NCF Nation: Curtis Grant

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A year ago, Ohio State's emphasis on stuffing the run came at the expense of a horrific pass defense.

As recently as a couple weeks ago, the mandate to shore up the secondary seemed to be damaging what used to be the Buckeyes' strength up front stopping the run.

Finally, after nearly three full seasons under Urban Meyer, the No. 4 Buckeyes found the balance their coach had been looking for, just in time for a four-team College Football Playoff that could throw everything from smash-mouth football to a high-flying spread offense at his team as it contends for a national championship. And on the heels of what was effectively a perfect game on the defensive side of the ball in the Big Ten championship, it appears the Buckeyes are finally ready for anything -- and more than capable of shutting it down.

[+] EnlargeMichael Bennett
AP Photo/Darron CummingsOhio State's defense bottled up Melvin Gordon in the Big Ten title game, finally showing the balance desired by Urban Meyer just in time for the College Football Playoff.
“[Saturday] helped, because I had my reservations during the year, like everybody did, about stopping the run,” Meyer said. “Because we really installed a backward approach, a back-end-first approach to pass defense. Work the back end first and then move forward. We’ve always been a front-end first and then coverage-wise, we’ve added a lot of coverage principles.

“After last week’s performance, I feel like we’re still a little too young to say we’re a finished product. We’re not a finished product, there are too many young players out there. The future is very bright, though.”

The present isn’t too shabby for the Buckeyes, either. And suddenly it’s not just their offense and a seemingly endless supply of quarterbacks that could give a team like No. 1 Alabama some problems in the semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

The Buckeyes were anemic in the secondary as Ohio State unraveled late in the season a year ago, but the more aggressive approach to pass coverage installed by co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has cut down the yardage allowed dramatically while also generating more interceptions than any other unit in the Big Ten.

Gashed for three consecutive weeks in November by some of the top rushers in the league, the Buckeyes bottled up the best in the nation against Wisconsin in the conference title game, holding Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon to just 76 yards on 26 carries.

The combination of those improvements produced utter dominance for the Buckeyes on the field in a 59-0 shutout victory. And off the field, it’s taken the self-belief of a defense that has been under intense scrutiny for the last two seasons to another level as it prepares for a stiff challenge from a versatile Alabama offense -- with another chance to show off its improvement waiting with a victory.

“The confidence is very high, and you can’t play this game without confidence,” Ohio State senior linebacker Curtis Grant said. “Just to go out and make a statement like that, it gives you more confidence and it makes you more hungry to come out and just keep getting better. If you can do that one week, why not keep continuing that?

“I can’t even explain it. I watched the first half of the game and I was shocked. Just to see how hard that we were playing, everybody looks super fast on film and we were just getting to the ball. It was just crazy. I can’t really put it into words.”

Meyer had found and used plenty of colorful words to describe the defense before this past weekend, and he reflected again hours after the game on how “abysmal” the pass coverage was heading into the postseason at this time a year ago.

But after a long wait, and nearly three years of work, he subtly slipped in a nickname that has come to define the traditionally stout defenses Ohio State has long been known for. After Saturday night’s performance it was impossible to argue it hadn’t been earned.

“Best effort we had since we've been here,” Meyer said. “There's always been games where the defensive line played well, maybe the back end was giving up some plays.

"This was a complete, thorough effort by our defense.

“Everybody was waiting for the Silver Bullets to come back, including the head coach.”

They appear to be back, all right, and the timing couldn’t be any better for the Buckeyes.

A record number of underclassmen elected to take the NFL plunge this year, but the Big Ten barely made a splash. Only four Big Ten juniors are entering the draft, continuing a recent downturn after just six left early a year ago. Several stars certainly could have entered the draft, so this is good news for fans who enjoy seeing the league's top players stay for a fourth year. But it also underscores a lack of top talent, especially when compared to the SEC and Pac-12.

Despite a small contingent of early entries, Big Ten teams have some significant holes to fill. As spring ball approaches, here's a look at who's gone and who might replace them.

Leaving: Indiana WR Cody Latimer

[+] EnlargeShane Wynn
AJ Mast/Icon SMIShane Wynn averaged 13.8 ypc this season and scored 11 TDs. His stock and those numbers should soar higher as he takes on a bigger role next season.
The replacement: Shane Wynn

Wynn and Latimer obviously have different body frames, but both produce at a high level, particularly when it comes to touchdowns. Latimer led Indiana by wide margins in both receptions (72, next highest: 47) and receiving yards (1,096, next highest total: 739), but Wynn had more touchdowns with 11 (Latimer at nine). The departures of Latimer, Kofi Hughes and tight end Ted Bolser make Wynn the team's only returning receiver with more than 15 receptions in 2013.

Indiana certainly could use a bigger receiver to play on the outside where Latimer roamed, and perhaps Nick Stoner or incoming recruit Dominique Booth fills that role. But the Hoosiers undoubtedly will rely more on Wynn, a 5-foot-7 dynamo who averaged 13.8 yards per reception last season. Of the Big Ten's early entries, Latimer is the most surprising, given the strength in the draft at wide receiver, but Indiana has had little trouble developing strong pass-catchers.

