Ohio State football: Heralded freshman class about to get its chance

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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"There’s a handful of freshmen I can hardly wait to see." -- Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer

Coach Urban Meyer is eager for Ohio State football preseason camp to start this weekend, for at least two reasons.

One is because the hotel that the team will live in for two weeks will provide a modicum of sequestration from events such as the suspensions of running back Carlos Hyde and cornerback Bradley Roby for brushes with the law, which have threatened to become distractions. But the second is because Meyer finally will get to see what all the fuss is about concerning the Buckeyes’ consensus top-three recruiting class.

Early enrollees Eli Apple and Cam Burrows, both cornerbacks, lived up to their clippings in the spring, but for the others, the true debut starts on Sunday.

“There’s a handful of freshmen I can hardly wait to see,” Meyer said.

Chief among them are two running backs who, if they play up to their touchdown-making billing, could factor immediately into the offense, where Meyer and coordinator Tom Herman hope to unleash the 40 percent of the playbook they never felt comfortable calling last season.“There are two groups that excite me,” Meyer said. “The first group is the offensive skill; that’s Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott. … What I am hearing is real positive about them.”

All of the freshmen showed up for summer workouts, run by director of football performance Mickey Marotti but mostly off-limits to Meyer and his coaching staff. Junior quarterback Braxton Miller said Wilson (in the slot), Elliott (a more classic running back) and receiver Jalin Marshall were standouts in the seven-on-seven sessions of passing drills.

“And you have James Clark, the fast receiver,” Meyer said. “You have Corey Smith, the junior-college receiver” from Akron by way of East Mississippi Community College.

Two other members of the recruiting class are at linebacker.

“Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson really excite me to see what they can do,” Meyer said.

Looking at the depth chart at the three linebacker spots, Mitchell and Johnson would appear to be shoo-ins as backups unless practice proves to be overwhelming. In the offseason, David Perkins and Luke Roberts transferred from a group that wasn’t deep already. Meyer said having two freshmen in backup roles before they have ever played is unsettling.

“It shouldn’t happen,” he said. “They should be coming and learning for a year … but that happens. It happens either because of some issue, like a guy leaves early for the (NFL) draft. I will never forget at Florida one year we had six guys, I believe, leave early for the draft. Six juniors, and all of a sudden you are thrust into a depth situation you really can’t plan for. So it’s very unsettling.”

Among the other freshmen, New Albany’s Darron Lee is going to begin college life as a linebacker, Meyer said, and Chris Worley will begin it as a safety.

“But we won’t know (if that will stick) until we see them on the field,” Meyer said.

Freshman tight end Marcus Baugh will begin camp in the doghouse. After being charged with underage possession of alcohol and with possession of false identification a month ago, his financial aid was revoked by Meyer for the rest of the summer term. He also was suspended from taking part in the season opener Aug. 31 vs. Buffalo.

Freshman lineman Timothy Gardner, on the other hand, was sent home to Lawrence, Ind., and told he will not be a member of the team at least through the 2013 season after he ran from police after first being stopped on the sidewalk when it appeared he was having difficulty walking.

In another time, Meyer might have been a bit more lenient with a freshman and a first-time offense, but he said he has changed.

“I think the head coach needs a set of standards, needs to direct, guide, mentor, push and direct these guys,” he said during the Big Ten media interviews last week in Chicago. “That’s maybe where I’ve changed over the years. Even a first-time offense from a freshman, I want to make sure we’re setting the tone.”

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports

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