Future Forecast: Ken Hayes

In another edition of an on-going series, BuckeyeSports.com breaks down how verbal commitment Ken Hayes of Toledo (Ohio) Whitmer figures to be able to help Ohio State when he reaches campus in 2011 and afterward.

The question with Ken Hayes is not if he can play but where.

At 6-5 and 255 pounds with a full year of high school yet to go, Hayes is an impressive physical specimen, and his huge hands and feet coupled with long arms and legs give the impression he is not done growing.

In fact, while working at Ohio State's first elite camp for upperclassmen June 13, the four-star prospect from Toledo (Ohio) Whitmer seemed to struggle at times - stumbling over bags and tripping on cones - in a way that suggested he was still getting used to his growing body. That means that while he now looks like a potential weakside end (Leo) in Ohio State's defense, he might be ticketed for another spot by the time he returns to Columbus full-time.

Where ever he is headed, Hayes' video highlights show a player not struggling to get used to football.

He plays mostly with his hand on the ground as an end in the Whitmer defense and shows great burst. Despite his height, he plays low and explodes through blockers and ball-carriers alike.

Hayes has the speed to go around blockers and the motor to keep pursuing and run down plays designed to go away from his side.

He also takes advantage of his long arms by knocking down passes when realizing he will not reach the quarterback.

Watching his progression at Ohio State figures to be interesting because of the way the Leo or weakside defensive end position has evolved over the years of the Jim Tressel regime.

The spot belonged to Thaddeus Gibson for most of the past two seasons, and 245-pounder was used more like a 3-4 linebacker than a typical 4-3 defensive end.

Gibson's lateral quickness and natural aggressiveness helped him excel in space, making him a prime candidate to serve as a zone-read stopper and traditional pass rusher in a role that changed from play to play.

His replacement this season will in all likelihood be Nathan Williams, a 6-3 junior listed at 260 pounds.

That body type is less reminiscent of Gibson than previous Leos, bigger pass rushers such as Vernon Gholston, Mike Kudla and Will Smith, but Williams has shown more linebacker skills than any of that trio, so it remains to be seen how he will be used if and when he becomes a starter.

Williams will be a senior when Hayes hits Columbus, but how much Hayes has grown in the meantime figures to determine where the coaching staff puts him to start his Ohio State career.

If Hayes puts on another 20 pounds (which he looks like he could do easily), will he outgrow the Leo spot? Or might the Leo spot grow to fit him between now and then?

Would a move to strongside defensive end/3-technique in the most recent incarnation of the Ohio State base defense waste some of his physical gifts, such as his speed and agility?

Only time will tell, but Hayes has the makings of an impact player in some role or another.

If he remains quick and agile enough to play the edge the way Gibson did, Hayes will be quite a weapon for defensive coordinator Jim Heacock and his assistants. Otherwise he may evolve into a player in the mold of 2010 senior All-America candidate Cameron Heyward.

Hayes figures to hit campus at the same time there is no shortage of players to play the 3-technique/strong end spot as well as rush the passer as a down lineman in the nickel defense.

For him to break into the two-deep as a freshman, Hayes will have to beat out at least one of four players who will have at least two years in the system as well as another pair (Darryl Baldwin and J.T. Moore) in their second go ‘round, not to mention classmates Michael Bennett and Chase Farris.

As for Leo, that depth chart figures to include Williams, Solomon Thomas (who will also be a senior in 2011), 2010 signee David Durham and 2011 verbal commitment Steve Miller of Canton (Ohio) McKinley.

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