Leaving: Penn State WR Allen Robinson

The replacement: Geno Lewis

Latimer's departure raised a few eyebrows, but Robinson's had been expected for some time, especially after coach Bill O'Brien left Penn State for the NFL's Houston Texans. Robinson earned the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year award in both 2012 and 2013 after recording back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to lead the league each year. The Penn State standout had 97 catches for 1,432 yards last season, topping the Big Ten charts in both categories despite not playing in the postseason.

Lewis likely will move into the No. 1 spot, in part because Penn State doesn't much experience at receiver. In addition to Robinson, the Lions lose No. 2 wideout Brandon Felder. Although Penn State returns a wealth of talent at tight end, Lewis is the leading returning wide receiver with 18 catches for 234 yards and three touchdowns in 2013. Lewis showed potential during his redshirt freshman season, especially with a 91-yard performance in the finale at Wisconsin. After struggling midway through the fall, Lewis' strong finish sets him up well to be quarterback Christian Hackenberg's top option in 2014.

Leaving: Ohio State CB Bradley Roby

The replacement: Doran Grant. Grant played opposite Roby throughout last season and recorded 58 tackles, 3 interceptions, 10 pass breakups, a forced fumble and a blocked kick. He endured some ups and downs in a secondary that struggled for much of the season, especially after losing safety Christian Bryant to injury, but the experience should prove valuable going forward. Not surprisingly, Grant was challenged more than Roby, but as these numbers show, he held his own despite some mistakes here and there.

Roby's early departure is the least surprising of the group, as he announced before the season that it would be his last at Ohio State. His presence will be missed, especially on special teams, but Grant could develop into a top corner. Ohio State certainly has bigger problems to address in the back four as it welcomes in new coordinator/secondary coach Chris Ash from Arkansas.

Leaving: Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier

The replacement: Trey Johnson. Ohio State returns starters at the other two linebacker spots in Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry, and it's possible Perry could slide over into the role where Shazier excelled. But Johnson served as Shazier's backup in 2013 and boasts the athleticism to step in and perform. Johnson played sparingly last fall, recording 11 tackles in six games, but his role undoubtedly will expand with Shazier moving onto the NFL.

There should be plenty of competition at linebacker, a spot where depth has been a concern for head coach Urban Meyer. Like Johnson, Mike Mitchell came to Ohio State as an extremely decorated recruit and should push for playing time this spring after a redshirt season. Camren Williams and converted safety Devan Bogard also are possibilities, although Bogard will be coming off of a second ACL tear.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- It says a lot about the place Ohio State finds itself that a 25-point conference road victory, in which it scored 60 points, provides fodder for critics and detractors.

But that's the nature of college football in late November for an undefeated team. Politicking and nit-picking all play into a sport that chooses its championship game largely by way of popular opinion, creating a week-to-week beauty pageant.

Urban Meyer admitted after Saturday's 60-35 victory at Illinois that he and his team got a little too caught up in all the national title talk recently. Following a performance filled with warts, if not outright worry, Meyer wants the No. 3 Buckeyes to hop off that carousel.

"We need to make sure our focus is on just getting better each week instead of all the national stuff," Meyer said. "I think I'm learning a lesson. Just shut your mouth and quit worrying about this, quit worrying about that."

[+] EnlargeOhio State Touchdown
Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY SportsOhio State's Carlos Hyde crosses the goal line for the first of five touchdowns he scored Saturday at Illinois.
Meyer even suggested that he will restrict media access to his players in the next few weeks. Issues such as style points and schedule strength have dominated the discussion in recent weeks for Ohio State, and wide receiver Evan Spencer made waves last week by saying, albeit somewhat jokingly, that his team would "wipe the floor" with Alabama and Florida State. Linebacker Ryan Shazier said Saturday that "everybody was up in our heads" about the national title race during the Buckeyes' bye week.

Any distractions that might have caused didn't surface until well into Saturday's game. Ohio State, as it does just about every week, seized immediate control of the game, racing out to a 28-0 lead with 10:20 left in the first half. The Buckeyes have outscored opponents 63-0 in the first quarter in their past three games.

But the Illini -- who now own the nation's longest conference losing streak at 20 games, the second-worst streak in Big Ten history -- found a hole in the Buckeyes' most airtight unit this season: punt coverage. V'Angelo Bentley scored on a 67-yard punt return in the second quarter to give his team some life. Led by a gutsy effort from quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois sliced the lead to 14 early in the second half and trailed by only 12 with less than five minutes to play.

"When we got up big, everybody just kind of mellowed," Ohio State receiver Corey "Philly" Brown said. "We thought they would give up and they didn't. ...

"It was a big-time wake-up call."

Unlike the previous two games, the Buckeyes had to play their starters the whole way. Meyer had hoped to rest left tackle Jack Mewhort, who tweaked his knee in practice Wednesday, but he was forced to put Mewhort back in during the second half.

