Ohio State has 'SEC speed' -- now it wants the freaks up front
Ohio State has speed all over the field, led by quarterback Braxton Miller. But it needs young linemen such as Noah Spence to produce.
Check Ohio State's quarterback, cornerback, wide receiver and linebacker positions to know the Buckeyes don't lack for the mythical advantage known as SEC speed.
Cornerback Bradley Roby reportedly keeps his 40 times in the 4.3s. Quarterback Braxton Miller's burst reminds OSU assistant athletic director of sports performance Mickey Marotti of former Florida great Percy Harvin. Receiver Devin Smith is on the Buckeyes' 4x100 relay team.
And linebacker Ryan Shazier is "the fastest linebacker I've ever coached, and it's not even close," Marotti said.
But since Marotti and head coach Urban Meyer spent six years together at Florida, they can be realistic about how Big Ten/Ohio State athleticism stacks up with the SEC instead of the agitation that fills some coaches when asked about the talent in the South.
The speed is no problem at Ohio State, says Marotti, who adds the perception of SEC athleticism trumping other conferences by a wide margin is a bit overblown. All three of his starting linebackers can move with most any trio around, he says.
"The difference is the line," Marotti said. "There's a lot more development you have to do in the weight room."
But the Buckeyes like their chances with a handful of impact underclassmen up front, led by sophomore defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. Spence was a top target of Florida's staff during the one season Marotti worked for Meyer's replacement, Will Muschamp.
"I believe that's going to start to change," Meyer said.
When it comes to the big boys up front, it's about recruiting and development. At OSU, Marotti said he might have to develop linemen more in the first two years than he would at Florida.
That's why he would like to see Meyer sign more so-called projects that have serious frames to build up. Think a lanky tight end morphing into a stout offensive tackle.
He wants more Reid Fragels. In 2009, Fragel was a 6-foot-8, 251-pound tight end out of Grosse Point, Mich. Now he's a rookie offensive tackle with the Bengals.
That process of building helmeted hulks can take time, and the staff is ready for it.
"Not everybody walks onto the field like Cameron Heyward for us or the guy down in South Carolina who's going to be the best player in football," said defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, referring to Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. "A lot of guys are developed and made by their second or third or fourth year."
Enter Spence and Washington, who might not need the third- or fourth-year part. They look ready now.
When Marotti thinks of early developed, SEC-style beasts, he thinks of Spence (6-3, 247) and Washington, who's up to a reported 292 pounds after recruiting websites listed him at 230 out of the Cincinnati prep scene.
Expect these two to jump from rotational players to starters.
"Those are two kids that just pop up at you," Marotti said.
On the offensive side, sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker is Marotti-certified as an athletic freak. He looks poised to replace Fragel. Sophomore defensive tackle Tommy Schutt could start at defensive tackle.
Of course, this player development won't result in national-title contention without Miller maximizing his potential. Meyer says the Buckeyes are designing a creative passing attack for Miller, already proven as an elite runner.
The Buckeyes won't contend without leadership at quarterback, said Marotti, who doesn't sound worried.
Miller has gone from having "no clue" last offseason to doing everything OSU needs.
"It's another level of focusness," Marotti said. "He's hungry. I see a hunger in the kid. He's here all the time. The guy's busting his rear end for me, and I want the players around him to see that."
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