Ohio State football: Recruits could make impact at key positions

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Ohio State could gain immediate help from some members of its highly regarded football recruiting class, a handful of analysts agreed yesterday, no matter what a couple of on-the-fence blue-chip prospects decide before national letters of intent can be signed on Wednesday.

The consensus is that linebacker Raekwon McMillan and receiver Johnnie Dixon, already enrolled, are among those who could gain substantial playing time in their freshman year if they live up to billing. Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s national recruiting director, said he could see the opportunities for 2014 class members when he did color commentary on an Ohio State game last season.

“Taking a look at where their needs were, certainly a lack of depth and a lack of ideal talent that Urban Meyer would like to have was pretty apparent at the linebacker position,” Luginbill said. “So Raekwon McMillan, No. 1, not only is he physically and mentally ready to play, he’s already in school. And I think that is going to bode well for this defensive unit.”

Marc Givler of Rivals.com sees it the same way.

“McMillan is as physically ready to play college football as any recruit that Urban Meyer has signed at Ohio State,” Givler said. “And the depth chart and early enrollment should only help him see the field sooner rather than later.”

But there was more wrong with Ohio State’s defense in 2013 than just linebacker play. That’s where cornerback Damon Webb, one of the more highly regarded members of the incoming class, could gain a heavy look to help shore up a secondary that struggled against the pass.

“Webb is an excellent pure cover guy who really competes for the football when it’s in the air,” Givler said. “I think those attributes will endear him to (defensive coaches).”

On the other side of the ball, quarterback Braxton Miller is returning for his senior season to an offense that set all kinds of school records in 2013, including touchdowns scored. But it still could gain an upgrade from some of the incoming skill players, ElevenWarriors recruiting analyst Jeremy Birmingham said. Chief among those is the blue-chipper Dixon, who picked OSU over Alabama and others.

“Dixon is the most polished of all the 2014 wide receivers and is the one most physically ready for college,” Birmingham said. “He’s an excellent route-runner, and with the departure of Chris Fields and Philly Brown, he’ll get a chance to contribute this spring.”

Jeremy Crabtree, senior writer for ESPN.com’s RecruitingNation, echoed that assessment of Dixon, but said to keep an eye on another receiver who, like Dixon, is blessed with speed and big-play capability.

“Terry McLaurin … is not a five-star guy, but he’s got some jets,” Crabtree said. “I’m excited to see how he’ll be used by Urban.”

Of course, about this time last year, analysts were saying similar things in regards to several high-profile members of the 2013 class. Linebackers Trey Johnson and Mike Mitchell were expected to press for playing time immediately, as was defensive end Joey Bosa. Receiver Jalin Marshall and wingback Dontre Wilson were expected add some zip to a pedestrian offensive corps.

As it turned out, Bosa was the only one who stood out. The coaches kept trying to find a role for Wilson, Johnson played sparingly, and Mitchell and Marshall were redshirted. So one never knows.

Opportunity helps, though, and Birmingham sees just such a situation on the offensive line, where the Buckeyes will lose four starters from the 2013 unit. Many are waiting to see whether blue-chip tackle prospect Jamarco Jones of Chicago sticks with his commitment and whether defensive end Malik McDowell of Southfield, Mich., might pick OSU on Wednesday, but Birmingham has his eye on firm offensive line pledge Demetrius Knox.

“Knox is hellbent on contributing immediately,” he said of the lineman from Fort Worth, Texas. “He’ll push veterans with his personality, and he is looking forward to the chance to work closely with (line coach) Ed Warinner, who he thinks will push him to new levels.”

tmay@dispatch.com

@Tim_Maysports

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