Ohio State couldn't exhale until Carlos Hyde ripped off two 50-yard-plus touchdown runs in the final 4:03, and on a windy day that made passing a challenge, Meyer rode the running skills of quarterback Braxton Miller harder than he had all season. Miller finished with 184 yards on 16 carries.

But it was the defensive effort that proponents of teams such as Baylor and Stanford will harp on, as Ohio State gave up 420 yards and its highest point total of the season. Few will give the Buckeyes a pass for missing starting linebackers Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant or for losing starting defensive lineman Joey Bosa to a neck injury after he had rung up 2.5 sacks. Meyer called the defensive performance simply "not good enough."

"That is unacceptable from us," safety C.J. Barnett said. "Illinois is a good team with some great athletes, but at the same time, we expect more from ourselves."

Only in college football would a team that secured its 22nd consecutive victory with a 25-point road win be scrutinized and criticized. And make no mistake: The Buckeyes were not satisfied with their showing. The truth is that they're not going to the BCS title game unless Alabama or Florida State lose, and their best argument remains the long winning streak.

Just don't expect to hear much about that subject from the Ohio State camp in the coming days.

"There will be a lot more focus on Indiana this week," Barnett said, "instead of worrying about the big picture or what's in the future. We need to worry about the right here and now."
Five lessons from four games in Week 5. Got that?

Let's go ...

1. Ohio State's young defense is growing up: Lost amid the Braxton Miller-Kenny Guiton debate this week was the fact a mostly young Ohio State defense with only one returning starter in the front seven would be put to the test by Melvin Gordon, James White and the formidable Wisconsin run game. The young Bucks certainly earned a passing grade after holding Wisconsin to just 104 yards on 27 carries. Gordon's knee injury limited the Badgers, but Ohio State prevented big runs and forced Wisconsin to win the game through the air. Linebacker Ryan Shazier shined, while linebacker Curtis Grant and lineman Michael Bennett both recorded sacks. The loss of safety Christian Bryant to a season-ending ankle injury is a big blow, but Ohio State has enough talent in the secondary to make up for it, as long as they don't run into Jared Abbrederis again soon. Ohio State's offense will win plenty of games, but you know what they say about defenses and championship. These might not be the typical Silver Bullets, but they're developing and can build on Saturday's performance as they face an even another formidable offense in Northwestern next week.

[+] EnlargeMichael Bennett
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJoel Stave and the Badgers hung around, but they were eventually tamed by Michael Bennett and the Buckeyes.
2. Wisconsin is an excellent 56-minute team: Gary Andersen's crew showed plenty of grit Saturday night in Columbus. Quarterback Joel Stave quieted some of his critics -- thanks in large part to a career performance from Abbrederis (10 catches, 207 yards, 1 TD) -- and linebacker Chris Borland was brilliant, as usual. But Wisconsin's inability to finish off halves remains a troubling trend, and it surfaced in the loss to Ohio State. The Badgers trailed by only three points when freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton dropped an easy interception near the goal line. Miller found Philly Brown for a 40-yard touchdown on the next play, giving Ohio State a huge boost with one second left in the half. Wisconsin struggled to manage the clock down the stretch as its comeback attempt fell short. This isn't a team built to come back in games based on the pass game, and it showed. Coupled with the Arizona State debacle (granted, more officiating than execution), Wisconsin has had a lot of bad things happen at critical moments. That's what could separate the Badgers from a fourth consecutive Big Ten title.

3. Iowa will be a factor in the Legends Division: The Hawkeyes might not be a great team yet, but it's clear they are vastly improved from last season. On Saturday, Iowa went into Minnesota and pushed the Gophers around on their home turf, piling up 464 total yards and allowing only 30 rushing yards in a 23-7 win. The pig will return to Iowa City, but even more importantly, the hogs up front are getting it done in classic Kirk Ferentz fashion. Iowa has rushed for at least 200 yards in every game this season and went for 246 against a Minnesota defense that thought it had made strides in that area. This team has an identity, and it starts with the power running game led by Mark Weisman and a solid offensive line. Quarterback Jake Rudock has shown an ability to extend plays, and Iowa even got an explosive play in the passing game when Damond Powell took a short pass 74 yards to paydirt. The defense is also playing well right now; the Gophers' only score came after a long kickoff return. The Hawkeyes are 4-1 and gets Michigan State at home next week, while Northwestern and Michigan still must come to Kinnick Stadium. The schedule is difficult the rest of the way, but Iowa will have a big say in who wins the Legends.

4. Nathan Scheelhaase is the Big Ten's most improved player: A year ago, Scheelhaase was sputtering at the helm of one of the nation's worst offenses, hardly resembling the player who had shown promise as a freshman and during the first part of his sophomore season. No Big Ten player has made bigger strides in the past season than the Illinois senior quarterback, who threw five first-half touchdown passes Saturday against Miami (Ohio) and finished with 278 pass yards on 19 of 24 attempts. Scheelhaase leads the Big Ten in passing yards and is second in touchdowns (12), tripling his total from last season. He's just five touchdown passes shy of his single-season best and 15 shy of Kurt Kittner's single-season team record. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit deserves a lot of credit for Scheelhaase's surge -- and that of the entire Illini offense -- but Scheelhaase clearly is back on track after a year and a half in the dark. It will be interesting to see what he does this week against Nebraska's shaky defense.

