Monday, April 30, 2007

Buckeyes in the NFL Draft: Ginn soars, Smith falls

The 2007 NFL Draft was held this past weekend in New York. As usual, the annual event was filled with plenty of drama and hype that was induced primarily as a result of Mel Kiper talking about any given player's "long length" and "fast speed." Of course, there were plenty of Ohio State players that nervously anticipated their name to be called, including the current holder of the Heisman trophy, one Troy Smith.

First Round, 9th Pick
Ted Ginn Jr., Miami Dolphins
The speedster at wide receiver was long considered the best pro prospect to come out of Ohio State in this year's draft. What wasn't expected, however, was that he would be taken in the top ten of the draft. When the pick was made, head Dolphins coach Cam Cameron was met with a plethora of jeers from the Dolphins faithful that were gathered at the team training facility. Quite simply, everyone this side of Nick Saban expected the Dolphins to do what they considered was the logical thing and draft Brady Quinn. After all, Daunte Culpepper's days are about dumb, and you don't see too many people anxiously awaiting the beginning of the Cleo Lemon era in Miami.

So where does Ginn fit in on the Dolphins? Well, with the praise that coach Cameron was giving Ginn's speed and return ability after they selected him, one would have to imagine that he is already a lock as the team's #1 returner. Chances are, he will be a Devin Hester-like player this year, with his only true impact coming on special teams. However, one thing he does have that is different from Hester is NFL caliber ability at wide receiver, it just may take a year or so for him to completely adapt offensively. Due to the losses of Randy McMichael and Wes Welker, the Dolphins are not very deep at receiver, so Ginn will get his chances to make plays early and often. Chances are, if he doesn't get those chances, the pressure from the ownership and fanbase will launch him up the depth chart, just so everyone sees if he was really worth drafting over Brady Quinn.

First Round, 32nd Pick
Anthony Gonzalez, Indianapolis Colts
This was another surprising pick on the Colts' part. After losing Cato June, Jason David, Nick Harper, Mike Doss, and Montae Reagor, the Colts decided it was best to add another arsenal to Peyton Manning's repetoire. Anthony Gonzalez adds yet another nonexistant ego to Marvin Harrison and the passing game, an absolute rarity nowadays. Giving Gonzalez the chance to learn under Marvin Harrison for the next few years should greatly contribute to his development. Not to mention, he has a pretty good quarterback throwing to him also.

So where does Gonzalez fit in on the Colts? In all likelihood, Gonzalez will be given the task of replacing Brandon Stokely as the slot receiver on the offense. Considering that Gonzo was one of the premier slot receivers in the entire country last season, the transition should be easier for him than others. His speed and route running ability should help him adapt to the game at the next level, and he could progress to one of the team's top receivers if age ever decides to catch up with Marvin Harrison. As for next season, he should be a solid contributer, probably getting somewhere around 30-40 catches as he gets acclimated with the system and fights off some other guys for the slot receiver spot.

Third Round, 98th Pick
Quinn Pitcock, Indianapolis Colts
Honestly, I do not understand why so many draft analysts are not that high on Pitcock. He was the second best defensive tackle in the Big 10 last year, behind only Alan Branch, and he backs up his performance on the field with solid "measurables" (Height, weight, 40-time, etc.). His 40 time at the combine was the third fastest of all defensive tackles, and he has a good 15 pounds on the two guys that were faster than him (For what it's worth, each of those players were drafted ahead of Pitcock as well, so 40-times do have to matter somewhat for defensive linemen). Regardless, I think Pitcock will turn a lot of heads throughout the duration of his career in Indianapolis.

So where does Pitcock fit in on the Colts? If he works hard during training camp, Pitcock has an exceptional chance to make an impact early and often for the Colts. It's no secret that the Colts had one of the worst run defenses in the entire league last season, and stopping the run just so happens to be Pitcock's forte. He probably won't start over the much more experienced Anthony "Booger" McFarland and Raheem Brock, but he can very easily rise to the #2 spot on the depth chart before it's all said and done next season. There isn't a whole lot of depth on the interior of the Colts line, either, so it's kind of surprising that they didn't take a defensive tackle earlier in the draft.

