Post Spring Big Board: DBs, Specialists

We saw during the spring that the Buckeyes are fortunate to have plenty of young, up-and-coming talent in the secondary, but some special teams aspects are still up in the air. We explore those areas today in the fourth installment of the Post Spring Big Board.

We are back with the fourth installment of The Big Board, my position-by-position look at the Ohio State football team.

We opened this five-part series Sunday with a look at the offensive backs and receivers. We continued Tuesday with the tight ends and linebackers.

Wednesday, we looked inside the huddle on the defensive line and at linebacker.

Today, we will examine the secondary and specialists.

Finally, in an upcoming segment, we will tie all of this data together.

Here is a position-by-position look at OSU's scholarship status and prospects in the defensive backfield and kick specialist positions with returning players listed by seniority. Walk-ons listed if on latest published roster (i.e. if you don't see a particular walk-on, he is not on the most recent roster update).

(All class designations are 2004 eligibility; starters marked with an asterisk.)


* In The Fold (5): Dustin Fox* (Sr.), Harlen Jacobs (Sr.), E.J. Underwood (Jr.), Michael Roberts (Soph.), Ashton Youboty (Soph.).

* Walk-Ons (2): Antonio Smith (Soph.), DeAngelo Haslem (R-Fr.).

* New This Fall (3): Ted Ginn Jr., Shaun Lane, Brandon Underwood.

* Verbal For 2005 (1): Jamario O'Neal.

* Analysis: Obviously, losing Chris Gamble a year early to the NFL hurts a great deal. His departure means that, most likely, Fox (6-0, 190) will stay put at corner for a third season there as a starter. He tied with safety Nate Salley for third on the team in tackles with 77. He also made three interceptions and broke up nine passes. In a season where teams averaged 35 pass attempts per game against OSU, Fox hung tough and rarely surrendered the big play. He suffered a concussion early in spring practice and missed much of the month, but is expected back in the fall.

E.J. Underwood (6-1, 175) and Youboty (6-2, 187) had a spirited battle during the spring to fill the spot vacated by Gamble. They each did a bang-up job during the spring. It seemed that Underwood may have had a slight edge as spring wound down, but both figure to play quite a bit in the fall.

Underwood only got to play in four games last season before injuring his hand in an off-the-field incident. He has some experience, having played extensively as a freshman. Youboty filled in this past year as the third corner and played in all 13 games. This battle will linger into the fall.

Jacobs (6-1, 197) has only seen limited action in his career, but remains a key special teams player (to wit his blocked punt for a touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl win over Kansas State). Roberts (5-11, 178) seemed to be gaining some confidence and momentum in the spring.

Of course, many believe that Ginn (6-0, 177) may be the player of the future at this key position. He was, after all, the USA Today national defensive player of the year at Cleveland Glenville. He picked the Buckeyes over USC, Miami (Fla.), Michigan and Pittsburgh. He may not start from day one, but he could certainly come in and make a solid impact on OSU's bottom line in this calendar year. Plus, he could prove lethal in the return game as well.

Lane (5-10, 180) is the son of former Buckeye Garcia Lane. He was also a standout prep RB at Hubbard, Ohio. He could be a factor at this position in years to come.

Brandon Underwood (6-2, 170) is tabbed by many as a bigger version of his brother, E.J. Underwood. He could also get a look at early playing time when he arrives in the fall.

* Still Looking?: Opinions differ on whether O'Neal (6-1, 180) will be a corner or a safety at the college level. He verbaled to OSU on Feb. 23, 2003, becoming perhaps the earliest verbal to OSU ever. He transferred from Mansfield Senior to Glenville just before the season but, because of suspensions and OHSAA transfer hold-ups, only played a few games for the Tarblooders. Still, he is regarded as one of the nation's very best seniors-to-be and clearly as Ohio's top prospect in that class.

If O'Neal is indeed a corner, OSU's needs at this position may not be as pressing. Of course, you always take a great player who can cover and run. Possibilities here could include Dayton Chaminade-Julienne's Brandon Harrison (5-10, 200), Akron Buchtel's Bryan Williams (6-1, 180), Alliance's Kendell Davis (5-11, 185) and Canton McKinley's Brad Jones (6-2, 190). Harrison ran a sub-4.3 second 40 at the recent OSU Nike camp and is starting to get some attention elsewhere.