5. Future starts now for Etling, Purdue: Darrell Hazell stuck with senior quarterback Rob Henry through this season's early offensive struggles, but the Purdue coach realized it was time for a change Saturday against Northern Illinois. The last straw was Henry's second interception of the first half, a terribly thrown floater into the Huskies' end zone. That prompted Hazell to give the reins over to true freshman Danny Etling, the prized former recruit who made his collegiate debut. This was no fairy tale, so Etling didn't lead the Boilermakers to a comeback victory. He threw two interceptions, including a pick-six, and narrowly avoided another one. But Etling (19-for-39, 241 yards) did show good mobility and flashed his strong arm, especially on his first career touchdown pass, a 16-yarder to Cameron Posey. The offense will have more of a chance to stretch the field with him under center. Quarterback is hardly the only problem for Purdue, which got housed 55-24 at home by a MAC team and might have a hard time finding another win this season. But while Boilers fans don't like to see the words "Danny" and "hope" in the same sentence, Etling at least gives them something to look forward to as Hazell tries to work the program out of this mess.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer confirmed to reporters today what had been rumored for a couple of weeks: sophomore linebacker David Perkins is leaving the program.

Meyer called it "a mutual decision." There's no word yet on where Perkins might transfer.

The South Bend, Ind., product appeared in nine games as a true freshman, recording six tackles. He spent time with the first team this spring as Ryan Shazier was banged up, though he was projected as a backup this season at outside linebacker behind Shazier and Joshua Perry. Perkins was rated as a four-star prospect by ESPN.com when he signed with Ohio State last year.

Losing Perkins thins a linebacker corps that already lacked depth, as Shazier is the lone returning starter. Meyer needs Perry and Grant to step up this year and give Shazier some help.

As for Perkins, we'll always have his hit on Brutus Buckeye to remember.

100-days checklist: Big Ten

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
12:00
AM ET
Good news: We are just 100 days away from the start of college football.

To mark the occasion, we're pulling out a checklist today of things that Big Ten teams need to accomplish between now and the start of the season. It's not quite "The Final Countdown" (cue GOB Bluth), but we are inching ever so close to kickoff. Here's what needs to happen in the next 100 days:

1. Identify a starting quarterback at Iowa, Indiana, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin: It seems as if there are an unusually high number of Big Ten teams who don't know for sure who their starting quarterbacks will be in the fall. (You could also add Illinois and Minnesota to this list, though it appears likely that Nathan Scheelhaase and Philip Nelson, respectively, would have to lose the job in the summer.) Iowa had a three-man race this spring that will probably come down to Jake Rudock and Cody Sokol in training camp. There's very little separation between Cameron Coffman, Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson at Indiana. Connor Cook continues to breathe down the neck of incumbent Andrew Maxwell at Michigan State. Tyler Ferguson claimed the starting job at Penn State during the spring, prompting Steven Bench to transfer, but highly touted recruit Christian Hackenberg will push for immediate time. Purdue will likely decide between senior Rob Henry and true freshman Danny Etling. Joel Stave and Curt Phillips separated themselves from the Wisconsin QB derby this spring, while incoming junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy could expand the race this summer. All these situations should work themselves out in August, but no team wants to be dealing with an unsettled quarterback competition once the season starts.

2. Solidify the defensive front sevens at Nebraska and Ohio State: The Huskers and Buckeyes stand out as two of the top Big Ten contenders in 2013, but both have serious questions at defensive line and linebacker. The issue is more dire at Nebraska, which struggled there last year and is replacing all but one starter from 2012. Summer arrivals, including junior college star Randy Gregory, could make an immediate impact, and players coming back from injury such as linebacker Zaire Anderson and defensive tackle Thad Randle will need to play up to potential. Ohio State is less concerned about its defense after the spring performance of defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, but linebacker Ryan Shazier is still the only returning starter in the front seven. Curtis Grant must finally live up to his talent to provide help to Shazier, and someone must assume John Simon's leadership role.

3. Locate the next great receivers: A few Big Ten teams, such as Nebraska, Penn State and Indiana, don't have to worry too much about who will catch the ball this year. But just about everybody else needs to find playmakers in the passing game. The top of that list includes Iowa, which couldn't generate a downfield passing attack last year; Illinois, which needs receivers to make new coordinator Bill Cubit's spread system work; Michigan State, whose young wideouts must improve on last year's shaky performance; Minnesota, which doesn't have many proven weapons to surround Nelson; and Wisconsin, which still must find a complement to Jared Abbrederis. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is hoping some incoming freshmen augment a very thin receiver group, while Michigan needs to replace the production of Roy Roundtree. Purdue and Northwestern have lots of speedy options but could use the emergence of a true No. 1 target. Receiver was a weak spot as a whole in the Big Ten in 2012, and hopefully some players will improve through offseason voluntary passing drills.