Fourth Round, 107th Pick
Antonio Pittman, New Orleans Saints
Antonio Pittman was widely considered to be one of the top running backs in the third tier of backs behind Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. However, when draft weekend rolled around, the oft-injured Kenny Irons, the workout warrior Chris Henry, the constantly overrated Lorenzo Booker, the pea sized Garrett Wolfe, and the currently injured Michael Bush all heard their names called before Pittman did. The biggest concern surrounding Pittman at the next level is his durability, as most doubt his ability to get 20-25 carries a game. But outside of that, he is a real solid overall player. He is a fast, aggressive runner that is capable of breaking tackles. Considering teams that draft running backs in the middle rounds are usually looking for guys to spell the team's premier back, taking Pittman makes a lot more sense than going with larger risk guys such as Garrett Wolfe or Michael Bush.

So where does Pittman fit in on the Saints? Pittman was not drafted to be the type of running back that would carry the load on any given offense, and considering that he'll be the third option out of the backfield on this Saints team, he won't have to. He should expect to be the team's third running back behind Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, and chances are, he won't see a lot of snaps this season. However, Deuce has been a bit injury prone over the years, and he'll be 29 at the end of next season, meaning his days as a Saint could be numbered. If Pittman is still around when Deuce is no longer on the team, he could see a significant number of carries with Reggie Bush also sporting some durability concerns himself.

Fifth Round, 138th Pick
Jay Richardson, Oakland Raiders
Oakland can be a black hole for young talent, and I'm not talking about the stadium there, either. When people think of Oakland Raider football, they think of overpaid troublemakers that have terrible work ethic. It won't be an easy situation for Richardson to blossom out of, considering he also has to battle his way up a decent depth chart (contrary to popular belief, Oakland actually was good at defense this past year). Richardson lacks the speed of today's prototypical end, and his pass rushing skills have left much to be desired.

So where does Richardson fit in on the Raiders? Chances are, the Raiders drafted Richardson solely because he still has quite a bit of upside as an athlete. He has the chance to be a consistent run-stopping defensive end in the near future if he puts his mind to it and continues to work hard. However, as I mentioned earlier, Oakland isn't exactly an ideal place for developing young talent, so the odds are against him. His size and potential makes him a very intriguing prospect, and could see some situational duty as a rookie.

Fifth Round, 169th Pick
Roy Hall, Indianapolis Colts
Roy Hall was the third and final Buckeye drafted by the Colts this weekend. However, Hall was drafted much more based on potential rather than pedigree. Hall was injured in the early part of the 2006 season, and when he came back, got lost behind Robiskie in the Wide Receiver shuffle. At the end of the season, chances were good that Roy Hall would get picked up as an undrafted free agent, and never see the field for much of his career. Then came Ohio State's Pro Day. On a day when all eyes were on Troy Smith and Ted Ginn, Hall stole the show -- and saved his career -- by running a 4.41 40 yard dash. This caught the eyes of scouts all around the league, and suddenly, Hall went from a guy lucky to be drafted, to an early second day pick. With 4.4 speed and size (6'3" 238 lbs), Hall is a Scout's dream. However, Hall was a Scout's dream coming out of high school, too, and that didn't exactly work out like it was planned.

So where does Hall fit in on the Colts? Hall is going to be a project player his first couple years in the league. The Colts very well may want him to bulk up and move him to tight end, or they could keep him at receiver. His upside will definitely keep the Colts interested in him long enough for him to get his licks in the pre-season, but he may not see much time when it counts during his rookie season. Even if he does turn into the next Marques Colston, he still has to outperform his college teammate Anthony Gonzalez, and considering he wasn't able to do that in college, chances are good he won't be able to in the pros, either.

