How Goes the Search for Playmakers?
By Tony Gerdeman
On more than a few occasions over the past 10 months, Buckeye head coach Urban Meyer has spoken about the lack of offensive playmakers on his team.
There are two ways to fix this problem. The first is through development, but the second, and more obvious answer, is through recruiting.
In the 2012 recruiting class, Meyer "missed out" on wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who decided to stay close to home by signing with Maryland. On Sunday, Diggs was named the Terps' MVP thanks to his 1,896 all-purpose yards, which was the second highest total in school history.
Diggs averaged 28.5 yards per kickoff return, taking two all the way back for touchdowns. In a season with very poor production from the Ohio State kickoff return game, do you think the Buckeyes could have found a place for Diggs this past year?
It wasn't just big plays in the special teams where the Buckeyes were lacking, however. Ohio State was 66th in the nation in plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more (53). For comparison's sake, Texas A&M led the nation with 90, and Nebraska was eighth with 75.
Braxton Miller had 14 of those 53 plays, and no other Buckeye had more than Devin Smith's nine. Wisconsin had four players with 10 or more plays of 20 yards.
The longest carry by a Buckeye who wasn't Miller was a 33-yard run by Rod Smith. Carlos Hyde's long was just 29 yards. Frankly, the Ohio State offense had to work way too hard for the yards that they got this past season.
It wasn't much better in the passing game, as only three Buckeye receivers had receptions of 40 yards or more, and leading receiver Corey Brown wasn't one of them.
Urban Meyer knew what he was talking about, clearly, and he has set out to remedy what is missing in his offense. Currently, the Buckeyes have five commits from receivers and running backs in the 2013 class, and they all appear to bring what Meyer is looking for.
Tailback Ezekiel Elliott (6-0 198) is an Army All-American who had a spectacular season, scoring 50 total touchdowns and making plays every single week. Along with Elliott's 2,155 yards rushing and 40 touchdowns, he also had four receiving touchdowns and scored three times on both kickoff and punt returns.
During the summer, Elliott also participated in the Gridiron Kings 7-on-7 tournament and didn't look out of place as a wide receiver. He received a coveted invite to Nike's summer camp The Opening, and ran a 4.42, which was the third-best number the camp saw.
Elliott appears to have the ability to handle the football in any number of ways, which would seem to suit the Ohio State offense perfectly.
Jalin Marshall (5-11 196), an Under Armour All-American who played quarterback at Middletown, could find himself playing a little bit of everything in 2013.
Marshall threw for 765 yards and 11 touchdowns while rushing for 1,421 yards and 14 touchdowns this past season. Currently, Scout rates him a five-star prospect, and the #4 wide receiver in the 2013 class.
Both Elliott and Marshall have the ability to make a five-yard play a 20-yard play, and a 20-yard play a 70-yard play. This past season, the Buckeyes didn't have a player that could exploit the wide sides of the field and give the "east-west" threat that Meyer believes his offense needs. Elliott and Marshall would bring that ability instantly.
Once they get that threat, it will also allow for bigger plays between the tackles, because right now, that's where most of the action is, and so that's where the defensive focus is.
Currently, there is only one true wide receiver committed, and that is Taivon Jacobs (5-11 165) out of Maryland. Jacobs finished his season with 43 receptions for 1,044 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has the speed to run down the sideline, but also the ability to make defenders miss in tight spaces.
Despite his regular season now being over, he still has a pair of all-star games to play in, starting with the Maryland Crab Bowl on December 21st, and then the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl nine days later.
Though calling Jacobs the lone "true" receiver commit is a bit misleading, because recent verbal pledge Gareon Conley (6-2 165) out of Massillon was named First-Team Division I All-Ohio as a receiver this past season. He finished the year with 50 receptions for 1,096 yards and 16 touchdowns.
He is rated by the services as a cornerback, but obviously he has plenty of receiver skills as well. Conley will play in the Under Armour All-American game in January, and it will be interesting to see where he ends up working out during the week of practice leading up to the game.
The Buckeyes also have tight end Marcus Baugh (6-4 233) committed, and he was a prospect that Meyer targeted pretty quickly. He finished with 38 receptions for 610 yards and three touchdowns this season.
Baugh, an Under Armour All-American, provides a mobile threat that can split out with ease and gain yards after the catch. He excelled in 7-on-7 tournaments during the offseason, which displayed his athleticism and ability to get open.
Having these five athletes committed will help the 2013 offense, but Meyer isn't done yet. He is still working on a few receivers, and possibly even another running back.
The most likely of these players to end up in Columbus is Cleveland receiver Shelton Gibson (6-1 175). Gibson, who has been timed at 4.48 in the 40-yard dash, will play in the Army All-American Bowl.
He was at Ohio State's Friday Night Lights camp this summer and he was one of the most explosive players on the field. He has the extra gear that Meyer's offense needs. Gibson has said on numerous occasions that Ohio State is his leader, so if all goes well for the Buckeyes, Gibson will eventually be in the Scarlet and Gray.
Five-star Louisville receiver James Quick (6-1 180), who is Scout's second-ranked receiver overall, will eventually be selecting between Ohio State and Louisville. Like Gibson, Quick will be playing in the Army All-American Bowl as well.
Quick was named Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Kentucky following a senior season that saw him catch 85 passes for 1,416 yards and 15 touchdowns. Quick finished his high school career with 4,437 yards and 56 touchdown receptions.
Quick is not the only Player of the Year the Buckeyes are still in on, as they are also after athlete Cornelius Elder (5-11 170), who won his second Mr. Football Award in the state of Tennessee last month. It was the third time he's been nominated.
Elder rushed for 6,351 yards and 84 touchdowns during his career, and Ohio State is apparently in a pretty good spot to land Elder's services. Elder would likely be a player who plays in the slot, but would also be able to motion into the backfield and not miss a beat.
A player who would fit more into the long shot category would be running back Dontre Wilson (5-10 174), out of DeSoto Texas. Wilson committed to Oregon over the Buckeyes back in May, but there are numerous reports that he may be a little unsure about the Ducks at the moment.
If this seemed like a lot of names for you, then be happy, because Urban Meyer is on the lookout for playmakers and he's far from satisfied with the current state of the Ohio State offense. For that reason alone, Buckeye fans should be excited about what is to come.
The Ohio State offense may not fully be what Meyer wants until 2014, and by that time he could be dealing with a senior Braxton Miller and high school All-Americans at every skill position on the field.
Still, the 2013 version shouldn't be all that bad either, and it will be buoyed by some freshmen playmakers who will be able to help out immediately.
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