4. Strengthen the running game at Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and elsewhere: It's a cliché to say that you have to run the ball to win, but in the case of the Big Ten, that's always been true. That's why it's so vital for the Wolverines and Spartans -- who both expect to contend in the Legends Division -- to find answers in their rushing attacks. Michigan is replacing its entire starting interior offensive line after struggling to get a running game going outside of Denard Robinson last year. Fitz Toussaint is hoping to bounce back from a disappointing season and a leg injury, while hotshot freshman Derrick Green could get lots of carries right away. Michigan State's efforts to replace workhorse extraordinaire Le'Veon Bell this spring ended up with converted linebacker Riley Bullough emerging as the top back in a mediocre field. Three incoming freshmen will compete for time right away this summer. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson put a heavy emphasis on the running game this spring, hoping for more balance after his team led the league in passing and finished last in rushing last season. Iowa has depth for once at running back but needs to stay healthy there, as the ground game is the key to the Hawkeyes' entire offensive philosophy. Nebraska also can't afford injuries, as Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross are the lone backs with any experience. Illinois averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a team last year, a number that must improve. And while Purdue loved what it saw from Akeem Hunt this spring, he still must prove he can be an every-down back after attempting only 42 carries last season.

5. Mesh with new coaches: Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Purdue's Darrell Hazell are the fresh faces among head coaches in the league, and while they did a great job of connecting with their players this spring, they still need to get their new systems fully in place. The Badgers will be using some new, 3-4 looks on defense, while Hazell wants a more physical and disciplined team than we've seen from the Boilermakers of late. Michigan State has a new offensive playcaller in Dave Warner, while Cubit was one of many staff changes at Illinois. Penn State's John Butler takes over from Ted Roof as the Lions' defensive coordinator. With only 15 spring practices so far to implement their styles, those new coaches have had to rely on a lot of classroom time and players learning on their own. That will have to continue this summer during voluntary workouts and then will intensify when preseason practice begins. For new coaches, it's a race against the calendar -- and the calendar says there are only 100 days until kickoff.
Ohio State has reinstated linebacker Storm Klein after his domestic violence charged was dismissed.

Klein instead pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct on Wednesday. The senior, who was kicked off the team after his initial July 6 arrest, will face at least a two-game suspension from head coach Urban Meyer. But he is back to being a Buckeye.

His reinstatement adds depth and experience to a position that has talent, but a lot of youth for Ohio State. Sophomores Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant are slated to start next to fifth-year senior Etienne Sabino. Klein started 10 games last year at middle linebacker, collecting 45 tackles. He will likely serve as a backup to Grant when allowed to play.

Klein was originally charged with "violently and purposefully" removing the mother of his child from his off-campus apartment. But the woman later recanted her original accusation and said Klein did not strike her. She said she was injured while flailing around during the argument and wanted the charges dropped.

Meyer had dismissed Klein as part of his zero-tolerance policy involving violence against women. But domestic violence cases are often murky, and Klein was cleared of any violent charges. By welcoming Klein back but still suspending him, Meyer is still making a statement. Meyer's handling of discipline at Ohio State will be closely monitored because of his time at Florida, which included a string of arrests involving prominent Gators.

"As I had indicated previously, if there are changes in the charges against Storm, I would re-evaluate his status," Meyer said in a school release. "The charges that would have violated our core values have been totally dismissed.

"I have spoken extensively to members of both families and that has prompted me to reassess his situation and allow him back."
Some bad news in Buckeye Country as a man matching the description of Ohio State linebacker Storm Klein was arrested Friday and charged with misdemeanor domestic violence and assault, according to court records.
According to the court records, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound man with blonde hair named Storm Klein was arrested Friday and is scheduled for arraignment on Saturday morning. Ohio State officials had not confirmed Klein's identity as of late Friday night, but the descriptions in the report match closely with the senior who left spring practice as the backup at middle linebacker.

An arraignment is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday. No other details are available at this time.

The 6-2, 242-pound Klein started 10 games last season but missed most of spring practice because of injury. Ohio State's coaching staff listed Curtis Grant ahead of Klein at middle linebacker on the post-spring depth chart issued in May.

It will be interesting to see how head coach Urban Meyer responds to the situation. Meyer set the tone for how he'd handle discipline with the Buckeyes in removing senior offensive starters Jake Stoneburner and Jack Mewhort from their scholarships for the summer session after the players were arrested in early June. Although both Stoneburner and Mewhort can return to the team and are expected to be back for the season, Meyer's actions showed he's taking a hard-line stance toward discipline, a topic for which he drew criticism during his time at Florida.

Although Klein's alleged crimes are misdemeanors, they are much more serious than what Stoneburner and Mewhort did and would prompt a stronger punishment, perhaps dismissal from the team.

Stay tuned.
Ohio State's first spring practice on Wednesday was significant for a number of reasons. Not least of which was the official return of Urban Meyer to a sideline for the first time since he retired from Florida.

“I felt great,” Meyer told reporters afterward. “It was great to blow the whistle and watch the guys run. It was great to coach punting, something I love to do, and to just watch the positions.”

Meyer knows he has some major work to do with these Buckeyes, especially at the receiver position. He has talked several times about the need for more playmakers at that position and he didn't see much change there in the first practice.

