Buckeyes invited to NFL Combine: Devin Smith, Jeff Heuerman, Michael Bennett, Doran Grant
Four members of Ohio State's national championship team will get the chance to showcase their skills at this year's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The Combine, which will run from Feb. 17-23, is the most high-profile chance these players will get to boost their draft stock before the end of April.
Devin Smith, Ohio State's standout wide receiver, headlines the Buckeye draft class. He's already garnered interest from a few teams, most notably the Baltimore Ravens, who think Smith's skills would fit in nicely with their vertical attack. Though he had a more quiet year than he was hoping for, Smith reemerged as one of college football's premier deep threats once Cardale Jones took the reins of Ohio State's offense. Jones targeted Smith early and often in the Buckeyes' final three games of the season, and kept alive the ridiculous stat that Ohio State did not lose a game in which Smith caught a touchdown pass in his four years at school.
Bennett was the best complement the team could have wanted for Joey Bosa in 2014. His interior presence was a force to be reckoned with, and though he was streaky at times, he was still a master disruptor of opposing offensive lines. Bennett's stock probably fell a bit this year, as he was talked about as a probable first-round pick entering the 2014 season, but we'll still hear his name called pretty early on draft day.
Where Doran Grant and Jeff Heuerman fall is a bigger question. Heuerman, though an incredibly talented tight end, was only used situationally as a pass-catcher in Ohio State's offense, and so lacks the career stats of some of the other TEs he'll be competing with at the Combine and on draft day. He's a proficient blocker with good field awareness, and that should help his stock. Grant, Ohio State's No. 1 cornerback, had an excellent season stepping into the top role after Bradley Roby's departure to the NFL. Grant showcased his man-coverage abilities time and time again this year in the new-look Ohio State secondary, and was a guy that the Buckeyes never really had to worry about. The issue for Grant is that the players entering the league out of the secondary this year have good résumés and excellent ball skills, and Grant may not stand out in this deep crop of talent.
"It was a grind, but it was fun...It wasn't hard to get motivated to do your job -- not that it ever is, but especially now. "
-Zach Smith, Ohio State WRs coach
One of the most underrated contributors to Ohio State's fourth-consecutive top-ten recruiting class? Wide receivers coach Zach Smith. Smith hopped on a plane a week after the national title game, headed to Arkansas to try to secure a commitment from 4-star receiver K.J. Hill. That week in between was hardly restful, either: the team flew back to Columbus on Tuesday, held staff meetings on Wednesday, and various coaches were hitting the road by Thursday.
The 2015 wide receiver class is loaded, and Smith is no small part of that. The Buckeyes didn't just reel in Hill, but also four-star counterparts A.J. Alexander and Alex Stump. With the departure of Devin Smith looming, the Buckeyes will be looking for answers at the position in 2015. One of these three could very well be the piece the team needs to keep the offense fully weaponized. Urban Meyer has implemented "a zero complacency policy" that is designed to keep the wheels in motion and prevent a post-championship letdown. The guys Zach Smith helped bring in certainly won't hurt, either.
"If Jones doesn't start, I would consider using him in the red zone as a punishing runner out of the spread set, much as Meyer used Tim Tebow at Florida."
-Bill Livingston, Cleveland.com
There's a lot that can happen between now and late August. Ohio State's QB battle, which will shake out over the next few months, has been making headlines since the Buckeyes squeaked into the inaugural college football playoff, and the debate shows no signs of slowing down almost four weeks removed from the national championship victory. Cleveland.com's Bill Livingston believes that the best scenario moving forward is to keep Cardale Jones as the starting quarterback, with J.T. Barrett backing him up. That would necessitate either a position change or a transfer for Braxton Miller, who is looking more and more like college football's Wally Pipp with each passing day.
Livingston's argument stems from the fact that, while Jones is far from the dynamic runner that the other two quarterbacks are, he provides the kind of discipline and skill in the medium-to-long passing game that Barrett and Miller haven't been able to consistently display. While he can't make people miss in space and baffle defenders like Miller and Barrett can, Livingston argues, he's a punishing enough runner to create his own lane on the ground -- such as the one he created on 4th-and-short against Oregon in the title game, when he took down a 300-pound defender and hurdled another to gain a first down.
If nothing else, Livingston does provide an intriguing option for Urban Meyer to use should Miller or Barrett win the starting job in camp. The idea of Jones taking snaps under center from inside the ten yard line and running people over en route to touchdowns is an idea that could have Buckeye fans salivating, especially when one considers how disciplined Jones' reads were in the last three games of the season. We should trust at this point that Jones knows when to keep it and when to get the ball into Ezekiel Elliott's hands, and that could be enough to get him on the field situationally next season even without the No. 1 spot.
"The inaugural Big Ten men's lacrosse season gets underway on Saturday, with five Big Ten teams in action."
Although it feels like football season is still within reach, the spring Ohio State sports teams are set to kick off their own seasons in the coming weeks. Leading off the non-revenue sports teams is men's lacrosse, who will open their season tomorrow against Detroit. The Buckeyes enter the season holding down the last spot in the top 20. They're joined in the rankings by Penn State (No. 15), Maryland (No. 8), and the conference's first-ever sport affiliate member, Johns Hopkins, at No. 5.
Hopkins, the conference's additional member, is also far and away the most historically successful lacrosse program in the Big Ten. The Bluejays program started back in 1883, and they've claimed 44 national titles in that time. That's a full 70-year head start on the Buckeyes, who didn't officially start playing lacrosse until 1953. Ohio State will be playing in the hopes of earning a bid to the Big Ten conference tournament, a four-team field that will play for the B1G title in Maryland at the end of April.
STICK TO SPORTS
- You had a great Super Bowl party, sure, but did you kill alligators to feed your guests?
- A tongue-eating parasite in your tuna is a great way to ruin your day.
- A former Ohio governor hopeful and his son are on the lam, marking the first time anyone has actively tried to spend time with an Ohio politician.
- Late Night Slice is opening up a full restaurant and bar in downtown Columbus.
- Ray Ray's Hog Pit landed a feature in Esquire Magazine.