Ohio State football: Feeding them lines

Kirk Irwin

Why has Ohio State struggled to get out-of-state offensive linemen recruits under Urban Meyer? And why, at the same time, has Michigan been able to stockpile them?

Despite bringing in stellar recruiting classes for the last two years, Urban Meyer has struggled – especially compared to Brady Hoke – to bring in highly rated out-of-state offensive linemen. In 2012 Meyer brought in five offensive linemen, only one of whom – Joey O'Connor – was from a state other than Ohio. O'Connor has since transferred, leaving no out-of-state linemen from the class of 2012 on the current roster. Though Taylor Decker figures to be a star linemen in the future, the offensive line class in 2012 is somewhat thin, especially with the loss of O'Connor.

In 2013 the story was largely the same: Tim Gardner, a three-star commit out of Indianapolis, was the only out-of-state offensive line to commit to Ohio State and was only one of two total offensive linemen commits in the class.

Ohio State's difficulty with getting highly-touted out-of-state offensive linemen was not the result of a lack of trying. In 2013, Ohio State was initially in the recruiting mix for many players like Logan Tuley-Tillman and Ethan Pocic, both out of Illinois. Tuley-Tillman ultimately joined a slew of other highly-ranked offensive linemen to commit to Michigan (and, in the process, rather distastefully displayed his lack of interest in Ohio State) and Pocic opted to sign with LSU.

Now, in the 2014 class, Ohio State is again vying for the talents of out-of-state linemen prospects like Texas commit Demetrius Knox, who made a surprise visit to Ohio State last weekend, and Jamarco Jones, who, like Tuley-Tillman and Pocic, comes from Illinois. If the past two years serve as examples, however, Ohio State may have difficulty in securing their commitments. This raises two interrelated questions: why have out-of-state linemen shied away from Ohio State for the last two years, and why has Michigan been able to construct such a strong offensive line class during the same period?

I suspect that the answer has to do, at least in part, with the differing types of offensive schemes that Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke run (or, in Hoke's case, intend to run). Because of the nature of Urban Meyer's spread offense, in which quarterback draws and designed-runs figure prominently, linemen at Ohio State must be extremely agile and must be prepared to cover a greater amount of space as a result of taking wider splits and often blocking man-to-man rather than zone.

Though Hoke ran some similar packages with Denard Robinson, it is clear that this is not the direction he envisions for the future of his offense. Incoming Wolverine QB Shane Morris is a traditional drop-back quarterback who is is best in a pro-style offense. And Derrick Green, a big, bruising, power back, will provide a perfect compliment to Morris in that style of offense.

So, to me, Hoke's recruiting pitch to linemen is fairly clear. It probably goes something like this: "why go to Ohio State, will you will have to block in a quarterback-run driven spread offense, when you can come to Michigan and be a downhill blocking, pro-style linemen in front of a premier power back?" It's a compelling sales pitch, really.

A look at Urban Meyer's offensive linemen recruiting at Florida reveals that he didn't have much luck with out-of-state linemen there either. Of the twenty-one scholarship linemen that Meyer signed between 2005 and 2010, only six were from outside the state of Florida. According to Scout.com, the average star rating for these out-of-state linemen was 3.5 stars. I'm not one for putting a lot of weight into star ratings, but they are usually at least somewhat indicative of how coaches perceive an incoming recruit's potential.

Granted, Meyer may have had enough talent to choose from in Florida that the recruitment of out-of-state linemen took a backseat. Even more than Ohio, Florida is known as a high-school football hotbed, and Meyer certainly had his pick of the litter during his heyday at Florida. But the offensive linemen recruiting trend Meyer began at Florida seems to be continuing at Ohio State: talented linemen from inside the state, who likely grew up dreaming of playing for the in-state team, are ready and willing to commit.

But out-of-state linemen, more willing to pick and choose, are difficult to come by. Whether or not this is the result of Meyer's offensive scheme, as I have suggested, it cannot be contested that teams like Michigan have out-recruited Ohio State for offensive linemen in the last few years. Here's hoping that, with the propagation of spread principles in the NFL, more talented out-of-state offensive linemen are willing to give Ohio State a chance.

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