"At Ohio State, you should walk off the field going, 'Wow, who are those three guys?'" Meyer said. "I haven't done that yet and I still today haven't done that. There's got to be a wow factor, and you should have one, should have two, here you should probably have more than two."

Meyer did have nice things to say about sophomore wideout Devin Smith, calling him "a separator" and "a speed guy." Smith and Evan Spencer worked with the first team on Wednesday, while Corey "Philly" Brown -- the most experienced player at the position -- was on the second team.

A couple other notes:
  • There was a mild surprise at the pecking order at center, where Corey Linsley started with the first unit. Brian Bobek was thought to be the heir apparent to four-year starter Mike Brewster.
  • Curtis Grant, who came in last year as a heavily hyped recruit but struggled on the field, was the first-team middle linebacker. "He had an excellent offseason," Meyer said. "He is a guy that has to develop. ... He has to be a player for us. If he's not, we've got problems."
  • The Buckeyes' offense worked at a high tempo that Meyer said wore the players out. The pace is a product of offensive coordinator Tom Herman's preferences. “We weren’t that way at Florida,” Meyer said.
It's time to jump back into our preseason position group rankings. We've made our way through the offenses and the front line of the defenses. Now it's time to take a look at the linebackers.

As always, this is a ranking of the entire position group, so depth matters in addition to individual star players.

Away we go:

[+] EnlargeLavonte David
AP Photo/Nati HarnikNebraska's Lavonte David led the Big 12 last season with 152 tackles.
1. Nebraska: Lavonte David set the school record with 152 tackles last year, best in the Big 12. He also added 15 tackles for loss and six sacks on his way to second-team All-America honors. David was a one-man wrecking crew last year but should get more help this year. Will Compton returns after an injury-shortened season, and Sean Fisher is back after a broken leg cost him all of 2010. With an excellent defensive front leading the way, the Cornhuskers' linebackers should make plenty of impact plays.

2. Penn State: Is this the return of Linebacker U? The Nittany Lions technically only return one starter at the position but have plenty of talent. The unit got hit by injuries last year, including one that knocked Michael Mauti out of the lineup for several games. He's one of the best in the Big Ten when healthy, which he should be in 2011. Senior Nate Stupar led the team in tackles last year. Sophomores Gerald Hodges and Khairi Fortt are among the skilled youngsters battling for playing time. This could wind up as the deepest linebacking corps in the league.

3. Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost two starters, including leading tackler Brian Rolle. But the Silver Bullets usually reload at linebacker. Senior Andrew Sweat should emerge as the unit's leader, and hopes are high for Etienne Sabino after he took a redshirt year in 2010. Sabino showed promise this spring and locked down a starting job. The battle is on for the third starting position. Incoming freshman Curtis Grant could make a sudden impact.

4. Wisconsin: Much depends on the health of Chris Borland, who missed nearly all of 2010 and sat out the spring with a shoulder injury. The 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year will move to middle linebacker and should anchor the unit if he's sound. Mike Taylor finished second on the team in tackles for loss and interceptions last year, and Kevin Claxton is expected to take over at the strongside spot. The Badgers like what they have seen from redshirt freshman Marcus Trotter.

5. Iowa: The Hawkeyes lost a lot of experience from the 2010 team, including leading tackler Jeremiha Hunter. While there's some concern about the leadership void, Iowa has good young building blocks here. James Morris was pressed into service as a true freshman and was terrific; another year of development should only make him better. Tyler Nielsen was missed down the stretch when he suffered a neck injury, and the senior provides a veteran presence. Players like Bruce Davis, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens need to take on bigger roles.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jones
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesReplacing two-time All-American Greg Jones will be a tall order for the Spartans.
6. Michigan State: It would be difficult to overstate how much the Spartans will miss two-time All-American Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, who combined to start 95 games in their illustrious careers. But life goes on. The lone returning starter, Chris Norman, is a dependable veteran. The Spartans hope Max Bullough and Denicos Allen build on their potential, and TyQuan Hammock inspired confidence with his play this spring.

7. Minnesota: An experienced linebacker group could be the strength of the Gophers defense this season. All three starters -- leading tackler Gary Tinsley, Keanon Cooper and Mike Rallis -- are back. Rallis needs to stay healthy after only appearing in 12 games the past two years because of injuries. Florida transfer Brendan Beal should provide a boost.

8. Purdue: The Boilermakers are led by senior Joe Holland, who has 35 career starts under his belt. Junior Dwayne Beckford finished second on the team with 85 tackles a year ago. Will Lucas could break out after an excellent true freshman campaign. Senior Chris Carlino adds veteran depth.

9. Michigan: The Wolverines struggled defensively last year, and the linebackers shouldered some of the blame. They lost Jonas Mouton to the NFL. Cam Gordon moves down from safety and adds some playmaking ability. Kenny Demens had 82 tackles last year at middle linebacker. Freshman Jake Ryan should contribute right away. This group still has a lot to prove.

