February 18, 2013

2013 class could have immediate impact

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Despite pulling in the fourth-ranked class in America a year ago, you'd be hard pressed to find a true freshman who made an immediate impact for the Ohio State football team in 2012. The class' leading receiver, Michael Thomas, caught three passes for a total of 22 yards, its leading rusher, Bri'onte Dunn, attempted 25 rushes for 133 yards, and on defense, Noah Spence led all freshmen with a grand total of seven tackles.

For Buckeyes' coach Urban Meyer, production like that- or a lack thereof- from first-year players figures to be an exception and not the rule in his program.

Hauling in the country's second-ranked for 2013 on National Signing Day two weeks ago, Meyer gushed over the potential that his 24 newest players possess. And as opposed to a season ago, the second-year OSU coach expects their presence to be felt sooner rather than later.

"Now we go from recruiting phase to preparation phase, and we've got to get them ready to play because really we don't redshirt here at Ohio State," Meyer said. "We're going to recruit guys and get them on the field as fast as we can when they're ready and push them to be ready.

"We're not recruiting you to sit for a year or two and we'll try to get you ready. We want to go recruit guys who are ready to jump in the fire and want to go play as soon as they can."

That doesn't, however, mean that the Buckeyes won't redshirt players when it makes sense to. Last season, nine of Ohio State's 24 scholarship true freshmen who finished the season with the team redshirted for reasons ranging from injury to a lack of available playing time at their positions.

What Meyer's point is, is that the types of players he wants are the ones who don't have to worry about redshirting, because they're ready to play from the moment they step foot on campus. And with this being the two-time national champion head coach's first recruiting class in Columbus that he spent a full year on attracting, there should be more players in this year's class ready to do that than there were in last year's.

The first names that come to mind when talking about freshmen who could see the field right away for the Buckeyes in 2013 are athletes Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall. As was seen evident last year by the mixing and matching that OSU did in its backfield, the Buckeyes were without a true hybrid player to play the role that Percy Harvin made famous in Meyer's spread offense during his time at Florida, and both four-star prospects seem like naturals to fill that void.

"When you run into an offense where you can split guys all the time and you only have one or two, that's not enough," Meyer said. "We're starting to get a little bit of that built up where you're having a Jalin to put out there, and Dontre can play that, that's what he'll do as well. And you can break the formation a little bit and have guys in space."

Other offensive freshmen-to-be who could see early playing time in 2013 include running back Ezekiel Elliott, tight end Marcus Baugh, and wide receivers James Clark and Corey Smith.

Replacing seven starters- and six in the front seven- the defensive side of the ball may be the place to look when it comes to which freshmen see the field first for OSU next season. With three of four starters returning to the secondary and a sophomore class full of defensive linemen ready to take the next step in their careers, its the linebacker corps that contains the most opportunity for the incoming Buckeyes.

Ohio State defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said that Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson will receive the chance to replace Etienne Sabino and Zach Boren in the Buckeyes' lineup, despite the leadership roles that the departed seniors occupied during OSU's undefeated season in 2012.

"Is it going to be difficult? Yeah. It's going to be very difficult," Fickell said of potentially having a true freshman start at linebacker. "The guy that you've got to have is that guy in the middle that can at least get people lined up, get you checked, get you to do some things. I think our guys have to realize that as much as a quarterback has to prepare, a linebacker has to do the same."

Whether are not Mitchell or Johnson are capable of taking on that role remains to be seen. But regardless of which players do it, all signs point to Meyer having just signed a freshman class that could make one of the biggest immediate impacts in Ohio State history.

'We've had great success with the skilled guys that can come in, whether it be a corner or offensive receiver," Meyer said. "Especially these guys, I think they're going to help us."


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