- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Turns out Urban Meyer can land blue-chip coaching prospects, too.
In turn, the Ohio State coach has done everything he can to keep the pipeline of talented players flowing smoothly despite the offseason shakeup to his staff.
Meyer hadn’t needed to prove that his eye for talent was as sharp in picking out assistants since his first staff was finalized ahead of the 2012 season. With the two-year commitments he required of his coaches all honored and completed, the seemingly unexpected departure of defensive line coach Mike Vrabel to the Houston Texans put Meyer on the spot, and in reportedly swooping in to snatch up Larry Johnson away from Penn State, he hardly could have done a better filling that void for the Buckeyes.
Vrabel had quickly proven himself as one of Ohio State’s most valuable recruiters and among the best in the Big Ten during his three seasons with the program. But Johnson has been doing it for years with the Nittany Lions, and his reputation as a closer and a resume that can back it up surely made him the most attractive candidate to Meyer.
Vrabel’s knowledge of the game made for a smooth transition when he stepped away from the NFL as a player and returned to his alma mater to coach. He was regularly praised for his ability to help make in-game adjustments to the scheme and his work this season in turning a unit that had to replace all four starters into a fearsome line that helped Ohio State lead the conference in sacks made it clear he could develop talent as well.
But Johnson is no slouch on the sideline. His leadership skills won him numerous endorsements from those around or affiliated with Penn State as a viable option to lead the entire program in the wake of both the Jerry Sandusky scandal and Bill O’Brien’s departure. And he’s also been able to maximize the talent at his disposal during his decorated career with the Nittany Lions, with the first-round draft picks to prove it.
Now he’s going to inherit a position group that is certainly the most loaded on the Ohio State roster and potentially one of the best in the nation with Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, Tommy Schutt, Jamal Marcus and Adolphus Washington all returning, just for starters. And that’s before Johnson gets a chance to get to work on what he does best as a recruiter, which should only help the already rich get wealthier up front.
Given how successful Vrabel had been in short order and how valuable he was for Ohio State, it might have been hard to envision that the Buckeyes could end up coming out even heading into Meyer’s third season, let alone maybe even being winners in the offseason sweepstakes.
But in case anybody needed a reminder, Meyer typically gets what he wants. And in flipping Johnson from Penn State, he also got the Buckeyes exactly what they needed.
6dDan Murphy and Austin Ward