"It's been a great week so far. I think I've shown I can compete with the best receivers."
-Devin Smith, via The Baltimore Sun
Devin Smith, the resurgent Buckeye deep threat, is doing his best to make waves during Senior Bowl week. At least one team is already taking notice: The Baltimore Ravens met with Smith this week, and both sides came away pleased with the conversation.
Smith had a disappointing start to his senior season with J.T. Barrett at the helm, who was much more remiss to send the ball deep than his predecessor, Braxton Miller. But with Cardale Jones under center, Smith exploded during the last three games of the season, thanks to Jones' willingness to air things out. He reestablished himself as a sure-handed, physical receiver who can make plays in traffic, something Buckeye fans have known all along.
Others impressed by Smith's Senior Bowl week include Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt. "He's working hard, and you can see flashes of the explosive player you see in those college games," Whisenhunt said of Smith. Should No. 9 actually get scooped up by the Ravens during the draft, however, we'd see the first-ever attempt to create an All-Smith WR Voltron, so that's something to root for come April.
"Would the Buckeyes still have won the national title [with J.T. Barrett]? It's a great debate. But what can't be argued is how remarkable Barrett's year was."
-Brian Bennett, ESPN.com
ESPN's Big Ten blog has finished off their ranking of the 25 best players in the conference for 2014. It should come as little surprise that the Buckeyes boast two of the top five players on the list. J.T. Barrett, backup quarterback extraordinaire, came in at No. 4. Barrett tallied 45 touchdowns in a stellar breakout campaign after Braxton Miller's injury, before falling to a broken ankle in the last week of the regular season. The question posed above is certainly an important one, and should help frame the discussion about Ohio State's quarterback situation heading into next season, but for now we can sit back contentedly knowing that the Griese-Brees trophy might one day have a third name tacked onto it.
Finishing two spots ahead of Barrett was destroyer-of-worlds Joey Bosa, who came in at No. 2. He was the conference's defensive player of the year, and led the league in several categories. These included tackles for loss (21) and sacks (13.5). He forced four fumbles to round out his season and make a legitimate claim as the best defensive end in the country. The scary part is that he's just a rising junior.
Several other Buckeyes cracked the top 25, including Ezekiel Elliott (No. 7), Michael Bennett (No. 11), Taylor Decker (No. 13), and Vonn Bell (no. 25). It might seem odd that Cardale Jones does not appear on the list, but one has to consider that he a) only played in three games all year, albeit the three most important ones, and b) only one of those games was against a Big Ten opponent. Should he win the starting job next year, look for him to make a run at the top spot.
"Manziel played two years in college and he's still not ready. Cardale may have been a fourth- or fifth-round pick and money for those picks won't set you up for life."
-Eddie George, via Cleveland.com
One former Buckeye great thinks Cardale Jones made the smart decision by sticking around at Ohio State instead of heading for the NFL Draft. Eddie George emceed last night's Greater Cleveland Sports Awards show, and he had plenty to say about Jones' decision to stay in school. "A man knows when he's ready to go," said George.
As for the decisions that Urban Meyer is facing heading into next season? "It's not going to be lovey-dovey. There's going to be high competition and whoever gets the starting quarterback job will have earned it." George also noted that he expects the Buckeyes to repeat as champions next season, based on the combined strengths of quarterback play and a steadily-improving defense.
Other honorees at the awards show included Cleveland Indians pitcher Corey Kluber, who won the AL Cy Young award this past season, and Indians radio announcer Tom Hamilton, who won a Lifetime Achievement award.
"With that unexpected run, Ohio State's defense proved that it's ready to reclaim its dominant status."
-David Regimbal, Bleacher Report
Perhaps the biggest difference between Ohio State's 2013 campaign and the 2014 run to the title was the performance of the Buckeye defense. Both seasons featured good-to-great quarterback play, a dominant rushing attack, and weapons who could spread the field, but no aspect of the team was more night-and-day than their execution when the other team had the ball.
After getting shredded by the Michigan State and Clemson offenses to close out last season, the Buckeyes retooled and reloaded in the interim by adding co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash to the mix. Ash's 4-3 defense is a more aggressive approach than what the Buckeyes had previously run, and it featured another key element missing from last year: a heavy dose of press-man pass coverage. (Quick aside: how frustrating is it that the team wasn't doing this last year, when they had one of the best press-man pass defenders in the country in Bradley Roby?)
There will be some key players missing for the Ohio State defense heading into next season, but with the schemes and personnel the Buckeyes have lined up, there's no reason that the 2015 team can't produce the kind of shutdown performances we saw against teams like Wisconsin and Oregon this season.