Babb Bits: Buckeye Recruiting, Wide Receivers

Unlike other college teams, who may choose a more wide-open approach to recruiting and target multiple players across the country, Ohio State narrows their focus on a few players at each position that would be good fits for the team and concentrates on bringing those players in as part of a recruiting class. Does it work? Charles Babb looks at the OSU recruiting approach and more in this article.

Scholarship Offers

Over the past couple of years, there has been more angst amongst recruitniks over the speed and number of Ohio State's football scholarship offers than a teenage girl who has a pimple before prom. Arguments over this new ‘less is more' strategy have at times thundered across message boards and between friends bellied up to bars. While Michigan, Notre Dame, and USC apparently have offered more young men than Karl Malone has children, the Buckeyes are methodically picking targets like a sharpshooter with a powerful scope.

For both doubters and proponents, the only way to discover if this new method works is to sit back, wait, and observe.

For a little perspective, consider the last debate that raged so strongly concerned Ohio State's offensive line. Fans and pundits were concerned about Offensive Coordinator Jim Bollman and the offensive front. Can he coach? Why are there so few bodies? Why has the staff not offered more players even if only to serve as practice fodder?

Fast forward a few years. Those concerns have been answered, with most of Bollman's former starters now earning paychecks on Sundays. It turns out the largest issue was in rebounding from the previous staff's policies of not redshirting players which Bollman and head coach Jim Tressel have enthusiastically embraced. Further, not only can Bollman coach and turn young men into fantastic offensive linemen, but he and Tressel have been able to spot and develop fine lines while not carrying as many scholarship players at the position as other schools.

This results in a net competitive advantage for the Buckeyes.

With fewer linemen taking up slots on the 85 roster, OSU can afford extra scholarships and carry two kickers and two punters (not to mention the bevy of walk ons). Where many programs only carry one in each slot, Tressel's team gains through the additional competition (and insurance).

How much have they gained? Given the excellence of placekicking, punting, field goal kicking, and returns, you can figure the Scarlet and Gray have a net advantage of about 5 yards per kick on their opposition. Kick the ball back and forth 4 or 5 times, and mathematically you gain 20-25 yards (all else being equal). If you start at say the 40 yard line instead of the 15 or 20 and take a look at the odds for being able to score from each position...the percentages go up immeasurably. Meanwhile, the opponent is forced to start their drives progressively deeper in their own territory which decreases their chances for a sustained scoring drive and increases risk in opening their playbook.

Back to the newest concern – how many offers this staff is putting out there and how quickly. Is this a risky strategy? Will this come back to haunt them? Will it decrease the talent level on the roster?

Given the track record of this coaching staff when questioned in the past, I would not bet against them.

This approach may seem counter intuitive, but it actually allows the Buckeye coaches to focus more attention per recruit. How many recruits over the past few years have talked about ‘I really like Team X because they are really showing me the most love'? Believe it or not, a ‘less is more' actually frees the Ohio State staff to offer this kind of relationship.

Dexter Larimore's mother had this to say about the personal treatment they received from Ohio State: "With Ohio State coaches, especially with Doc and coach Heacock, and even Jim Tressel, every (wrestling) meet Dexter would win they were text messaging him and congratulating him. Doc, especially with the (national championship) tournament – after every match there was a text message. After it was all over with - with Dexter, there was from almost all the (Ohio State) coaches, a congratulations (for winning the national championship). So, they made him feel as if it were so important for him to be doing that. Not all the programs were interested in what Dexter was doing. He is also a very good sculpture artist. Doc was always really good about making sure he was finding information on Ohio State's art program and what they have to offer. Again, those details mean a lot. Other schools would come in and not even know that about him. That meant a lot."

Chalk one up for the new strategy.

More important for the current team members is the time coaches are able to spend focusing on their next opponent during the season. Before or after a big game, leadership for a team should be focused on what works, what didn't work, and how to match up in just six days and a few odd hours. Instead, many (if not most) coaching staffs are hip deep in recruits and trying to entertain them (and parents) for the next 36 hours. So, while Ohio State's staff is working with fewer visitors and is able to start game planning on Saturday evening/Sunday morning – others may not be fully free to work without distraction until Monday morning/afternoon.

