It would be interesting to know exactly who evaluated the film for these services and if they really know how to judge talent. Do they really know what college coaches look for in a high school player? Do they really know the skills and qualities that are unique for each position?
It's quite amazing how a player's ranking changes by who offers the player a scholarship. Frankly, I have evaluated players that have gone up or down in the so called "star" rankings overnight. It seems quite astonishing that a player gains or loses value while he is sleeping.
I truly believe that most colleges and universities do a good job evaluating talent. The great player can easily be recognized by anyone. For example, it doesn't take a lot of football knowledge to realize Ted Ginn Jr. is a special athlete. I think it takes a special eye and a special understanding of each position to make an intelligent evaluation. Even at that, we have all made many mistakes in the recruiting game. Sometimes it's maturity of the athlete at the next level or the intangibles that lead to a player's success once he moves on to the collegiate ranks.
Recruiting services do have a legitimate argument that the best players tend to go to the best programs. And if a player is being recruited by the major Division I-A programs, it's a sage bet that he has a lot of talent. It's the next level, the good, not the great, where the ranking of athletes becomes really important. These players make up the bulk of your talent even in the best programs.
That's when a keen eye of a college coach and recruiter comes into play. It's this level athlete where I feel the recruiting experts of the world need some help. Added to the potentially inaccurate ranking is the simple fact that colleges can only recruit so many players and they need to meet the specific needs of the team. There are many good football players you simply can't take. It has nothing to do with the talent level of the athlete, but the vacancies at that particular position for the college or university.
After saying all of that, I would agree with most recruiting services that the 2006 Ohio State recruiting class is somewhere from the bottom of the top 10 to the mid teens. After evaluating all of these players on film, I would like to share these conclusions:
I think the Buckeye staff did a good job of meeting some its specific needs. At no position is this more evident then at the linebacking corps. The obvious holes left in the defense with the graduation of A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel was a top priority that had to be filled in this year's recruiting class.
The best of the new linebackers may well be Thaddeus Gibson of Euclid, Ohio. He is an athletic linebacker who has good speed and agility. Even though he's only 205 pounds, it's easy to put weight on once a player gets into a good lifting routine and gets introduced to a college training table. Bottom line, as long as Thaddeus can qualify and can compete in the classroom at Ohio State, he has the potential to be a great player at the college level.
Larry Grant from City College of San Francisco also has the ability to be an outstanding college linebacker for the Buckeyes. He's a good 6-2 and 220 pounds, and like Gibson, athletic. He's even faster than Thaddeus and has junior college experience under his belt. Even though junior college football is nothing like Division I, it's still collegiate experience. The biggest question regarding Larry is why didn't USC, UCLA and his home state of Georgia recruit him? I think it's strange that he can't get into Florida, but he can get into Ohio State.
Ross Homan and Mark Johnson add strength to the linebacking position. Both are productive players. Ross made play after play for Coldwater High School while leading them to the state title. The biggest challenge for Ross will be getting use to the speed of the college game. If he can adjust to that, he could be another Marcus Marek-type of linebacker. His toughness should take him a long way.
Mark Johnson is the prototype linebacker in uniform. At 6-4 and 230 pounds, he "looks the part." Mark comes from Dorsey High School, the same place we got Nai'l Diggs, and a school which has produced many great players. Mark is a player that could get big enough to be a defensive end. As was the case with Larry Grant, why didn't USC and UCLA offer a scholarship to a player in their own backyard?
Another position of need to the Buckeyes is tight end. By recruiting Jake Ballard and Andy Miller, Ohio State gained much needed depth at that position. Jake is the better athlete of the two and could end up on defense. Andy, like Jake is a big target at 6-6 tall. Neither is as fast as Ben Hartsock, Darnell Sanders or Rickey Dudley. They both are physical enough to be a good looking tight end, but don't expect either to be a real vertical threat in the passing game. Again, they both are good players, but it would shock me if both finished their collegiate careers as tight ends.
Even though the defensive line is the strongest of the returning position areas next year, you can't have enough good pass rushers and run stoppers. With the speed of the game ever increasing, it's imperative to be at least two deep up front. Being fresh is important for the defensive line. With the additions of recruits Walter Dublin, Robert Rose, and Dexter Larimore, that freshness should be apparent next season.
