Special thanks to John (TelePunk5) for doing a fantastic job on the Signing Day coverage today. The man stepped up and provided great coverage while I was chained to a desk. The lesson as always: Never graduate and get a "real job".
Another signing day has come and gone and Coach Danny Hope has now completed his second class since taking over for Joe Tiller. There were no hints of a Battle Royale between him and RichRod, though after Isaiah Williams changed his mind and went to Wisconsin there should be some interesting words said to Bret Bielema when the Badgers come to Ross-Ade next season. Naturally, it will be tough to place a final evaluation on this class because they haven't even arrived on campus yet. On paper though, it looks like it will have more of an instant impact that Tiller's final few classes.
I think that is the biggest difference between Danny Hope and Joe Tiller's recruiting style. Tiller wanted to get guys here and have them in the system for a few years before they really contributed. For every Dorien Bryant and Kyle Orton that played extensively as a true freshmen there were tons of players like Jared Zwilling and Cory Benton who took their time to get to the field. We saw last season that Coach Hope is not afraid to play guys early. Al-Terek McBurse burned his redshirt midway through the season and showed some of his explosiveness against Indiana. A few freshman wide receivers played some, but that was mostly out of necessity.
Necessity will be a big reason that some in this class will play immediately, mostly because of our depleted secondary. This class is not vastly different than previous classes. We did not have legions of four and five star talent sign, but there were several more three stars than in past years. Those are the types of players that are solid and can build a program into bigger names. Besides, isn't some three star no name quarterback playing this weekend in the Super Bowl? What about that two-star tight end that was a first round draft pick and had three big touchdowns here in the playoffs?
I am not sure what to call this class. Much of it will be developmental and end up redshirting simply because of the experience in front of them. Still, there is speed and talent to burn. It is definitely better than the last few years. Others will certainly see the field early. Let's take a look at all of them.
O.J. Ross - WR - Daytona (Mainland), FL - He doesn't have much size, but this was our lone four-star pickup and he has blazing speed. We may be seeing the return of Dorien Bryant in terms of having a blazing fast and productive slot receiver. Ross is supposed to have great hands too. As we all know, DB had some problems with drops even as his career progressed. Even his final game he had two balls that went right through his hands and became interceptions. Ross allegedly has 4.4 speed and some good size on his frame. He could play in the slot immediately and move Keith Smith outside where he would be a nightmare for smaller corners.
Bruce Gaston Jr. - DT - Chicago (St. Rita), IL - This was one of our late verbals that was a pretty big deal last week. He was the last player to get a full Welcome to the Fold profile as well. I could see him redshirting, but he has the size to be a Big Ten Defensive tackle right now. If he works hard this summer and comes to camp ready he might take Mike Neal's position. If he does, we're set at defensive tackle for three years with Kawann Short at the other spot. Don't forget some of the other guys we already have, either.
Michael Eargle - DB - Lackawanna Community College - Eargle gets a bump here because he is already enrolled and will go through spring practice. That gives him a jump on every other new DB for one of the starting spots. It is rare that a JuCo receives three stars, but Dwight McLean only got two and started immediately. I think Eargle may see more time at corner, but he is not undersized there like Chris Clopton. Plus, the dude's nickname really needs to be Black Lavender.
E.J. Johnson - DB - Cocoa, FL - This kid received probably the best coverage this past year because Florida Today always had video of the Tigers. He is also the starting safety on a two-time state champion in the state of Florida. A ball-hawk, he was dangerous after he picked it off too. I think a starting pair of safeties with him and Albert Evans is highly possible, especially now that the Chris Kramer rumors are cooling.
Antoine Lewis - DB - Maywood, IL - I don't know a whole lot about Lewis, but I am placing him here because of our lack of depth at defensive back and the fact he is one of the higher rated commits at this position. I would have preferred Jhonny Faustin, but Faustin was an academic casualty.
Jack DeBoef - OL - State College, PA - We need a new center and there are two other offensive line positions open, so DeBoef could compete. You certainly can't teach 6'8". Ken Plue is a recent example of a true freshman playing on the line for us, but that is more the exception than the rule.
Will Lucas - LB - Lakeland, FL - This is another guy that is already enrolled and on campus for spring practice. There is a ton of experience in front of him as five linebackers will return with experience, but Lucas is a winner from one of the best high school programs in the country. We saw what Beckford and Higgs were able to do with one spring practice last season, so why not?
Ricardo Allen - DB - Daytona (Mainland), FL - Part of the Mainland quartet of players, Allen was the highest rated defensive back in the class. It will be something if he can come in and compete immediately for playing time against some guys that have been here at least a year such as Chris Quinn. Allen is another burner with sub 4.5 speed, but he is only 5'9"
Cody Webster - P - Harrisburg (Central Dauphin East), PA - Webster was recruited specifically with the open punting job in mind, so of this second group he has the best shot of playing early. He is coming off of a shoulder injury suffered this season when he was playing wide receiver. Still, he was named as an all-state punter in Pennsylvania, and his mom is an avid reader of Hammer & Rails that has e-mailed me personally. She provides video today of Cody signing his letter of intent because she is an awesome mom like that.
