Many Buckeye fans chose to focus on those who did not choose the Buckeyes over those who did. A number of high-profile misses late in the recruiting process – including those on Cincinnati defensive end Ben Martin, New Jersey offensive lineman Anthony Davis and Detroit defensive lineman Josh Barksdale – left a bitter taste in the mind of many recruitniks. The class was not thought of as a top-10 class – Scout had it at No. 16 – giving ammunition to those questioning the Buckeyes' recruiting strategy.
However, now that the 15-member class of scholarship players has arrived, the early returns from coaches and players have been nothing but positive.
"I guess I didn't expect these freshmen tailbacks to pick things up and be as sharp as they have been," offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said when asked if he had been surprised by any of his players during camp. "A couple of the freshmen wide receivers have shown that they have some really good talent."
His counterpart on the other side of the ball, Jim Heacock, agreed with Bollman's assessment.
"A couple freshmen coming in looked like they could run and have picked up the defense pretty well," he said. "They've at least given themselves a chance."
Among those receiving the most praise from coaches and teammates have been the duos at tailback, defensive end and linebacker. Starting in the offensive backfield, youngsters Boom Herron of Warren (Ohio) Harding and Brandon Saine of Piqua, Ohio, are part of what running backs coach Dick Tressel has called his deepest group at OSU.
"They have outstanding speed and good ball skills, but also they really care," Tressel said. "They're really paying attention."
The pair has done so well that they've earned acclaim from the lead dog at their position, Chris Wells, who tossed in walk-on freshman tailback Bo Delande of Hilliard Davidson as another player he's been impressed with.
"All three freshmen are looking good," Wells said. "Bo Delande, Brandon Saine and Danny Herron – all three of them are looking great."
When Heacock was asked which freshmen were standing out, he started a player he's seen a lot of as OSU's defensive line coach – end Cameron Heyward. The son of the late "Ironhead" has stood out to Heacock for his intelligence, size and speed. At the same time, starting end Lawrence Wilson said one of his other understudies, Solomon Thomas of Lakota West (Ohio) West Chester, has also been getting the job done.
"He really stood out," Wilson said of Heyward. "He made probably like two or three sacks (Wednesday) and he batted down a pass. He's really quick off the ball. Cameron is a powerful individual. He's 6-6, 295, and once he gets that 295 moving, it's just real hard to stop him."
Heacock and linebackers coach Luke Fickell appear to have been equally impressed with the new charges at linebacker. The defensive coordinator also singled out Brian Rolle of Florida and Cleveland Glenville's Jermale Hines a week ago, while Fickell has had kind words for the duo. Ironically, the two were thought to be coming to OSU as safeties for their initial years because they were too undersized to be linebackers, but their combination of size and speed could get the two onto the field next month.
"I'd be surprised if they redshirt," Fickell said. "With the emphasis we put on special teams and the emphasis we put on trying to play as many guys as we can, I think it's going to be hard to redshirt some guys that are ready to play and are wanting to play."
One thing much of the younger talent appears to have going for it is its ability to pick up the system fairly quickly. Count Wells and Wilson among those who have been surprised by how quickly the freshmen at their position have progressed during the first two weeks of camp.
"They're picking up the offense really fast, faster than I was actually when I first got here," Wells said of Saine and Herron. "They're doing a great job with that."
"Our graduate assistants have really helped them and our coaches, I think, have put in extra time with the freshmen," Wilson said of Thomas and Heyward. "I think the freshmen are doing better than me or Doug (Worthington) or Todd (Denlinger) did our freshman years."
In the past, Ohio State would have a freshman camp that started a week before the start of full camp. Now, the first-year players are allowed to begin receiving their scholarship monies during summer, meaning nearly all of them – this year, the lone exception was athlete Devon Torrence, who was playing minor league baseball – were on campus during the summer working with the strength staff and participating in seven-on-seven drills. Fickell said that it has helped the first-year players in some ways.
"You took away the freshman camp, which hurt them, but being there in the summer, I think the biggest thing that does is that it lets them realize they're not that much different than the (returning guys)," Fickell said. "All of a sudden they realize that (the returnees) struggle just like they do running and they're not that much different."
A year ago, 12 of OSU's 19 freshmen were held out of action and picked up redshirts. With only 74 scholarship players on the roster in 2007, not only have the youngsters had a chance to stand out, but most could avoid having to spend a year on the bench, a good sign for a class that was maligned before it even stepped into an OSU classroom.
"Sometimes they might not be ranked as high coming in as, so to speak, a top-rated recruiting class, but those are just rankings," Fickell said. "I think we've been pleasantly surprised with all of them."