August 5, 2013

First-year skill players could shine in Columbus

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A mere five minutes into the first official stretching session of the 2013 season, Urban Meyer gathered his collection of first-year players at the center of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center practice field. And even while the second-year Ohio State head coach sternly warned the group of 35 players about the importance of the first impressions that they were about to make, the excitement of a kid finally allowed to play with his new toys was apparent on Meyer's face.

Take one look at the Buckeyes 2013 recruiting class and it's apparent where an emphasis was placed by the Ohio State staff. Speedy skill players helped define the two-time national champion head coach's successful six seasons at Florida, and for the first time since he arrived in Columbus in the Winter of 2011, Meyer finally has a roster that resembles the ones that he put together with the Gators.

Headlined by a quintet of four-star skill position prospects, Meyer's second Ohio State class ranked second nationally and is going to be counted on to make an immediate impact. "They have to play," Meyer told The Herd's Colin Cowherd during a recent visit to ESPN headquarters.

After a long six months between National Signing Day and the start of fall camp, Sunday provided Meyer with his first opportunity to get a look at his highly-touted class in football-related activities. It might be too early to tell if Meyer has his Ohio State versions of Percy Harvin, Chris Rainey, and Jeff Demps just yet, but all indications this offseason have pointed to the Buckeyes transforming into a Big Ten power that now possesses SEC speed.

The hype surrounding the incoming Ohio State class centers around DeSoto, Texas native and all-purpose player Dontre Wilson. At 5-foot-10 and 174 pounds, Wilson is officially listed as an athlete on the Buckeyes fall camp roster and posseess the ability to play running back, wide receiver, and the hybrid 'Pivot' position.

Since arriving on campus in June for offseason workouts, Wilson has drawn rave reviews from his coaches and teammates, including Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.

"He brings a different type of game, definitely. He just wants to make plays," Miller said. "He's mature. Coming in as a freshman, he already knows how to run the routes that we got, so that's a big plus."

While Wilson has garnered most of the preseason headlines, Meyer said not to count out Middletown, Ohio native Jalin Marshall. Listed as a wide receiver on the most recent OSU roster, the 6-foot, 190-pounder played multiple positions in high school and was the second-ranked prospect in the state of Ohio, but perhaps lost some of his luster with recruiting fans due to his early commitment.

"Can you imagine Ohio State University and the state of Ohio and Buckeye Nation if he would have waited and put on a hat? That would have been a great day," Meyer said. "We think he's certainly if not the best player in Ohio, one of them."

Thanks to his bulky frame, Marshall is expected to be able to handle the wear and tear of the 'Pivot' position, as is running back Ezekiel Elliott. Despite starting the season buried on a deep depth chart, the OSU coaching staff will almost certainly find a way to get touches for the St. Louis, Mo. native, who posted 3,061 all-purpose yards and 50 touchdowns in his senior season at John Burroughs High School.

In order to add more Florida-like speed on the outside of his OSU offense, Meyer went back to his old stomping grounds, successfully plucking James Clark from the Sunshine State. Playing for New Smyrna Beach High School, the 5-foot-11, 170-pounder recorded 49 receptions for 1,112 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior and sent a wave of excitement through the Buckeyes fan base when he announced his intentions to play for Ohio State on National Signing Day.

While he may not be a freshman in terms of eligibility, first-year player and JUCO transfer Corey Smith will be counted on to add skill and depth to the Buckeyes receiving corps. A native of Akron, Ohio, Smith has two years of eligibility remaining in his college career after spending two years at East Mississippi Community College.

With skill players like Corey Brown, Devin Smith, Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall -- and not to mention, Miller -- already in tow, Meyer enters 2013 with plenty of options on offense, new and old. Yet despite the plethora of talent already existing on the offensive side of the ball, the Buckeyes head coach appears intent on playing with his new toys as soon as possible.

"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, Meyer said. "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."


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