Life, just like an offensive line – is in the timing. As Oscar Wilde might have intoned, all good offensive lines are in the timing.
What's all this blathering? Well, the good doctor would have had a far harsher critique of the offensive line had this byline been dated before the Indiana game. But the Hoosiers did something that our coaching staff has been unable to do so far this year: they made the OSU offensive line gel and look good!
We were supposed to have back five starting O-linemen who would be seniors with a wealth of talent, experience and work ethic. Just to suck us in farther, the starting five lost half a ton of extra girth in the off-season and was being drilled by an NFL line coach, Jim Bollman. Things were looking up at that point and life was good.
The theory, unfortunately, was the high point. And just as job applicants often have their best day at work the day of their interview, our line had it's best day during the off-season while discussing the benefits of Atkins versus the South Beach diets. What happened?
Adrien Clarke came back a shadow of himself, but the shadow still weighed in excess of 320 pounds. Bryce Bishop had all that experience but he experienced a bunch of games where he looked like he was on roller skates. Shane Olivea was supposed to be the All-Everything guy but someone forgot to tell the Other Guys' defensive lines. And Alex Stepanovich could get his teammates on the line fired up; but unfortunately he was not between the Lines as he had a slow-healing ankle problem.
Those scenarios were bad enough but we also lost Ivan Douglas – in his fifth year – to his second round of blood clot problems.
Thus, the five seniors became three seniors and two sophomores. And when Bishop started whiffing more than Soriano of the Yankees, the line became two seniors, two sophomores and a junior walk-on.
Who are these guys and where do we go next? Well, as to the latter, I think the staff is going (in general) to smaller, more athletic types. Nick Mangold is the example. Here's a guy who came to campus at about 265 and has grown to 285 or so without losing any of his quickness. Or his smarts. Plus or minus recruits you just can't pass up (the late lamented Derek Morris comes to mind as does the still-to-come Alex Boone), you should see smaller, quicker and smarter linemen.
As to the ones who are here: Stepanovich, Bishop, Clarke and Olivea have exhausted their eligibility. There is a chance – and it would be a great story – that Douglas could request and be granted a sixth season of eligibility, but let's assume here that he goes out with the fifth year senior class.
You then have the following group that would be juniors in eligibility: Mangold, Sims, Adam Olds and Andree Tyree.
Your sophomores-to-be: RJ Coleman, Doug Datish, and TJ Downing.
Red-shirt freshmen? Just one: Kirk Barton
And you can't forget about walk-on offensive linemen at Ohio State since three have received scholarships in the past two years (another statement about the quality play of our scholarship players, no?). They are Caesar Buie, a sophomore in 2004 from Shaker Heights, John Conroy, a junior from St. Ignatius; John McLaughlin, a senior also from St. Iggy; Dan Dye, a sophomore from Napoleon; Tyler Whaley, a sophomore from Ironton; and Steve Winner, a junior from Dublin Coffman.
And in a class all their own: Kyle Andrews, the outstanding long snapper who earned a scholarship, will be a senior. And Mike Kne, another walk-on that has played his way to a scholarship, will be a senior despite being listed on most rosters as a senior already.
Others to figure into the mix? Ryan Cook hasn't been seen in a year or so, so we'll assume he's gone. And there could be any number of position transfers. The one typically discussed is Tim Schafer, a sophomore moving over from the D-line. The ones that are purely speculative include two very athletic red-shirt freshmen (in 2004): Sian Cotton and Brandon Maupin. Sian swears he wants to play defense and Brandon hasn't expressed an opinion yet. But, often times, when a kid wants to see the field, they play where they are needed.
So that's the inventory. What's the prognosis?
Dr. Recruitnik sez: If I were picking up sides right now for next year, I would see a starting five that looked like:
Tackle: Rob Sims Doug Datish RJ Coleman Ben Person
Tackle: Mike Kne Kirk Barton Tim Schafer John Skinner
Guard: Adam Olds Andree Tyree John Conroy Steve Rehring
Guard: TJ Downing Steve Winner John McLaughlin
Center: Nick Mangold Adam Olds Andree Tyree
With the first column being the starters, the second column being the back-ups, the third column being the three-deeps and the fourth column being the current commitments.
If you look at the starters, 3 of the 5 have started this year with Mangold and Sims now regulars. If Ivan Douglas can come back, that would help a bunch. He would displace Kne and would give us better depth and better talent. I am putting Downing in the slot of "Guess who will be the fifth starter" just from the reports we hear from practice. That other starter could be Barton or Tyree or…well, your guess is as good as mine. But you already knew that.
The depth is better than it has been but it still isn't great when you have to interweave two walk-ons in your two-deep and four in your three-deep. With the spread of the classes and taking five guys this year, we will finally be back to the quantity we need. The quality? We will find out…
But we are a quantum level ahead of the spring practices of the past when we didn't have ten linemen to play for the spring game!
Let's look to the future…we have commitments from four offensive linemen. Yes, four. Ben Person, Jon Skinner and Steve Rehring for the class of 2004. And Alex Boone for the class of 2005. This is a good group but no Orlando Pace or even a Rob Sims jumps out at you. None of these seniors were as highly rated, for example, as Doug Datish was coming out of high school.
Person might have the most opportunity to contribute early. Skinner has lots of upside, as well, having recuperated from a junior year off to post good numbers and good film clips. Rehring is a "project". In the good sense. He has come a long way from the lumbering awkward junior we saw on tape. But he has a long way to go. At least his trend line is up!
The disappointment is that we have been in on many national big-time names for next year and we have virtually gone 0-for-the-nation. The biggest name in the country (Jeff Byers) removed himself yesterday by committing to USC. The other out-of-state kids look like, well…like they are going to out-of-state schools. Before you accuse me of undue pessimism, here's the breakdown:
1. Kyle Mitchum: Perhaps our best shot (from PA); just returned from an Iowa visit.
2. Jacky Claude: A 3-star prospect from Florida, who might attend OSU if Miami doesn't offer.
3. Carlos Feliciano: A strong possibility from New Jersey – we are in his top six.
4. Leon Hart: A South Carolina kid that everyone wants – projected to end up in South Carolina.
5. Brett Gallimore: A national kid from Missouri; we are in his top five.
6. Dumaka Atkins: We are in the top six for this Florida product. He is also waiting for Miami to offer (his brother plays there…)
7. Joe Joseph: A natural defensive lineman, we will be his fifth visit. Strong lean to Florida.
I defy anyone to look at that list and find a name that we have a better than 50-50 shot at. Why is that disappointing? Listen, people, any O-lineman with two working eyes and a decent ego has to look at our O-line problems and just salivate! So where are they?
Dr. Recruitnik sez: The Bucks will take two more offensive linemen in this class, if for no other reasons than depth. We need at least one kid from the aforementioned Lucky Seven out-of-state list or a new emerging name. Otherwise, we will look to the slowly developing Brandon Braxton from Youngstown and/or the already committed Gerald Cadogan (Portsmouth) to try and win him back.
All in all, not terribly exciting; a very working class group. That might be all right if we already were speckled with up-and-coming stars, but we are not. This was the class that was supposed to provide the oomph.
Further down the road, there is still some real optimism as Boone will be here in 2005 and the very good AJ Haas could join him. But it's hard to imagine – what with the style of football our coaches like to play – that we can compete at the highest national level without the highest national talent.
Hope I'm wrong but that's this doctor's prognosis…