When Woody Hayes was once asked why he preferred big players versus fast players, he was reputed to have said, "Because in the fourth quarter, the fast players have slowed down but the big players are still big." That was an underlying tenet of the Hayes recruiting method for linemen. Even in the eighties and nineties, recruiting still focused on big OL guys over faster and more athletic types. Occasionally, there were those rare super combos; Korey Stringer and Orlando Pace certainly warrant that categorization. But the whole Behemoth Approach reached its nadir with the appearance of Matt Zahn, who reported as a freshman at over 400 ponderous pounds.
Unfortunately, the biggest recruiting problem OSU experienced with offensive linemen did not pivot on the hapless Matt Zahn. Rather, it occurred three years ago when Ohio produced a rare great class of O-linemen with budding stars like Andy Christophel, Michael Munoz and Antonio Hall. We expected OSU to land at least two of the three. They got none. The pipeline was, thus, disrupted and OSU has had both quality and depth problems up front ever since.
Last year, OSU recruited five offensive linemen, and even that didn't seem to be sufficient to re-stock the larder. Then, the largest and highest profile of those fabulous freshmen – Derek Morris – failed to make the cut academically and we were down to four. The second highest profile recruit – Doug Datish – was red shirted for a year to learn how to pass block, and T.J. Downing joined him on the scout team. At the other end of the developmental spectrum, a smallish and very athletic Nick Mangold ended up with serious playing time at center, and Rob Sims started games at tackle. This was on a Buckeye squad with so little depth that two walk-ons (Mike Kne and Mike Stafford) were part of the two-deep. If Stafford hadn't gotten hurt, he might still be starting!
Let's look at the rest of the depth chart before we focus on the starting line. The disappointments last year were Scott Kuhnhein and Ryan Cook. Kuhnhein finished his career here without any noise, and it seems that Cook is destined to follow the same path. Adam Olds shows plenty of promise, but he was forced to take the year off due to injuries.
The offensive line starters will all be back, but I posit that they will be positioned differently next year. Ivan Douglas had a solid year and should return at one tackle, but I speculate that Alex Stepanovich (good year) will be moved from center to guard whereas Shane Olivea (good year) will move from tackle to his more natural position as the other guard. I think you'll see Olds/Mangold at center and Sims as your starting tackle with Bryce Bishop (inconsistent year) and Adrien Clark (consistently overweight) as capable rotating backups. Thus, with three viable backups and Downing/Datish as comers, OSU will have a complete two-deep for the first time in years!
All that said, OSU will lose five more players after next year. Take out those five (and without rationalizing yet who the new cast members might be), that leaves us with a projected starting lineup in 2004 of Mangold, Olds, Sims, Datish and…Well, not so fast there, my friends, because there are going to be other position changes we need to integrate into the equation. I believe that super freshman red shirt tight end RJ Coleman makes a transition to tackle and promising defensive lineman Tim Schafer switches sides to become a promising back up for the O-line. Lastly, we can't forget the menacing fullback/defensive tackle, cum offensive lineman, Andre Tyree, who might present some interesting scenarios up front.
In the interest of complete disclosure, we also can't forget the current group of walk-ons since we played a few of these guys out of last year's group. They include: Mike Kne (a junior in the two-deep), Kyle Andrews (a sophomore and a hell of a long snapper!), Mike Bogart (JR), John Conroy (FR), John McLaughlin (FR), Steve Winner (FR), and Ben Nash (FR).
Let's say – for the sake of argument – that the walk-ons don't contribute to the two-deep in the next few seasons. That leaves us with the aforementioned Mangold/Olds/Sims/Datish plus the transfer position guys (Schafer and Coleman) plus Downing and Tyree. That also leaves us with the conclusion that OSU needs at least four recruits in this class and four more next year to finally get the pipeline back to an optimal level.
Well, we have one commitment thus far, and although he is not a national marquee name, Kirk Barton could be the next Nick Mangold. He has all the goods with a sensational forty time (4.8), a great vertical (30 inches) and a great frame to build on. Still, he could be a red shirt. So who else are we looking at?
There are the out-of-state guys that everyone wants: Sam Baker, Joel Holler, Andrew Bain, Cyrim Wimbs, and Kyle Thornton. Of this group, Bain and Wimbs are locks for Miami and Baker could end up on the West Coast (probably USC). We will be in the final two for Holler and Thornton with the most plausible being Thornton, as my gut tells me that Holler goes to Penn State.
At the next level down, we have an enthusiastic project in Kenyon Buford (OSU is in the top two, probably), Kevin Brown (could be a good one) and Ohio's Sian Cotton (wants to be a DL but could play OL if he goes to OSU). I think OSU might get two of these three.
Finally, there's a group that could pay off down the road. They include Dan Pribula, Andrew Crummey and Mike DeLuca. We have already "given away" a few possibilities in this class of talent (Ty Hall, Zach Slates, Chris Vangas et al) who could have been Buckeyes if OSU wanted them, but I still project one OL from this "third tier" group.
By the way, that's not a derogatory or condescending analysis. Duane Long will tell you that the hardest positions to project from high school to college are quarterbacks and offensive linemen. Why? Because they are "made" and developed once they get to college. Sure, there are the Paces and Stringers, but every team is in on them. There are also the can't miss guys like Jefferson Kelley or Henry Fleming or Eric Gohlstin who either get hurt, never develop or simply stop developing before they reach their projected potential.
Just as a sneak peek for you longer-term speculators: Who looks good in Ohio for the Class of 2004? (Remember, students. We will need 4-5 more out of this very promising class…) The big early targets are Ben Person (Xenia) and Brandon Braxton (Ursuline). These guys could be Top 100 national talent and they are definite OSU leans. The next couple of prospects include Brandon Armstrong (Northmont), Chase Clowser (Keystone) and Steve Rehring (Lakota West and a teammate of Brandon Maupin). I project a great haul from this great (potential) class.
But that is then and this is now. So…
Dr. Recruitnik sez: OSU will try to land four offensive linemen out of this class and we have a start with Kirk Barton of Massillon Perry. I am hoping for one national recruit (Thornton? Holler?), one national surprise (that's right – we don't know them all), a second-tier national guy (Buford?) and one more Ohio guy (Pribula? Crummey?). Right now, of all the recruitable positions, OSU has the most question marks in this position, and it is probably the position of greatest need as well.