Bob Hunter commentary | Rumblings: Former Ohio State football recruit decides on Florida

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Punter Johnny Townsend is now a Florida Gator. Depending on how one views it, that’s either a recruiting victory for Florida over Ohio State — Townsend first committed to OSU in June — or a player that OSU let get away.

The Orlando Sentinel reported yesterday that Townsend, from Boone High School in Orlando, had signed with Florida. His father, Clay, said his son wanted to stay closer to his family.

But Johnny Townsend had been the most outspoken of Buckeyes pledges during the run-up to the U.S. Army All-American game in January, Rivals.com recruiting analyst Marc Givler said. The Ohio State contingent included cornerback Eli Apple, running back Ezekiel Elliott, offensive lineman Evan Lisle and linebacker Mike Mitchell, who committed during the game.

It’s believed Ohio State officials called Townsend at mid-morning on Wednesday and told him not to sign after they learned they unexpectedly had gained safety Vonn Bell and receiver James Clark; their commitments put OSU at a self-imposed limit of 24 players, provided Elliott signed with the Buckeyes later, which he did.

The Crew raised eyebrows when it included the negotiating rights to Robbie Rogers in its deal with Chicago for forward Dominic Oduro, but Crew insiders don’t believe Rogers ever would return to Columbus.

Rogers mutually agreed to end his deal with Leeds United last month, and the forward has not decided on his future. Crew officials spoke with his agent at the Major League Soccer draft and got no definitive answers, then either determined that Rogers wasn’t interested in Columbus or that they were tired of trying to deal with the issue.

Including the rights to Rogers might have helped the deal for Oduro reach a conclusion, though other teams were interested in midfielder Dilly Duka besides Chicago, so it seems unlikely that the Fire could have demanded Rogers’ rights to complete a deal.

Jared Sullinger’s agent said the Boston Celtics knew there was “a certain level of risk” with Sullinger’s back when they drafted him and that this didn’t bother the Celtics as much as some other NBA teams.

“Some teams treated it like he was going to have a heart attack or something,” agent David Falk told The Boston Globe. The Celtics’ “Brian McKeon is one of the most confident team doctors I’ve ever dealt with. There were no secrets; nobody was trying to hide any facts. There was a possibility that he could require surgery, but the recovery time is less than an ACL.”

The risk was realized last week when the Celtics announced that Sullinger, a Columbus native and former Ohio State standout, needed season-ending back surgery.

“I can’t tell you I’m glad this happened. I’m not,” Falk said. “I can’t say that I’m shocked that it happened, either. We all knew this was a very possible outcome. … He has to take a step backward at this point and work really hard on his rehab, but he has (45) games under his belt and he’ll come back completely healthy with no concerns about his back.”

Seven Ohio State players were among the 32 Big Ten players invited to the NFL combine, which will take place in two weeks in Indianapolis. Zach Boren, Reid Fragel, Johnathan Hankins, Etienne Sabino, John Simon, Jake Stoneburner and Nathan Williams were invited. Cornerback Travis Howard surprisingly was not; NFLDraftScout.com projects him as a potential late-round pick.

Quarterback Denard Robinson was the only Michigan player to receive an invitation. He is expected to go to the pros as a receiver.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay’s latest mock draft has Hankins going to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the No. 17 overall pick. McShay writes that “the Steelers already have Steve McLendon to take over for Casey Hampton, but Hankins would be an upgrade. He shuts down the run in the middle. But it might be a stretch taking him this high in the draft.”

McShay has the Cleveland Browns taking defensive end Barkevious Mingo of Louisiana State at No. 6 overall and the Cincinnati Bengals taking Alabama running back Eddie Lacy at No. 21.

The Celtics are among the NBA teams interested in Greg Oden, the ailing former Ohio State center. Oden hasn’t played since December 2009 because of recurring knee problems, but he is expected to return to the NBA next season, so the Celtics brought him to Boston for a meeting.

“We wanted to talk to Greg to see where he is physically,” said Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations. “We’re just finding out as much as we can and letting Greg know what we have here. He’s not ready to play now, but he’s someone who’s very interesting.”

Meanwhile, Mike Conley, Oden’s agent, told Fox Sports Florida that chances are decreasing that Oden will sign with a team before the end of this season simply for rehabilitation purposes.

“A few weeks ago, I’d probably have said it was 80 percent,” Conley said. “Now, I’d say it’s 50-50.”

Speculation about who will be the Browns’ quarterback picked up speed last week when owner Jimmy Haslam said the team is “going to have a competition at that position,” which was a nice way of saying it will bring in someone to challenge incumbent Brandon Weeden.

Michael Vick’s name has been tossed around since Rob Chudzinski was hired as coach, in part because of his success coaching quarterback Cam Newton in Carolina, but two QBs on the trading block also make sense: Alex Smith of San Francisco played under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner and Ryan Mallett of New England is said to be a favorite of Mike Lombardi, Cleveland’s new vice president of player personnel.

Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.

bhunter@dispatch.com

@dailyhunter

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