Fifth Round, 174th Pick
Troy Smith, Baltimore Ravens
Troy Smith was the only reason I bothered to turn on the draft on Sunday. I watched just about every pick up until the Ravens selected him, and then I got up and did something with my day directly afterwards. Perhaps there has been no second day selection more eagerly awaited than Troy Smith. After all, it's not often that guys that win the Heisman trophy in a landslide fall all the way to the fourth round, but in today's world of combines and 40 times, actual playing ability is pretty far down on most scouts' priority lists. Regardless, this won't be the first time in his life that Troy Smith will have to overcome odds. Considering the kid was orphaned as a child, given the last scholarship offer, recruited as an "athlete," began his collegiate career returning kicks, got suspended, fought his way back on the field, completely rebuilt his image, beat Michigan three times in a row, and completely beat up pretty boy Brady Quinn on the field as well as on the Heisman front, this should be pretty easy for Troy.

So where does Smith fit in on the Ravens? Troy probably won't play much as a rookie. He'll be behind both Steve McNair and Kyle Boller, and will only play in garbage time, or if one of those two guys gets hurt. However, Boller's contract is up at the end of the year, so this draft selection very well may signal Boller's last season as a Raven. Next year will also be Steve McNair's 13th in the NFL, and no quarterback in league history is as famous as McNair for playing through injuries, so one would have to imagine that his days are numbered as well (Chris Mortensen estimated that McNair only has two good years left in him, a fair prediction). Then, Smith will get his shot at beginning his quest towards league domination once again. Troy is in a very favorable situation in Baltimore. He gets to sit and learn his rookie year, then will be a backup in his second season, learning from a player that is very similar to him as far as playing style is concerned in Steve McNair. Maybe this late selection will be a blessing in disguise for Troy, I guess we'll find out in a couple of years.

Sixth Round, 198th Pick
Doug Datish, Atlanta Falcons
Last, but not least, Datish was the final Buckeye to be drafted this year. One of the team's captains, it was Datish's job to replace Nick Mangold on the offensive line in 2006, not an easy task by any means. However, Datish did a very serviceable job as the anchor of the offensive line, being one of the most consistent blockers on the team all season long.

So where does Datish fit in on the Falcons? Datish played just about every position on the offensive line during his tenure as a Buckeye, but will most likely stick to the three interior positions while he is in the pros. He's a very athletic lineman, something which has become a very trendy pick in the NFL over the past few years, so he could climb up the depth chart relatively fast as a rookie. Much of the Falcons offensive line is inexperienced as well, which means he should get every opportunity to play as a rookie, even if it's not in a starting role.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Buckeye recruiting continues to roll

Don't have much time to talk, as I am currently between classes. However, today offered some incredible news on the Buckeye recruiting front. The kid considered by many to be the best offensive lineman in the entire state of Florida, Michael Brewster, announced his commitment to play football for Ohio State earlier today. Over the past year, Brewster has become good friends with the man who has been the best Buckeye recruiter in recent memory, '08 commit Mike Adams.

Also expected to commit either later today or tomorrow is Texas lineman JB Shugarts. Shugarts, like Brewster, is one of the top O-Line prospects in his entire state, and he too has become good friends with Mike Adams over the past year. Essentially, these two commitments with addition to Mike Adams, will give Ohio State the top offensive line recruiting class in the nation, regardless of how the rest of the recruiting season plays out.

4/24/07 Update - Shugarts committed today, making him the seventh member of the '08 class and third player ranked in the top 30 nationally (Shugarts is ranked 29th, while Brewster and Adams are ranked 26th and 10th, respectively). If all of these linemen pan out like they're expected to, I could be the Buckeye's feature back in 2010.

4/25/07 Update - It turns out the Buckeyes picked up yet another commitment yesterday -- this time on the defensive side of the ball -- in Washington Court House defensive end Nathan Williams. I was blinded so much by the excitement of "Block O" coming together, that I completely overlooked Williams. Williams is a 6'5" 245 lb. monster that has been clocked in the mid-40s (4.67 to be specific), and is ranked 13th in the state of Ohio.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Pfef's Ultra DVR-Enhanced Spring Game Analysis

Yes, I am still alive.

Today was the annual Ohio State Football Spring Game, which pitted two split-squads against each other in what are the first competitive downs of football that the Buckeyes have played since November 18th.

