With freshmen reporting in a little over a week (that feeling is excitement shooting from your soul), it's time to look at which of them might make an immediate impact this year.
Let's begin with possible starters...
• Although I can't imagine Rob Reynolds or Cie Grant losing their jobs, I also can't imagine Mike D'Andrea not cracking the starting lineup. D'Andrea will probably be a middle linebacker down the road, but will get his feet wet at one of the outside spots this year.
So who loses their job? Well, maybe no one. The listed starters, Reynolds and Grant, can rotate with D'Andrea into the two OLB slots and D'Andrea can also fill in for Matt Wilhelm on the inside if needs be.
What kind of impact can D'Andrea have? Similar to the one that Andy Katzenmoyer had in 1996. If you remember, that was Katz' best statistical year by far. Offenses had so many things to worry about from the stacked Buckeye D, that they just let Katzenmoyer roam free.
• Maurice Clarett will rotate with Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall, but by the end of the year, Clarett might be the one getting the bulk of the carries. And even if he's not the "starter," Clarett is sure to make a big impact considering how much Jim Tressel likes to run the ball... What to take out of this if you are a Buckeye fan? Man, it's good to have a full stable of tailbacks again.
• Derek Morris is another candidate to start, but might be academically ineligible. Morris apparently fell one point short on the ACT and recently re-took the test for the final time. Last week, OSU sports information director Steve Snapp said there was still no word on Morris' situation and Snapp wasn't ready to lean one way or the other. I don't understand how Morris would be able to re-take the test so late (usually June is the cut-off), but hopefully he did and was able to pass this time... If Morris does make the grade, he'll be on the two-deep at worst. The Bucks have five solid offensive linemen, but an injury to any of them, or ineffectiveness, would put Morris in the lineup. For example, if something happens to Bryce Bishop, Shane Olivea could be moved from left tackle to right guard and Morris could fill in for Olivea. Or, if Ivan Douglas has some injury problems pop up, Morris could slip in at right tackle. But, none of this matters if Morris doesn't qualify, of course.
Now let's talk about the freshmen who will contribute off the bench.
• Everything that was said about Morris (minus the academics) could also be said for Doug Datish. He will be on the two-deep the minute he steps on campus and could find his way in the starting lineup by the end of the year. Datish is a natural tackle, but can also play guard.
• Like I've said before, I don't think Justin Zwick will start and I don't think he'll redshirt. Zwick is likely to spend his freshman season as the backup, or third-stringer, but will get plenty of chances to play against the likes of Kent State, San Jose State, Indiana and Northwestern. This will allow him to get his feet wet and make a run at the starting job next year.
• Many are predicting that EJ Underwood will start, but the chances of him beating out four of the five "veteran" corners (Dustin Fox, Rich McNutt, Harlen Jacobs, Bobby Britton and Chris Conwell) just don't seem very good to me. My guess is that Underwood will be on the two-deep, which means he still has to beat out two of the five. Either way, Underwood is sure to see the field a lot, especially with the way Texas Tech, Washington State and Cincinnati like the throw the ball.
• Mike Kudla has made the transition from linebacker to defensive end and is another guy who will find himself on the field right away. He will play a similar role of the one Simon Fraser played last year and might get a few more snaps than Fraser did. Ironically, Kudla's playing time will largely depend on how well Fraser plays this year.
• I was expecting big things from Quinn Pitcock until he had his gall bladder removed. Now, I'm still expecting big things from him. The Buckeyes have one of the best defensive lines in the nation, but really only have two true D-Tackles in Tim Anderson and Marcus Green (maybe three if you include David Thompson, who at 280 pounds isn't a true DT in my book). Anyway, if Pitcock is fully recovered from his surgery, look for big contributions off the bench.
• Bobby Carpenter is versatile just like D'Andrea and will provide quality depth at the outside and inside spots. Carpenter could also be one of these guys who ends up being a special teams demon as a freshman.
• RJ Coleman might be the most underrated player in this class and will see the field this year. There is some talk that Coleman could be moved to the offensive or defensive line sometime in his career, but right now, I like him as one of Ben Hartsock's backups at tight end, along with Ryan Hamby.
• If Coleman isn't the most underrated, then Joel Penton is. Penton played linebacker and defensive end in high school, but will likely be a D-End/D-Tackle in college, much like Darrion Scott and Kenny Peterson. Penton could be redshirted, but just because the D-Line doesn't have too many holes to fill. My guess is that he'll play a limited role off the bench.
• Roy Hall is a guy who I'd like to see redshirted, just because the Bucks are stacked at wide receiver, but he might be too talented to keep off the field. Hall will have to beat out guys like Bam Childress, John Hollins and Angelo Chattams if he wants to see some playing time behind Chris Vance, Mike Jenkins and Chris Gamble.
That's a total of 12 guys who won't be redshirted, meaning the rest of the class will. Twelve true freshmen getting playing time actually seems a little high, but I'm going to stick with that. After all, we aren't going to see many recruiting classes better than this one.