OL Ben Person: It’s tough to rate offensive linemen in All-Star games, but we’ll say this about Person. He was the starter in both games, played every snap, and was on the winning team twice. We still believe that the game of football is won and lost by the guys in the trenches, and Person helped his team to a win twice in the times we saw him. He’s a big guy, but we noticed that in pass protection he seemed very nimble and agile with quick feet. We think he has a very bright future and could play sooner rather than later.

WR Devon Lyons: One of four Pennsylvanians in the Big 33 headed to Ohio State, Lyons was very impressive in the Big 33. He had a team-high four catches for a team-high 123 receiving yards in the Big 33. That was nearly half of the total yards (276) picked up by Pennsylvania through the air in the game.

Lyons is a big receiver, all of the 6-4 that he was listed on the Big 33 roster. He is very athletic with extremely sure hands, and showed an outstanding ability to run with the ball after the catch. He made people miss once he had his hands on the ball and had good speed moving upfield.

We were impressed with his play on the field. We were perhaps even more impressed with him after the game. He is articulate and bright with a great attitude. When we reminded him that he had a good night, he accepted our praise graciously, then reminded us that it wasn’t good enough to win, and that that was the ultimate measure. We loved his attitude, even in defeat. He was very classy, giving credit to the Ohio players he faced. We are officially Devon Lyons fans. We are also officially impressed with him as a player. His size and speed and athleticism reminded us of a very recent past Buckeye whose initials rhyme with Michael Jenkins. (OOPS, were we too obvious?)

OL Kyle Mitchum and OL Jon Skinner: We put these two guys together for the same reason that we talked about Ben Person in generic terms, that is, that it’s tough to get a handle on offensive linemen in All-Star games. What we can tell you is this; both of them are big, strong guys. The two of them comprised one side of the Pennsylvania offensive line, and the Pennsylvania offense was able to rush for 160 yards in the Big 33 game (as compared to just 60 yards for Ohio). When running backs find seams to run through, it’s always because offensive linemen are getting something done up front. Mitchum was listed at 6-5, 290 in the Big 33 program, and Skinner 6-5, 295. Standing next to them, we thought that Skinner might be somewhat bigger than Mitchum (maybe half an inch). Both are very trim athletes for big men and do not appear to be in any way overweight.

TE Rory Nicol: We really, really like Rory Nicol. Nicol showed the ability to get downfield in the passing game and had two catches for 25 yards in the Big 33. He was also open a couple of other times but the passes were not exactly on the mark. We liked him as a receiver, but what we liked most about him was his attitude and physical style of play. The word that comes to mind is warrior.

Nicol plays football like it is an all-out war. He even instigated a bench-clearing brawl in the third quarter when he put a shot on an Ohio player after an attempted run-back on a blocked point after touchdown. It’s clear that Nihol can catch, but what is more clear is that he loves to hit people and knock them down. If he can’t get playing time at tight end, we’d love to see him at defensive end. He has all the tools to play tight end, but the way see it, could be a terror as a defensive end.

“You can’t play this game and worry about whether you’re going to get hurt,” said Nicol after the Big 33.

“You’ve got enemies out there on the football field. If you have a different color jersey on, you aren’t my friend. After the game, we can be buddies, but not during it,” said Nicol describing his approach to the game.

LB Curtis Terry: Terry is Mister Afterthought. Terry was an afterthought to the OSU recruiting class, and then made the North- South roster as an alternate. When he was named to the team due to an injury, he quickly earned playing time and stood out in the North – South game, being named the defensive MVP of the North squad.

Terry is not particularly big at 6-2, 205, but has the speed of defensive back and the kind of body that makes you wonder if his per cent body fat is over four per cent. He is, as they say, “cut”, and showed the ability to beat blockers and get to the football. He reminded us of a young Cie Grant, with great speed and the kind of body that generates explosive power. We think he can be 220 easily, and at that weight can be an impressive linebacker.

Jonathan Skeete: Skeete is a place-kicker/punter who played in the North-South game only. He showed good leg on kickoffs, getting the ball into the endzone on most kicks, though he was a little inconsistent. We didn’t see enough of him as a field goal kicker or punter to get an impression.