Obviously, the hot topic of the day was the quarterback race. Today was the first chance that OSU fans got a good look at the three candidates to attempt the impossible task of replacing the legendary Troy Smith. The three guys, of course, are the front-runner Todd Boeckman, the unknown Rob Schoenhoft, and the young, flashy Antonio Henton. Of course, this game is only a scrimmage, so making bold statements based solely on this preseason game is about as logical as claiming a baseball player the next Babe Ruth because he hit two home runs in Spring Training. However, the game is definitely worth paying attention to, because it helps the fans get an idea of how the players are progressing, and it also shows who the new key players are.

This year's edition of the Spring Game was a tad different than past years. The quarterbacks were not limited by the black, "hands only," jerseys, and as a result, passing plays were given a much greater chance to develop, and it also allowed the quarterbacks to showcase their running abilities. The game was much more aggressive than in seasons past, as the defenses seemed much more aggressive and were always flying to the ball.

As for the actual game, the Scarlet team was in control for just about the entire game. Antonio Henton threw an interception on the first drive of the game, which Marcus Freeman took all the way for a touchdown. The pickoff would be the first of three for Henton, two of which were the result of extremely ill-advised passes, with the third coming off of a tipped pass at the line. Late in the third quarter, Scarlet led 9-0 with the game seemingly at hand. However, an extreme momentum shift came from the most unlikely of sources. On 4th down, AJ Trapasso took the snap for a fake a punt, and he began to run for the first down (for those of you who didn't know, Trapasso played running back in high school). He got the first down, broke a tackle, and then steamrolled over Zach Willis. The Gray team then drove down to the five yard line, and eventually lost the ball on downs. However, on Scarlet's third play, Alex Barrow tipped an Antonio Henton ball into the air, turned around, and then intercepted it, giving Gray another shot. The turnover eventually led to a 40 yard Aaron Pettrey FG, cutting the score to 9-3. Gray then went on to hold Scarlet to a punt, and once again had the ball with another chance to score. With Schoenhoft at the reigns, everything on the drive worked in fluency. The blocking, for a change, was excellent, as was the running and receiving. Eventually, Schoenhoft hit TE Brandon Smith on a play-action touchdown to put the Gray team up 10-9. The Scarlet team seemed poised for a comeback, when on 4th and 1, the coaches (whether or not it was the actual coaches or Conley & Co. beats me), showed some guts and did a play-action pass down to about the 10 yard line. However, when Scarlet was trying to run the clock out to set up a game-winning Ryan Pretorious Field Goal, Larry Grant came in off the edge unblocked (think Cie Grant in the Fiesta Bowl), and forced a Boeckman fumble. Then, Grant managed to pick up the fumble and return it 87 yards for the final dagger, which put Gray up 17-9, and they would hang on to win by that score.

The following is a much more detailed analysis of some of the more notable aspects of the game:

The ultimate display of class
Everyone in the game yesterday featured a Virginia Tech logo on the left side of their helmet. This is, of course, a tribute to the horrendous shootings that occurred earlier in the week. When Jim Tressel was asked about it mid game, he said that when he talked to VT head coach Frank Beamer about it, Beamer was honored that the school was attempting to reach out to them. I'm sure that just about every other school in the country has made a similar effort to honor the lives of those who died, but I'm not sure if anyone went as above-and-beyond as Ohio State did.

Now, on to the on-the-field issues...

Players not participating/limited due to injury:
OL Kirk Barton
RB Chris Wells
OL Jon Skinner
WR Brent Ullery
CB Andre Amos
S Anderson Russell
S Jamario O'Neal
LB Kyle Libby
OL Scott Sika
S Aaron Gant
LB Thaddeus Gibson
LB Curtis Terry
WR Brian Hartline