CD East's Cody Webster signs letter of intent
Likely redshirting, but may surprise:
Sean Robinson - QB -Rochester, IL - I would be stunned if he won the starting job, but as I outlines about two weeks ago, he could compete to be the #2 guy on the depth chart. Ideally, I think a redshirt year would help him greatly and set him up as a potential 3-year starter after Marve's departure. He has size, running ability, and solid leadership skills. Think Kyle Orton with more mobility, but he'll likely need to work on his passing. Fortuantely, we can afford him that luxury this season.
Rashad Frazier - DE - Middletown, OH - This was another late commitment, but he has enough size that I could see him getting into the rotation at defensive end. Gerald Gooden and Ryan Kerrrigan are the starters there, but they do need backups. At 6'6" 225 he could use some more muscle, but it is still a decent size. Give him a year and I think he would be good against both the run and the pass.
Charles Torwudzo - WR - Brownsburg, IN - Chuck T was our first official commit of this class and he never waivered. It has been awhile since we have had a tall receiver like him, so we could utilize him for some positive matchups. His chances of seeing the field early were increased with the loss of Jeremy Cornelius (academics) and Isaiah Williams (Wisconsin). That left Torwudzo as the only big receiver in this class. Hopefully he won't follow the path of the last receiver with his height: Selwyn Limon. At least I noticed Nick's was no longer open on my last trip to campus.
Joe Gilliam - LB - Southport, IN - Gilliam was a major reason that Southport turned its football program around the last two seasons. Already 6'3" 205, he looks like a Big Ten linebacker. I expect him to redshirt because of the depth in front of him already, but I suppose he could surprise.
De'Ron Flood - TE - O'Fallon, IL - This is another kid who is already on campus and will go through spring football, but we have Kyle Adams, Colton McKey, Jeff Panfil, and Jeff Lindsay sitting in front of him. Gabe Holmes (a holdover from last year) is here with him and I expect both Holmes and Flood to redshirt because of all those guys in front of him, but since he is already here you never know.
Chevin Davis - WR - Daytona (Mainland), FL - Our second Mainland receiver and third player from that team, Davis has seen his stock rise since he committed verbally to Purdue. I think there are too many receivers in front of him with experience, especially all the Florida guys who redshirted last year, but you never know. Davis is a little bigger than Ross, so he could see the field early.
Jon Linkenheimer - K - Daytona (Mainland, FL) - Linkenheimer agreed to come late last week, making the Mainland trio a quartet. He might play immediately as a kickoff specialist, as was mentioned in his original profile on GBI. When Carson Wiggs can hit from 59 yards I think the job is his for the next two years, but Linkenheimer will either do kickoffs (Wiggs was fine last year) or redshirt and have the job after Wiggs leaves as a 2011 senior. Linkenheimer could jump into the open punter's role too.
Almost certainly redshirting:
Ryan Isaac - DE - Michigan City, IN - Isaac is a bit like Gilliam in that his high school was a doormat in football, but he was part of a turnaround in the program. I think he redshirts simply because there are a lot of better, more polished players in front of him at the moment, but he is still a good pickup. He was good at getting into the backfield and may play more defensive tackle for us.
Josh Davis - DT - Plain City, OH - Like Webster, Davis has a parent that is infinitely cool and has both read and e-mailed Hammer & Rails personally. Davis played both sides of the ball in high school, so I wouldn't totally rule out a move to offense. He has the size for it at 6'6" 270.
Mike Lee - LB - Woodland Hills, PA - Lee played on offense as a tight end, so we may see him on the defensive line rather than at linebacker. He also comes from a traditionally strong program like many of the guys above. That is an underrated aspect of this class. Most of these guys are used to winning and will bring that attitude to the field.
Reggie Pegram - RB - Dallas, TX - Pegram is a big, fast running back that could definitely play for this team in the future. I don't see him getting on the field this year ahead of McBurse, Bolden, and Dierking. He may eventually become a fullback behind Jared Crank, so we'll see.
Ryan Russell - ATH - Carrollton, TX - Williams is a bit of a mystery here. We just know he is a 6'4" 230 pound athlete that played defensive end last year. He was second team all-district last year, but given the depth we have at his likely positions he is most likely going to redshirt.
Normando Harris - DB - Miami (Monsignor Pace), FL - This was one of our later commits but he came aboard when given his offer just a few weeks ago. As I wrote, he is a versatile athlete that also competes in the triple jump and wrestles. That type of pure athleticism could get him to the field early.
Justin Sinz - ATH - Edgar, WI - Sinz was a quarterback in high school, but he is almost certainly going to switch positions at Purdue. He played some defensive back and iss a pretty good basketball player. He was good enough to be named the AP Player of the Year in Wisconsin. I envision him as a monster 6'4" safety roaming the defensive backfield.
Jesse Schmitt - LS - Louisville (Trinity), KY - As John mentioned in the updates, Schmitt enrolled but did not sign today. I don't know if this means he is a preferred walk-on or what. He is supposed to be the best long snapper in this class, so that's a plus.
As I said above, this is a good class as it is better than the past few years. Many of these guys can come in an push last year's class. Even better, they can bring out the best in those guys and improve the team as a whole. I am excited to see these kids develop over the next few years, but I am more excited that this is another step forward for the program as a whole.