That's right. Cooper's bad decisions have kicked the door open for those guys to step up and prove what they can do at outside linebacker.
Rob Reynolds and Cie Grant are the starters, but Cooper was expected to provide quality depth at each of the outside positions. Now, both backup spots are open and the player who will likely replace Cooper in the rotation is O'Neill (6-3, 235, Jr.).
O'Neill is from the same high school (Walsh Jesuit) as former Buckeye All-American defensive end Mike Vrabel and is a guy who has been waiting his turn since arriving at Ohio State in 1999.
As a high school senior, O'Neill was the Ohio Division III Defensive Player of the Year and led his team to a runner-up finish in the state playoffs. He redshirted his first year at OSU, then played sparingly in both 2000 and 2001.
So is there any reason to be excited about this guy? Will he be a solid replacement for Cooper?
I think so. He doesn't have the athleticism that Cooper does, but he showed on special teams and during his limited time on the defense last year that he is a tough player with decent speed. O'Neill also wears Chris Spielman's old number - No. 36 - and that must count for something.
Anyone ready to bring Arden (6-5, 240, Fr.) back to defense yet? The former No. 1 ranked high school player in the state was moved from linebacker to tight end this spring, but a return trip to 'backer seems to make sense now. For starters, I don't see us needing that much tight end help with starter Ben Hartsock (6-4, 260, Jr.), backups Ryan Hamby (6-4, 245, Fr.) and Dave Andrews (6-2, 225, So.), as well as incoming recruit RJ Coleman (6-5, 265) already in the fold.
But beyond that, Arden should be moved back simply because he's a physical, natural linebacker who loves to hit... Just like I don't understand Arden's move to tight end this spring, I never understood Jamal Muhammad's move from MLB to fullback last year. Muhammad was said to be the only player on OSU's roster who could take on Jamar Martin helmet to helmet in practice and live to tell about it. Muhammad has since transferred - because he didn't want to play fullback - and you've got to hope a similar mistake isn't made with Arden... By the way, anyone notice Arden's penalty for his DUI hasn't been announced yet? Using Steve Bellisari as precedent, look for a one or two game suspension to begin the season.
D'Andrea (6-3, 240, Fr.) is projected to be a middle linebacker down the road, but with Matt Wilhelm (6-5, 245, Sr.) coming back as the starter, there was always the possibility of D'Andrea playing on the outside his first year just to get some experience. Now, thanks to the Cooper situation, there is a very strong possibility that will happen... Yet another possibility is that D'Andrea will be more impressive than the undersized Fred Pagac Jr. (6-1, 225, Jr.) in preseason camp and will win the job as Wilhelm's backup. Either way, look for D'Andrea in the two-deep.
If D'Andrea does stay inside, that will open the way for Carpenter (6-3, 240, Fr.) to see immediate playing time on the outside. Carpenter might be more of a natural inside linebacker, but it is clear that his best chance to play will be on the outside... Yes, it is a lot to ask to have a pair of true freshmen in the two-deep, but Cooper didn't leave us with many choices and these aren't your average freshmen.
Other post-spring notes...
- "Starting" quarterback Craig Krenzel (6-4, 215, Jr.) is much more mobile than he gets credit for. He seems especially comfortable and looks very smooth rolling to his right. Obviously, Krenzel isn't going to win a lot of games on the ground this year, but it's nice to know he doesn't have "Navarre" legs back there.
- When Will Smith (6-4, 255, Jr.) takes his three-point stance, he looks like a sprinter ready to come out of the blocks. Smith stays incredibly low and explodes when the ball is snapped. Is this the secret to his success? Well, looking back at tape from last year, it is evident that Smith has tweaked his pre-snap stance (gets much lower now) and his first step seems much quicker. Of course, the tapes I watched were of him going up against offensive tackles from Penn State and Michigan, not the walk-ons he regularly faced this spring.
- Chris Gamble (6-2, 180, So.) looks like the quickest player on the team and seems to have good hands as well. Gamble caught just five passes last year as a true freshman, including a tough first down grab against Michigan, but that was enough experience to give him confidence heading into the spring... Despite catching 65 balls for 1,012 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior at Dillard (Fla.) High School, Gamble somewhat fell below the recruiting radar (ranked as the 20th best receiver prospect in the nation according to SuperPrep). The OSU coaches said all along he was among the most talented receivers in the country and that his rankings slipped simply because he did not attend any summer camps. Looks like they were right.
- Speaking of receivers, I like the fact that Mike Jenkins (6-5, 200, Jr.), Drew Carter (6-5, 200, Jr.), Chris Vance (6-2, 180, Sr.) and Gamble are all tall. That's nothing against Bam Childress (5-9, 180, So.), because he's going to be a playmaker, but you've got to love the matchup problems that big receivers create... And the 6-5 is not some media guide exaggeration, Jenkins and Carter are every bit that tall.
- The cornerback situation seems cloudier than ever with no clear cut starters on either side. The surprises of the spring were Harlen Jacobs (6-1, 190, So.) and Chris Conwell (5-10, 180, Sr.). The coaching staff has said all along how much they like Jacobs' size and speed, and after a productive month of drills, he has put himself in a position to challenge for a starting spot come fall... Conwell won't start, but the Youngstown State transfer showed good ball skills and the Bucks need all the corner depth they can get... Richard McNutt (5-10, 178, Jr.) and Dustin Fox (6-0, 190, So.) were the starters heading into spring and both held their own for the most part. Right now, it looks like a three-man race for the two starting spots... And what happened to Bobby Britton (5-10, 180, Jr.)? He was supposed to be the man, but injuries crippled him last year and you wouldn't have even known he was on the team this spring.
- One final note: Anyone else think that Ohio State's road uniforms should be gray instead of off-white? Scarlet at home, gray on the road. That seems to make sense. The NCAA would make sure it was a light gray - so we're not talking about anything as drastic as the Tampa Bay Bucs new digs, or the uniforms that Randy Ayers broke out from time to time - but it would still be a better look for the Bucks.
Check back soon for more Bucknotes!