Players that impressed
Rob Schoenhoft
Although none of the three quarterbacks did anything spectacular to strengthen their position in what is sure to be an ongoing position battle throughout the season, Schoenhoft did the most to help his cause. He finished the game with 5-10 p
assing for 75 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions, and only two stacks. In the fourth quarter, he orchestrated the drive that led to the go-ahead touchdown pass. Throughout the game, and on that drive in particular, not only did Schoenhoft display uncanny leadership skills for a kid who has hardly ever played in an actual game, but he also had some real nice throws that, even if they fell incomplete, showed his true potential. Perhaps what was most surprising about Schoenhoft was his ability to scramble out of trouble when protection broke down. He finished the game with six carries for 30 yards, giving him the highest yards per carry of anyone who played yesterday, given that they carried the ball more than one time. In all honesty, the entire time I saw the kid play out there, the one name that kept on ringing in my head was Craig Krenzel, Craig Krenzel, Craig Krenzel. The only difference between Schoenhoft and Krenzel at this point may be that Schoenhoft's ceiling is so much higher than Krenzel's ever was. Schoenhoft is a little bigger and has a bit of a stronger arm, and will only get better with experience. Time will tell if Robby is anywhere near as good as Krenzel was when it counted the most, but with Tressel coaching him, I'm confident that he'll be able to pull through.

The Linebackers
Lets face it, the last two games that the linebackers actually showed up to play last season were at Northwestern and Illinois. I know this because, when someone comes to Ohio State to play linebacker, they do not allow 144 yards and 3 touchdowns to Mike Hart on their home ground, and they definitely do not allow what transpired in Glendale to happen. Well, it looks like Laurinaitis and his co
llective gang of head hunters agreed with me, because watching all of the linebackers play yesterday, I couldn't help but be impressed at the progression that each of these kids have made since last season. Last year, the linebackers fooled everyone into thinking that the defense was good, until they got truly exposed in the final two games. This year, everyone knew that the defense would be experienced (the only linebacker to graduate was John Kerr, and you guys know how I feel about him), but the question of "will these guys actually be good?" was completely up in the air. A lot was made of these guys' speed last season, but it seems as if this year they have added some strength and smarts on to that speed, and have made themselves a group to be reckoned with. Larry Grant probably had the best game of any of the linebackers, finishing with four tackles, two sacks, one pass break up, two forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered, one 87 yard touchdown, and three tackles for loss. If Curtis Terry continues to struggle against the pass, Grant could very quickly overtake his spot. Other linebackers who played well include James Laurinaitis (6 tackles, 3 solo, 1 TFL), who looked much stronger than the end of last year, and he also was clearly the defensive leader on the field yesterday. He may not be a captain since he's only a junior, but I have a good feeling that just about everyone on the defensive side of the ball is going to be answering to him come the season. Marcus Freeman took an interception to the house, and in the process he looked very, very fast. Austin Spitler was one of the surprises on the day, finishing with six tackles, including one very sure-handed solo tackle on the highly evasive Ray Small.

Maurice Wells

With Bean
ie Wells out of the game due to a bum ankle, Maurice Wells was the only experienced tailback playing. Before he even took a carry, I was immediately impressed with how much he actually looked like a running back this season, in contrast to that quick little guy with dreadlocks we've gotten so used to. He has clearly put on some muscle, and his running style is changed to a much more aggressive, down field style. His final stat line on the game was a modest 14 carries for 48 yards, but I am no longer as worried as I previously was about our running back situation. When Beanie needs to be spelled, it really shouldn't be all that big of a problem.

Devon Lyons and Albert Dukes
It seems like every year for the past couple of years these two players have been highly anticipated, only to either get lost to injury or lost in the shadow of other receivers. Well, with the recent loss of Ginn and Gonzo, these two guys are going to get their fair share of licks out on the field, and it looks like each of them has worked hard in order to embrace his role. Lyons in particular was impressive, mainly because he brings a big, over the middle target to the field. He stands at 6'4", 214 lbs, and made a real big target for the young quarterbacks to throw to. He finished the game with 3 catches for 72 yards, all the while showing incredible ability to get open, make the tough catch, and move with the ball. Dukes, on the other hand, looked like he had been playing with Sc
hoenhoft since Pop Warner. He too only had three catches (20 yards), but he was thrown to a lot more than that. Granted, getting thrown at so often could simply be a failure on the quarterback's part to make his progressions, but often times, Dukes was open and the throw just wasn't there.

