There are other athletes that are recruited as program players. These players aren't as highly touted as some others, and the coaching staff understands that it may be at least a couple of years before they will contribute to the success of the team. It's not unusual for some of these players to adjust easier to college football, since they know they have to work even harder to catch the eye of the coaching staff. It's also not surprising that some of these athletes develop into great collegiate players and even go on to the next level, the NFL. It is imperative to understand however, that a great university like Ohio State can't afford to gamble on recruiting too many of these second level players -- the risk is too high.
After saying all of this, I will attempt to analyze the 2005 Ohio State University football recruiting class at this point in history. I'll give my opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of the class as a whole, the possible impact players, the 2006 recruiting needs and an overall analysis of the recruiting process.
First of all, the OSU coaching staff did a good job of controlling the home state. The only two athletes that left Ohio that the Buckeyes really wanted were Columbus Brookhaven linebacker Alex Daniels and Warren Harding wide receiver Mario Manningham.
Daniels decided in mid-January that he would make Minnesota his college choice and would join several other of his former and current teammates in Minneapolis. Manningham chose the Wolverines last year and the Buckeyes really never had a chance. Of the two, Mario is probably the greatest loss since Santonio Holmes only has one season left and Ted Ginn Jr., realistically, only two more years since he'll probably opt for the National Football League after his junior season.
The coaching staff did lock up 11 in-state recruits. The two Ohio players every major college would like to have on their roster are offensive lineman Alex Boone of Lakewood St. Edwards and versatile defensive back/athlete Jamario O'Neal. These two players are indeed special.
It may take a while for Boone to break into the starting lineup because the offensive line is the toughest position for a freshman to play. The college game is more complex than high school football, especially for an offensive lineman who sees so many defensive fronts and must learn so many different pass protections. No doubt, Alex Boone should be a great one before he graduates.
Jamario O'Neal is a special talent who will find a home early. He has great quickness and athletic ability. He is a guy that must be on the field.
I thought the out-of-state recruiting was not as strong as it needs to be for Ohio State. Even though Maurice Wells and Doug Worthington were great out-of-state gets, the other five seem to be journeymen.
In my opinion, the key element for out-of-state talent should be speed. Only Wells has the true speed you look for when recruiting outside the Midwest. He has the speed, quickness and versatility to play several positions and could be a remarkable return specialist.
Worthington may be an outstanding player for the Buckeyes. His size, along with his athleticism, could make him a big timer before he graduates. I like defensive linemen that are also good high school basketball players.
I'm speculating that the in-state sleeper may end up being Cleveland Glenville's Freddie Lenix. He's very versatile and could play either side of the ball, even though he will probably end up on defense. He has the toughness to be a linebacker and the quickness to be a safety. He could end up not only a great position player, but also a special teams standout.
As far as an out-of-state sleeper, I'm going with New Jersey defensive back Malcom Jenkins. He'll probably end up at safety because he is fast, but not exceptionally quick. He could be a good solid player in the secondary. If his track success converts to success on the gridiron, he could be a pleasant surprise for the Buckeyes.
Position wise, the strongest recruited seems to be the defensive line. A good solid number of defensive linemen are the trademark of their class. Todd Denlinger, Ryan Williams, Lawrence Wilson and Worthington will give coach Jim Heacock the much needed depth at that position. Size and mobility describe the athletic talent of their group. I really like this position group.
Probably the next strongest position recruited is the secondary. Not only did the Buckeyes get a sound number of athletes with Donald Washington, Anderson Russell, Jenkins, and O'Neal, Lenix could end up as a defensive back before it's all over. Even though Jamario is the best of the group, the others make it a solid position along with the group of Buckeyes retuning in the secondary.
No recruiting class or recruiting season is perfect. There are a couple of glaring weaknesses that must be discussed. First of all, one of the biggest losses of the season was in the special teams area. An All-American place kicker, a future NFL long snapper and a consistent punter are all gone. The coaching staff is relying on an extra year from Josh Huston to handle the extra point and field goal chores. The jury is out on who will be the punter and snapper. I'm certain that there will be some new walk-ons try out for the various specialist positions, but it is highly unlikely that any will earn a starting spot. Even Josh, who has seen some game experience, hasn't proven to be consistent enough at this time.
Even though three linebackers signed, only one (Lenix) has the pure talent to play early. Next season the linebacking corps will be hit hard with the loss of as many as four regulars. Hopefully, the new recruits will mature next season and be able to contribute in the fall of 2006.
And, obviously, it helps that OSU already has a commitment for 2006 from Coldwater linebacker Ross Homan.
Obviously, the recent commitment by junior running back Chris Wells will greatly strengthen a weak running back position. Unless one of the recent recruits is moved to running back, Antonio Pittman, Eric Haw and Maurice Wells must handle the tailback spot. At 6-2, 225 pounds, Chris is the big back the Buckeyes desperately need. When Jason Gwaltney opted to West Virginia, the Buckeyes missed out on that needed size. Wells is just what the doctor ordered. He and Homan give Ohio State a great start on the recruiting class of 2006.
Probably the biggest recruiting mistake of the season was not bringing enough kids on campus to visit in order to fill 20 available spots. Only around 30 recruits came on official visits this year. That is around 15 short of what was needed to fill the 20 spots.
Along with this, there were two late takers that had been previously dropped from the recruiting list.
I'm certain the staff won't let that happen again next year. As a matter of act, over 30 juniors were brought to campus on Feb. 5 to watch the Ohio State-Michigan basketball games. The immediate results: Commitments by Wells and Homan.
The most important aspect of recruiting is bringing in the quality of players it takes to compete for the Big Ten championship on a year to year basis. Hopefully, the 2005 recruiting class meets this requirement. Only time will tell.
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Bill Conley spent 17 years on the Ohio State football coaching staff, including the last 11 as the recruiting coordinator. He brought his unique perspective on OSU football and recruiting to Bucknuts.com this season. Conley will now be on hiatus until late March, when he will conduct a Chat and provide a column in advance of spring football.