Buckeye Football Notebook: ‘He’s the best in the country’

The Most Important Trait

Success in college football can be broken down into two basic components: recruiting and development.

You can’t win without talented players, so it’s best to start out with as much talent as possible. That happens in recruiting. Like most places, Ohio State has a dedicated scouting staff run by Mark Pantoni that looks all over the country for recruits.

They go over the film to identify players with enough talent to play at Ohio State, but it takes more than just talent to be targeted by the Buckeyes.

“It’s not a perfect science,” OSU receivers coach Brian Hartline said last month. “Mark Pantoni and his staff do a phenomenal job of watching a lot of film, and I think honest evals and not necessarily listening to third parties outside the building. But I would say that the type of kid is really, really important. I think that we spend a lot of time on that.”

In terms of what Hartline looks for in recruiting, he has a wide range of physical traits to choose from. Receivers come in a variety of shapes and sizes with different skillsets and specialties. This is true for Ohio State’s receiver room as well, which is why the common denominator in recruiting and scouting comes down to mentality.

“I wouldn’t say there’s any ‘most important trait,'” Hartline explained. “I think if you look around the building, you see a lot of guys do a lot of different things in a lot different ways. So you have to tell me what the most important trait is. I think that the personality and the mental makeup of an athlete, that’s really, really, really important, and probably the most important.”

Hartline’s Newest Fan

Last Tuesday, the Buckeyes landed a verbal commitment from five-star wide receiver Brandon Inniss. That commitment came one day after fellow five-star wide receiver Carnell Tate committed to the Buckeyes (and one day before four-star receiver Noah Rogers committed). Tate and Inniss became the fifth and sixth five-star receivers to commit to Ohio State or sign with the Buckeyes since Brian Hartline took over the receiver room for OSU in 2018.

These commitments have come less than two months after Ohio State sent receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave into the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. And nobody expects those two to be the last of the first-round receivers currently on the Buckeye roster.

Hartline’s performance on the recruiting trail and in his receiver room has become “old hat” to those who have been around as long as he has, but to a new arrival like defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, he couldn’t be more impressed.

“He’s great. I mean, he’s the best in the country and that shows up,” Knowles said. “There’s a saying in our business, ‘what you see is what you coach,’ so there’s nobody better than him in terms of the product that he puts on the field.”

But that’s not the only thing about Hartline that has impressed Knowles.

“I love the way he dresses,” he said. “He’s a snappy dresser and he looks sharp and he just looks like you’d want a great wide receiver coach and offensive coach to look and I’m glad to be on his team.”

The Routine For The Not-So-Routine

Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud may have had the greatest season for a QB in Buckeye history last season. He threw for 4,435 yards with 44 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing a school-record 71.9% of his passes. And he did it all in just 12 games.

But even though the season ended with a win in the Rose Bowl, Stroud’s season wasn’t all wine and roses. He struggled a bit early in the season, with “struggle” being a relative term to how well the position had been played the previous three seasons by Justin Fields and Dwayne Haskins.

Stroud eventually got right and then he took off. He capped his first season as a starter with a win against Utah in the Rose Bowl where he threw for 573 yards and six touchdowns.

He made it look easy, and in order to do so, Stroud approaches every snap the same way.

“My routine, first of all I just like to look at the roof, which is the safeties. Two-high or one-high,” he explained this spring. “A lot of teams are getting clever with holding it until the play. So if they’re doing that, then I kind of just have to respect it. Then I’m going down to the front, trying to see what front they’re in. Four-down, three-down, odd, bear, split. Things like that. Split mugs. Just trying to see what my — if it’s protection, what my tools are, and one in the tool kit that I have is 60/50 (6-man, 5-man) protection.

“I’m trying to see who’s telling if it’s zone or man. Trying to see if there’s pressure, zone fire, or if it’s a man blitz. So I’m just trying to see different things like that so I can look through my reads. And post-snap, I’m confirming all that, going back to the safeties. I don’t really try to look at the line of scrimmage because I think that will get you caught up trying to see that. So really seeing safety coverage and just trying to go from there.”

Picking A Kicker

The Buckeyes are one of the few teams nationally with three scholarship place-kickers. In fact, they may be the only team.

Ohio State returns last year’s starter Noah Ruggles, who was fantastic, hitting 20-of-21 field goal attempts and all 74 extra point attempts. This will be Ruggles’ last season with the Buckeyes. He spent the spring away from the team but has returned to handle the starting kicker job should he win the battle in fall camp.

As to what kind of impact missing the spring could have on Ruggles, OSU special teams coordinator Parker Fleming isn’t overly concerned.

“He didn’t join the team last year until June,” Fleming said last month. “And so he’s an older guy, he’s mature, he can take care of himself. And that’s something he was doing the entire time he wasn’t with us.”

Redshirt sophomore Jake Seibert also returns. Seibert made all 16 extra point attempts in 2020 and 1-of-2 field goal attempts. He didn’t attempt any kicks in 2021. This spring, the Buckeyes also added USC transfer Parker Lewis, who made 17-of-22 field goal attempts last year and put 79% of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.

It’s an unusually deep group of kickers, and even though you might see Ruggles handle most placements and somebody like Lewis handle longer kicks and kickoffs, it all creates competition.

“I think all competition is good competition,” Fleming said. “I think that our job here is to make sure that we get the best out of our players every day. The motto around here is ‘Fight.’ Fight to be the best version of yourself every day. And in some places, the best possible way to do that is to compete. And sometimes competition against yourself is really good. Sometimes competition against other people brings the best out of everybody. And that’s kind of our mindset around here.”