Players that need to do more
Antonio Henton
Henton was by far the player that the fans were most anxiously awaiting to see play the most. And I'm not going to lie, I was anxious, too. I would love to be wrong about this guy, I really would. But seeing him play today only strengthened my argument that there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that this guy comes in as a freshman and instantly becomes the next Troy Smith. He has all the potential to do it, but like most freshman quarterbacks, he really only has the physical attributes, and still has a lot of learning to do. He threw three interceptions on the day, two of which were just the kind of throw that an inexperienced kid is prone to making. He didn't completely analyze the defense, and someone popped up and made the interception. On the first drive of the game, he was about to set the world on fire, too. He had made some nice runs (Troy Smith comparisons began roughly .4 seconds after the play ended), and also had a real nice throw over the middle to Devon Lyons that was both strong and accurate. However, he then made a throw right to Marcus Freeman, who went on to score a touchdown the other way. There are still plenty of positives to take from his game, however. When he runs with the ball, he does it like a scrambling quarterback should: He looks for holes, runs through them, and then makes some guys miss. He doesn't run around like a chicken with his head cut off. He is incredibly quick and agile, perhaps more so than Troy Smith. He also has a rocket for an arm, which means that if he can ever put all of these tools together, he could be a special player.

Both offensive lines
The pass protection, especially in the first half, was absolutely horrid at times. Granted, likely captain Kirk Barton was injured and did not play in the game, but one person is not responsible for an entire line. None of the quarterbacks really had any time to throw whatsoever, which could have played a role in their mistakes throughout the game.

Dexter Larimore and Nader Abdallah
These guys are going to have to step it up this year, there is really no way around it. Doug Worthington and Dexter Larimore (Both on the Scarlet team) are the likely starters at defensive tackle this year, but due to the fact that the team lost it's three top interior linemen from last year, two of which were team captains, depth is a huge issue. Abdallah has waited his turn for quite some time, and seems to be finally getting down to good playing shape, but when he and Larimore were lined up side by side yesterday, they just seemed to get tossed around by the interior offensive line, especially on running plays. There were way too many holes in the middle of the line for the running backs to go through, and they're just fortunate that the linebackers had their backs all game. The only problem with the linebackers cleaning up after the defensive tackles, is that it usually happens about five yards down field. Now I'm no math major, but five yards without getting touched is a whole heck of a lot for a walk-on running back to be getting in a scrimmage.

Other Game Notes:
  • Although Schoenhoft played well, and Henton wasn't so hot, Boeckman will still almost definitely be the opening day starter. Boeckman showed a great arm, and with his experience on the team, he will get the first chances at quarterback. However, all three guys will get their licks.
  • The kickoffs were moved back as part of the new clock rules. Ray Small handled most of the returning duties, and he was really impressive when he got a chance to run it back. The kickoff coverage gave him plenty of lanes to run through, and his speed/athleticism did the rest. Don't be surprised if he takes a couple to the house this year.
  • Chris Wells was interviewed during the game, and he said his ankle was at about 90%. Benching him was pretty much a precautionary measure, and he will definitely be ready to go in no time.
  • Some of the basketball players were "honorary coaches" during the game today (whatever that means). Mike Conley and Daeuquan Cook were Gray coaches (Jim Tressel's efforts to get them to stay?) and David Lighty and Jamar Butler coached the scarlet team.
  • I'll give a grade of "incomplete" to the entire secondary. Three key members, Anderson Russell, Jamario O'Neal, and Andre Amos did not play due to injury. Reshirt freshman Chimdi Chekwa got a lot of playing time, but during one drive, he got burned by Brian Robiskie on the same exact route twice within a span of three plays. Both times, however, ex-linebacker turned safety Tyler Moeller bailed him out by hitting Robo a la Mike Doss.
  • On the second of those hits, Robiskie limped off the field with a bruised knee. Initial reports say that he is fine, but this is a condition that, if there are any developments, I will mention.
  • Official game Box Score, as well as the O-Zone's analysis can be found here and here, respectively.
  • Other spring game reviews: Buckeye Commentary, the Columbus Dispatch, Eleven Warriors, Scout, Rivals (if you can dish out the cash, I know I can't), and BuckNuts
  • Game photo gallery, as well as the source for all pictures used in this post, from the premier source for Buckeye imagery, the O-Zone