Finally, the more you know about a young man, the better able you are to predict if he will be a hit or a miss. Coaches have at times praised the NCAA rules on limiting contact, but they have also lamented them. The lament comes from the simple reality that they can at times not fully know what they are dealing with before they end up offering a scholarship and gaining a verbal. Only when the young man arrives in the fall do they realize what kind of situation they are stuck with for four years (or more). However, if a staff focuses like a laser on fewer targets, they can root out potential land mines and even pull up stakes if they discover more than meets the eye. A higher percentage of hits would likely mean another net advantage for Ohio State.

So, my suggestion for the proponents and detractors is to sit back and wait a few more years. It's not like the current angst will spur this staff to offer more players. The only thing that would cause that to happen was if they believed their talent level (and therefore their ability to win) was dropping. If that happens, they will take action. As of yet, this approach has not appeared to be hurting Ohio State considering the 2005 and 2006 incoming recruiting classes.

Sure they will miss on a kid here or there (like perhaps Joe Thomas), but as Heacock so aptly stated prior to the Fiesta Bowl, "The key is anyone you recruit you want to make sure they can play. Probably the worst thing that can happen to you in my opinion and Don James used to say when I coached at the university of Washington – ‘I would rather lose a guy than recruit a guy who can't play for us because now you have that problem every day. If you lose a guy to an Oregon – he is gone and you made a decision not to recruit him you may face him once a year, but the biggest problem you have I think is when you take someone who can't play for you. You have him on the team for four years. He is disgruntled because he isn't playing. We try to do a good job in camps. Camps have become so big in evaluating."

Just for the record, Ohio State's football camp is splitting at the seams, Joe Thomas went to Pittsburgh (who the Buckeyes don't play), and Larimore chose the Buckeyes over the Wolverines.

Buckeye Wideouts

With a quarterback like Troy Smith to distribute the football, much ink and internet bandwidth has been spent on what receivers will play, what is the pecking order, and who is going to take the top three slots.

Taking a page out of a recent discussion on Bucknuts' message boards, what I would say is this – Anthony Gonzalez is good but Teddy Ginn can be special.

Ginn has the potential to have a Terry Glenn type of season this year. He has a redshirt senior quarterback throwing behind a solid, experienced offensive line. He has a tailback in Antonio Pittman who will force defenses to play honest because Pittman could otherwise scamper for 1,500 yards or more. He has a big, athletic tight end in Marcel Frost (and Rory Nicol isn't chopped liver) who can catch balls thrown his way and run with the linebackers. He even has a fleet footed quarterback who can burn a defense for 40 yards if defensive backs try to play man coverage and turn their backs to the football.

What Ginn is going to have to deal with are the double teams. Santonio Holmes didn't do so well with them in 2004 (in what would have been his junior season) and admitted as much in the spring of 2005 – likely delaying his decision to turn professional. If Ginn can fight through the increase in coverage and put up with the physical toll it takes on the human body...then look out. He could have 1,500 yards and 15-20 touchdowns by the end of the bowl game.

If I am a quarterback, I want a player I can rely on to get me that first down and keep a drive alive. I want a guy who is going to block well, catch well, and be where he is supposed to be when I have only milliseconds to throw before a defensive lineman is going to hit me. I want a receiver with toughness that will go across the middle and take the brutal hit for the team – like the kind of hits a quarterback regularly takes in the pocket.

Gonzalez and not Ginn is that player right now.

For all that he was the third receiver in the 2005 offense, he was arguably the most reliable after Holmes. When the Buckeyes needed a clutch play or yardage across the middle, Gonzalez was there to grab the football and bail the team out of a bind. If the team needed a receiver to block, it wasn't Ginn but Gonzalez and Holmes who came to mind.

Ginn has the chance to be that kind of player, but he isn't yet.

Having said that, IF…Ginn has developed the way coaches and teammates are currently insinuating then look for him to be almost uncoverable this fall. Put another way, Buckeye fans and teammates better hope he has taken a step forward in his maturation process because otherwise the double team and extra attention he is going to receive with Holmes now in the NFL will be a problem.
 


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