10. Illinois: The Illini have to rebuild after losing a pair of NFL draft picks at the position in Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey. Senior Ian Thomas now becomes the veteran leader. Sophomores Johnathan Brown and Houston Bates -- who had a strong spring -- will be counted on to step forward.

11. Indiana: Fifth-year senior Jeff Thomas could be the centerpiece of the Hoosiers defense. Another fifth-year senior is Leon Beckum, though he lacks top-end speed. Overall, there isn't a lot of depth here.

12. Northwestern: Linebacker play was a sore spot last season, and starters Nate Williams and Quentin Davie are gone. Bryce McNaul needs to recover all the way from shoulder surgery and has to stay healthy. Pat Fitzgerald thinks he has some talented young players at the position; they'll need to grow up fast.

Ohio State recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011
2/03/11
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Ohio State Buckeyes

The class

Recruits: 23 (all high school seniors, five players enrolled early)

Top prospects: The Buckeyes bolstered all three areas of their defense with ESPNU 150 prospects such as defensive linemen Steve Miller and Michael Bennett, cornerback Doran Grant and linebackers Curtis Grant and Ryan Shazier. Ohio State also addressed a potentially pressing need at quarterback with Braxton Miller, rated as the nation's No. 4 signal-caller by ESPN Recruiting.

Needs met: Miller's addition is big because Ohio State will be without starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor for the first part of the season and needs other options if Joe Bauserman and Kenny Guiton don't pan out. The Buckeyes also are fairly unproven at receiver and added depth in this class with ESPNU 150 prospect Evan Spencer as well as Devin Smith. Offensive line is the only position that could have used a few more players in this class.

Analysis: After what could be labeled a down recruiting year in 2010 according to its standards, Ohio State rebounded in a big way Wednesday. The Big Ten's best program signed the league's best class, which includes seven ESPNU 150 prospects. Ohio State brought in several players who can contribute early in their careers on both sides of the ball. Braxton Miller could be Ohio State's post-Pryor answer at quarterback, and he'll have some targets to throw to in this class with players like Spencer and Smith. Ohio State did a better job of locking down the top in-state prospects than it did in 2010 and also reached to other regions for players like Curtis Grant and Shazier.

ESPN Recruiting grade: A-
The Big Ten's top-rated recruiting class is official as Ohio State announced the signings of 23 players.

Ohio State's class includes five players already enrolled in school. The class features 13 in-state prospects, 13 defensive players, nine offensive players and one specialist.

Here's the position breakdown:

DL: 5
OL: 3
DB: 4
LB: 4
WR: 2
TE: 2
QB: 2
LS: 1

A few notes:

Video: Curtis Grant chooses Ohio State

February, 2, 2011
2/02/11
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Curtis Grant commits to Ohio State.
The Big Ten's best recruiting class just got even better.

Linebacker Curtis Grant announced he will sign with Ohio State instead of Florida, North Carolina and Virginia. ESPN Recruiting rates Grant as the nation's No. 3 linebacker and No. 46 overall prospect. Ohio State now has seven ESPNU 150 prospects, tops in the Big Ten.

Grant appeared headed to Florida a few months ago, but Urban Meyer's resignation put Ohio State at the top of his list. Several of Ohio State's top defenders in recent years have come from Florida, including linebacker Brian Rolle and cornerback Chimdi Chekwa.

Grant and quarterback Cardale Jones are the late additions to Ohio State's 2011 class, although Jones will be a grayshirt and enroll in a prep school this fall before coming to Columbus.

SEC recruiting scorecard

February, 2, 2011
2/02/11
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National signing day is here, so let’s take a look at where each team in the SEC stands heading into today’s festivities.

The following information comes from ESPN.com’s recruiting page:

ALABAMA


Commitments: 21. Four-star and above players: 13. ESPNU 150 players: 8.

Waiting on: OT Cyrus Kouandjio, DE Jadeveon Clowney, RB Isaiah Crowell, WR Nick Brassell, DE Jeoffrey Pagan, LB Brent Calloway.

The buzz: Alabama has three ESPNU 150 receivers committed, hoping to fill the void left by the early departure of Julio Jones to the NFL. Kouandjio would go nicely with junior college signee Aaron Douglas on the offensive line, and the Crimson Tide are trying to get Brassell away from Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Calloway will also be one to watch, to see if he switches back to the Tide.

ARKANSAS

Commitments: 31. Four-star and above players: 8. ESPNU 150 players: 3.

Waiting on: TE Chris Barnett, TE Andrew Peterson, LB Cedrick Cooper.

The buzz: The Hogs needed some reinforcements in the offensive line and landed two highly rated in-state prospects – tackle Brey Cook and guard Mitch Smothers. Barnett, after earlier committing to Arkansas, is now looking hard at Michigan. Four-star receivers Keante Minor and Quinta Funderburk are both impressive looking prospects.

AUBURN

Commitments: 22. Four-star and above players: 14. ESPNU 150 players: 7.

Waiting on: S Erique Florence, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, DT Gabe Wright, CB Jermaine Whitehead, OT Antonio Richardson.