I think the gem of these three is Robert Rose of Cleveland Glenville. At 6-4 and 255 pounds, he proved in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl that he can run. He uses his hands well and should be an awesome pass rusher.
Larimore is a physical defensive tackle that is quick off the ball and gets off blocks. He could develop into a solid defensive tackle once he learns to use his hands. I can guarantee you, Jim Heacock can get that done.
Dublin runs well but will need some time to develop. He's athletic but Miami (Fla.), Florida and Florida State didn't recruit him. He is probably a "down the road" guy.
Even though the Buckeyes only recruited two interior offensive linemen in the 2006 class, I like both Connor Smith and Bryant Browning. Connor had more accolades than Bryant, but I like Bryant a little bit more. He has good feet and bends well. I like the way he comes off the ball at 340 pounds and seems to pass block well as he ran blocks. Connor needs to improve in pass protection. He had a rough U.S. Army All-American Bowl. I'm certain Jim Bollman will improve Connor's footwork early in camp. Both Bryant and Connor should help the Buckeye offensive front, but probably not next season.
The other big need the staff met this year was the signing of a big tailback in Chris Wells. Chris is in the mold of some Ohio State greats like Keith Byars and Eddie George. At nearly 230 pounds, he may be the answer to third-and-short or fourth-and-1. He definitely has the ability, and if he can take the hits in the Big Ten, he should play next fall. Chris and Antonio Pittman could very easily split action this fall, but don't expect Maurice Wells and Erik Haw to roll over and die, they have talent. Don't be surprised, however, to see at least one of them to be moved to another position.
One the things the Buckeye staff couldn't have been prepared for was the loss of the entire secondary. With Ashton Youboty and Donte Whitner leaving early, along with the graduation of Nate Salley and Tyler Everett, the Ohio State secondary in 2006 will be as "green as grass."
I'm certain the staff was caught off guard and, therefore, found themselves short at defensive back on the recruiting board. Kurt Coleman has the speed you're looking for in an Ohio State-caliber defensive back. Kurt can be exceptional also as a return man, something he did at Clayton Northmont.
We will see if Aaron Gant, Chimdi Chekwa and Grant Schwartz are fast enough to play, especially early, in the Buckeye secondary. I sincerely hope they are, but right now I question three players that weren't heavily recruited in their own region or even their own state.
One player who I feel is fast enough to help out in the secondary is Ray Small. Even though he isn't really tall, he is fast enough to play at corner with his 4.4 40-yard speed. He is currently listed as a wide receiver, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him line up on the defensive side of the ball.
Tyler Moeller is an athlete that is physical and very active as a player. He may play in the secondary or get big enough to be a will linebacker. One thing for sure, he should be a great special teams player.
One of the surprises early takes of the class was quarterback Antonio Henton. Antonio really impressed the coaching staff at summer camp, they offered, he jumped. Even though he wasn't recruited by Georgia or Georgia Tech (grades were a problem), he had an outstanding senior year as a spread quarterback. He looks a lot like Troy Smith on film but probably not as fast. Where he fits in the future competing with more conventional quarterbacks like Todd Boeckman and Rob Schoenhaft, only Jim Tressel knows for sure. Antonio may be the biggest mystery of all the recruits.
In conclusion, I think the coaching staff recruited a very fine class. They met major needs of the team. No one ever knows who will play early or at all. Some will be pleasant surprises, some will be disappointing. Two years down the road, we'll all know exactly how good the 2006 class pans out. It is an educated guess at this point. The coaching staff, the recruiting services and myself will all prove to have made mistakes in evaluating some of this talent. We all will have been right on target with some of the evaluations.
The rule of thumb I've always had is that if 30 percent of the class ends up being great and 50 percent ends up being good players and major contributors, you've done good.
Unfortunately, even the best classes usually end up with 20 percent not making the field at all. That means there is a good chance that four of the 20 recruits of the class of 2006 will not end up making the grade in the classroom or on the field. That's unfortunate, but that's the way it is, at Ohio State, and everywhere else.
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Bill Conley was an OSU assistant coach for 17 years. He will return to Bucknuts.com in March with a column and Chat session looking ahead to the start of spring football.