OSU has offered Pennsylvania's Justin King (6-0 ½, 180). Like O‘Neal, King is being touted as one of the nation‘s top prospects. He is also a strong RB prospect as well.


* In The Fold (4): Tyler Everett (Jr.), Nate Salley* (Jr.), Brandon Mitchell (Soph.), Donte Whitner (Soph.).

* Walk-On (1): Rob Harley (Sr.)

* New This Fall (2): Nick Patterson, Sirjo Welch.

* Analysis: Salley (6-3, 205) started the last 11 games and was rock solid. He ended up tied with Fox for third on the team in tackles. Salley performed well in the spring and showed signs of joining linebacker A.J. Hawk and Fox as potential leaders for the defense in 2004.

Whitner (5-11, 185) seemed to rise above the rest of the competition this spring to fill the spot vacated by Will Allen. He is a big hitter who came up big in the Scarlet and Gray Game. He was limited early in the season due to an injury, but emerged as OSU's nickel back late in the year. He had a career-high five tackles and two pass breakups in the Fiesta Bowl win over Kansas State to finish the year with 22 tackles.

Mitchell (6-3, 190) enjoyed a big spring as well. He may be one of the biggest hitters and best tacklers -- along with Whitner -- on the team. He could be positioned as the nickel back -- if it doesn't end up being one of the extra corners. Mitchell started the first two games before being replaced by Salley. He ended up with 19 tackles on the season. Everett (6-1, 185) was injured and missed much of the spring. He also did a fine job as a reserve DB last year and finished the year with 18 stops.

Patterson (6-2, 210) is a versatile athlete from St. Louis' Hazelwood Central High School. He seems like a natural safety, but was also a fine wide receiver.

Welch (6-0, 185) is also a fine all-around athlete. He became known as one of the top play makers in the Columbus City League with 14 interceptions over the past two seasons.

* Still Looking: OSU has made an offer to Hamilton, Ohio, standout Adam Myers-White (6-3, 185). He is believed to be leaning to OSU over Michigan. Again, if OSU lands Myers-White, they may be pretty well set at safety in what will be a small recruiting class. Other possibilities include Dane Romero of West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West (OSU already has two players from there on the roster) and Jayson White of Erie (Pa.) McDowell (home of OL signee Kyle Mitchum).


* In The Fold (3): Kicker/punter Josh Huston (Sr.), kicker Mike Nugent* (Sr.), punter A.J. Trapasso (Fr.).

* Walk-Ons (3): Punters Kyle Turano (Sr.)\, J.D. Bergman (R-Fr.), Kevin Gerber (eligibility unknown).

* Grayshirt for 2005 (1): Aaron Pettrey.

* Analysis: OSU loses Ray Guy Award-winning punter B.J. Sander. The spring was interesting as Huston, Turano, Trapasso and Bergman, a standout OSU wrestler, all tried to win the open job. Huston, Turano and Trapasso all averaged better than 40 yards per punt during the special teams scrimmage in the spring. Huston may have displayed the strongest leg, although all of the combatants had consistency issues. This competition will continue into the fall.

Trapasso (6-1, 215) averaged 41.4 yards per punt and earned All-Ohio honors as a senior. He was also a standout RB as well. Turano is a transfer from Bowling Green.

Huston (6-1, 195) split the kicking job with Nugent in 2001, but hasn't had much of a role since that point.

Nugent returns as one of the nation's top kickers. He hit on 16 of 19 field goals as a junior with a long of 53 yards. That followed his All-American sophomore year, when he was 25 of 28 with a long of 51 yards. He made four field goals beyond 45 yards in the jersey scrimmage to show he is at the top of his game.

The Buckeyes were also planning on grayshirting Pettrey (6-3, 185), a product of Raceland, Ky. The idea is by delaying his enrollment OSU can use that scholarship on another player this year and his "five-year clock" would not begin until January. At that point, Pettrey would be considered a prime candidate to step in for the departing Nugent in 2005 and possibly serve as the kicker for four seasons. As a prep senior, he hit on 8 of 13 field goals, including a state-record 58 yarder. He was also a fine prep QB as well.

* Not Looking: If Trapasso and Pettrey pan out, then OSU likely would not be in the market for another kick specialist in the small 2005 class.

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