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If Buckeyes want to win it all, stay away from starting true freshmen

By Doug Lesmerises • Feb 9, 2017 at 6:30 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- True freshmen shouldn't start at Ohio State, not at a school where the College Football Playoff is a goal every year. All these freshmen should play, on special teams and in blowouts, because redshirting them is typically pointless.

But start? No.

Starting Michael Jordan on the offensive line last year was a failure of other player development more than a demand to get Jordan on the field. Urban Meyer said as much, though obviously Jordan deserves all the credit in the world for holding down that job.

But start? No.

Not as a plan. At least not from day one. Joey Bosa didn't start from the start. Noah Spence didn't. Ezekiel Elliott didn't. Vonn Bell didn't. Jerome Baker didn't. Nick Bosa didn't. Raekwon McMillan basically shared the middle linebacker job with Curtis Grant in 2014, but he didn't actually start a game.

The 2017 recruiting class includes an exception to the rule.

He's already into football work as an early enrollee because he came in January with his body ready for the college game. Get five seconds into a conversation with him and it's clear he'll be ready mentally and emotionally for what would come as a freshman starter.

He's also the No. 7 overall recruit in this class according to 247sports.com, and the second-highest ranked recruit of the Meyer era at Ohio State, behind only Spence, who was No. 5 in 2012.

He's also coming in at Ohio State's most extreme position of need, and at the same size as the two potential first-round picks the Buckeyes just lost as his spot.

He's Jeffrey Okudah, a cornerback from Texas, and a recruit that everyone knows. This is not a unique opinion. But at Ohio State, I don't want to see true freshmen in critical roles. And I want to see this guy and expect to see him.

Starting, game one, Aug. 31, at Indiana.

"They said they wanted me to come in mentally ready to play as a freshman," Okudah said on National Signing Day. "And they'll get me physically ready."

The fit could not be more ideal for a 6-foot-1, 190-pounder corner, with 6-foot, 192-pound Marcus Lattimore and 6-foot, 195-pound Gareon Conley headed to the NFL. Freshman Shaun Wade is another five-star corner the Buckeyes told to be ready, but he's nearly 15 pounds lighter than Okudah and at first glance doesn't look as physically ready. Junior college transfer Kendall Sheffield will also arrive expecting to start, and veterans Denzel Ward and Damon Arnette return with experience.

Great options.

I'll take Okudah. Ten minutes with him was enough.

He knows this fits him, said he fits the same physical mold as Lattimore, Conley and 2016 first-rounder Eli Apple, with the Buckeyes needing and developing big corners now. The OSU defense that puts corners in one-on-one matchups all day -- just like the NFL -- also attracted Okudah.

"Yes sir, they do a good job of putting corners in position to make plays, with the Rushmen getting to the quarterback and managing reps so you don't just get exhausted," Okudah said.

He knew both the Rushmen nickname for the third-down defensive line group, and the corner rotation the Buckeyes used so well in 2016. He's ready.

Once maybe thinking of receiver in high school and once pegged as a safety, he entertained the idea of following the route of USC's Adoree Jackson, a corner who also played receiver for the Trojans. But then he figured he'd rather master one task. And while playing safety at times, he found himself guarding receivers in recruiting camps and locking them down.

"They were calling me a safety, but I was covering outside receivers and they were having lots of issues, and I was like, 'May as well call me a corner,'" Okudah said. "It just makes sense to put me on that island."

Okudah said he's come under the wing of fifth-year senior defensive end Tyquan Lewis. Good sign.

He said he liked when the tag of big-time recruit was removed upon his OSU arrival and he came just another guy in workouts, because, "I didn't want that tag to begin with." Good sign.

He said he liked Ohio State in recruiting because the Buckeyes didn't promise him a spot in the lineup. Good sign.

The winter workouts are so difficult, Okudah said he thought what was the workout was actually just the warmup to the workout. But he's not the only early enrollee who thought that. He already looks the part. With half a year to prep, he'll live the part by the fall.

"I'm pretty close (to ready) physically," Okudah said. "I tested pretty good with my numbers on the baseline test when we got here. Now I'm catching up with those guys in the weight room, but I don't think I'm too far off."

Could he do it right now? Could he line up and cover the best receiver on the other team?

"I think technique-wise, I'm there to cover a No. 1 receiver," Okudah said. "At the same time, those are grown men, and I'm still catching up developing. When fall comes around, I believe I'll be at that point where I can cover a No. 1 receiver."

You should believe it, too.

Our Buckeye Talk podcast wrapping up National Signing Day, with plenty of Okudah talk. Subscribe at iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher.

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