The buzz: Kiehl Frazier of Springdale, Ark., is rated as the No. 2 quarterback in the country. The Tigers’ defensive back class is deep and talented and could get even better with Florence, the No. 4 safety in the country. Whitehead has also taken a liking to the Tigers. Stealing offensive tackle Christian Westerman away from Texas was a real coup, although holding onto Brent Calloway could get dicey.

FLORIDA

Commitments: 17. Four-star and above players: 10. ESPNU 150 players: 6.

Waiting on: LB Curtis Grant, DE Jermauria Rasco, DT Elkino Watson, S Marcus Roberson, QB Jacoby Brissett, OT Jacob Fisher, TE Junior Pomee.

The buzz: The country’s No. 1 quarterback prospect, Jeff Driskel, is already in school and ready to battle for the starting job in the spring. It’s been eerily quiet for the Gators on the recruiting front ever since Will Muschamp was named as Urban Meyer’s replacement. It’s still a strong class, but the finish isn’t shaping up as one to remember. Getting Grant will be a key.

GEORGIA

Commitments: 23. Four-star and above players: 15. ESPNU 150 players: 5.

Waiting on: RB Isaiah Crowell, NG John Jenkins, LB Kent Turene, DE Jeoffrey Pagan, OT Antonio Richardson, DT Tre Jackson.

The buzz: With A.J. Green on his way to the NFL, the Bulldogs are bringing in three four-star receivers. Their highest-rated commitment to this point, defensive end Ray Drew of Thomasville, Ga., is an ordained minister. Closing with Crowell and Jenkins could potentially make this a top 5 class nationally and one of Mark Richt's most talented ever.

KENTUCKY

Commitments: 21. Four-star and above players: 2. ESPNU 150 players: 1.

Waiting on: LB Lamar Dawson, WR Daryl Collins, ATH Bubba Tandy.

The buzz: The Wildcats are fighting to hold onto their only ESPNU 150 player, tight end Jon Davis. Louisville and Illinois have entered the picture, and Davis will announce his decision Wednesday afternoon. Keeping Dawson from leaving the state would also be a huge boost to this class. The Wildcats have seven players from the state of Georgia committed.

LSU

Commitments: 22. Four-star and above players: 6. ESPNU 150 players: 5.

Waiting on: DT Tim Jernigan, DE Jermauria Rasco.

The buzz: The Tigers’ defensive line class will be scary good if they land both Jernigan and Rasco, especially with Anthony Johnson already enrolled in school. The 6-3, 300-pound Johnson is rated by ESPN as the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in the country. LSU didn’t have to travel far this recruiting period, as 16 of its commitments are from the state of Louisiana.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Commitments: 24. Four-star and above players: 1. ESPNU 150 players: 0.

Waiting on: CB Jermaine Whitehead, WR Nick Brassell.

The buzz: The Bulldogs have seen one player after another de-commit, including top linebacker prospect C.J. Johnson, who now plans to sign with Ole Miss after being committed to Mississippi State for more than a year. Whitehead and Brassell were also one-time Mississippi State commitments, but the Bulldogs are in danger of losing both on Wednesday.

OLE MISS

Commitments: 27. Four-star and above players: 3. ESPNU 150 players: 1.

Waiting on: CB Jermaine Whitehead, WR Nick Brassell.

The buzz: The Rebels are on the threshold of putting together a top 25 class nationally. If they can land Whitehead and Brassell on Wednesday, that would give them six of the top seven players in the state. Prying Johnson away from Mississippi State provided some key momentum down the stretch.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Commitments: 32. Four-star and above players: 6. ESPNU 150 players: 0.

Waiting on: DE Jadeveon Clowney, LB Cedrick Cooper.

The buzz: The Gamecocks may have to wait a while longer on Clowney, but the wait figures to be worth it. He’s probably not going to make his decision until Valentine’s Day, which just happens to be his birthday. As the No. 1 overall prospect in the country, Clowney could take this from a very good class to a great class.

TENNESSEE

Commitments: 26. Four-star and above players: 8. ESPNU 150 players: 5.

Waiting on: OT Antonio Richardson, DT Gabe Wright, LB Lamar Dawson, DT Tim Jernigan, DE Leon Mackey.

The buzz: The Vols are closing with a flurry, reeling in tight end Cameron Clear and linebacker Curt Maggitt on Tuesday and coveted junior college cornerback Byron Moore on Monday. Quarterback Justin Worley is already enrolled in school, and there’s a chance to add three more four-star prospects when Richardson, Wright and Jernigan announce their decisions on Wednesday.

VANDERBILT

Commitments: 16. Four-star and above players: 0. ESPNU 150 players: 0.

Waiting on: QB Josh Grady, RB Jerron Seymour, WR Kameron Jackson, TE Darien Bryant, S Adrian Amos.

The buzz: First-year Vanderbilt coach James Franklin and his staff have been plenty busy. Defensive lineman Barron Dixon of Alpharetta, Ga., backed out of his commitment with Mississippi State and now plans to sign with Vanderbilt. Grady says Vanderbilt has promised him a chance to play quarterback, and the Commodores are also trying to turn Tennessee commitment and defensive tackle prospect Allan Carson at the last minute.

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