|The Skinny: On Sept. 1, 2010, Ball|
became Ohio State's second verbal commitment in the recruiting class of
picked up a scholarship from the Buckeyes during the spring then put on
a show at the OSU summer camp. During the camp Ball demonstrated his
not only catch the football, but to look like a wide receiver in doing
His size and speed make him a versatile prospect allowing the Buckeyes
plenty of flexibility once Ball arrives on campus in the fall of 2012.
Last fall Ball missed four games with a groin pull but still managed to
rush for over 700 yards and eight touchdowns for DeSales, who advanced
to the 2009 Ohio Division III state championship game. Ball rushed just
five times for 17 yards in that contest.
Strengths: Versatility certainly comes to mind when watching
Ball's sophomore highlights. He lines up as a wide receiver, a wing in
the DeSales' option offensive formations and in the backfield when the
Stallions use a one-back offensive formation...he also returns kicks...quick
to accelerate through the holes or in his breaks when running routes...lots
of power in his upper body and he knows how to deliver a blow when using
a stiff-arm against a defender...terrific vision...doesn't waste an effort
dancing around a hole...takes the hand-off, looks up field and gets there
in a hurry...doesn't show it on film, but his pass catching skills were
evident at Ohio State's summer camp...has the ability to change directions
withouth losing speed.
Areas for Improvement: Because DeSales loves to run the
football, Ball will be challenged to develop as a blocker in passing situations...his
size and strength should make for an easy transition...Ball is so advanced
as a ball carrier there aren't many physical improvements he'll need to make
at the college level, instead it will be quickly learning a new offensive
system and adjusting to the speed of the game.
Outlook: Ball is among best running backs Ohio has produced
in the last decade. He doesn't have the power of a Chris Wells or the elusiveness
of a Tyrell Sutton, but like former Buckeye Maurice Clarett, Ball possesses
many of the traits that allow running backs to excel in college. He has excellent
speed and vision, he has a powerful lower body and devastating strength in
his upper body. He has wide receiver size and hands but the agility of a
Ball's biggest challenge when he arrives in Columbus won't be to acclimate
himself to the speed of the college game. No doubt that will be an adjustment,
but he'll have to learn an offensive system that forces running backs to
do more than just take a handoff and score touchdowns. He'll have to learn
to pass block and pick up blitzes and to adjust on the fly based on what
the defense shows. He doesn't do much, if any, of that at DeSales.
If things don't work out at running back, Ball certainly possesses the tools
to play wide receiver in college. In fact, he could be even more dangerous
catching passes downfield.
When Rivals.com publishes its first class of 2012 rankings Ball is a likely
candidate for the Rivals100 and a sure-fire high four-star prospect, with
the possibility of reaching five-star status.
The Skinny: Considered one of the elite defensive back prospects in the country, Pickerington Central's Eliar Hardy is a Rivals250 member and the 12th overall safety in Rivals.com's class of 2011 rankings. Hardy is also ranked by Ohio Varsity as the 3rd overall defensive back in the class. The 6-foot, 170-pounder put together a terrific junior season in which he recorded 70 tackles, three interceptions and scored five times on offense. He cemented his status as an top-tier prospect with a banner performance at the Columbus NIKE Camp in May and an all-star worthy performance at the Gridiron Kings 7-on-7 in late July.
Hardy picked up prestigious offers from programs across the entire United State including Arizona, Cincinnati, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan State, Notre Dame, West Virginia and Wisconsin. However, it was new Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly's persistence that eventually hooked Hardy on his second visit to South Bend and he committed to the Fighting Irish in late June.
His film reveals a multi-faceted playmaker with outstanding field vision.
Strengths: Extremely productive player who plays both the pass and run equally well
Has good height and a frame to add some bulk
Fluid runner who covers ground in a hurry with long, effortless strides
Has a ball-hawk mentality and quickly will diagnose a play and get there in a flash
Very strong in run-support, especially on the edge
Effective on safety blitzes
Fundamental tackler who will break down and square up a ball-carrier
Is a threat with the ball in his hands and could contribute in the return game at the college level.
Areas for Improvement: Must add some upper body muscle and strength
Doesn't have a lot of experience playing on an island in one-on-one situations as he is more of a free-lance safety at PC
Needs more seasoning in press coverage techniques
Will have to improve hip fluidity and backpedal agility should he make the move to cornerback at Notre Dame.
Outlook: Hardy has been considered one of the top defensive back prospects in Ohio for the better part of two years due to his superb production and ability to serve as a reliable playmaker both as a willing tackler and pass defender. His high school team, Pickerington Central, has been one of the top Division I (big school) programs in the state over the past two seasons and have made deep playoff runs largely on the strength of impenetrable defensive units. Put it all together and Hardy is arguably the best player on one of the best defenses in the state. That is a strong endorsement of his talents.
The area that differentiates Hardy from most high school defensive backs is his aggressive run support skills. Despite being long and lean, he has uncanny ability to come up into the box and make a plethora of plays against the run. This is often the contrary to players of his stature who are more inclined to be pass defenders first and foremost and tacklers only when necessary. Hardy is at his best when he lines up just outside the box about three to five yards off the line of scrimmage as a rover/monsterback type of defender. It allows him to come up in run support in the box, drop into the intermediate passing zones, or even blitz off the edge. His film shows him making plays in each of the aforementioned roles, showing off his versatility. His best highlights, in my opinion, were those where he diagnoses a run play and comes up to meet the ball carrier at or behind the line of scrimmage. That type of reaction and willingness to deliver a blow separates average safeties from very good ones.
Despite his run-stuffing talents, there has been talk that Hardy could slide over to the cornerback position once he steps foot in South Bend next year. It's a move that several of the schools that were recruiting Hardy prior to his commitment considered, so Notre Dame isn't the only program that sees him as a potential cornerback rather than his current safety slot. The payoff for a successful move to cornerback would be having a tall, athletic defender out on the edge that would help neutralize the bigger, physical receivers that have tortured Notre Dame secondaries in the recent past. Last season, for example, Pitt's 6-foot-5 wideout Jonathan Baldwin torched the Irish secondary for 142 yards. Having a taller athletic corner like Hardy could help prevent performances like that in the future.
Whether or not a move to cornerback is the best move for Hardy is debatable. I'm not sold on the idea just because I believe by doing so you are limiting his best attributes. Hardy isn't a defensive back who is at his best locking down a team's top receiver, but rather one who can help hold down the fort in several different facets as previously described. That isn't to say he doesn't have the talents or ability to match up one-on-one with an opposing receiver, but putting him out on the edge limits his ability to play the run near the line of scrimmage, reduces his blitz opportunities, and forces him out of his "comfort zone" in the intermediate passing lanes.
When you watch Hardy's highlight tape closely, there are very few plays of him playing outside locking up on a wide receiver or even in him playing a deep cover two. The clips of him defending against the pass show him dropping into the 10-15 yard zone and reading the quarterback's eyes and making strong breaks on the ball. In the offseason Hardy performed admirably in one-on-one situations in camp settings and was a force in 7-on-7 games where he was playing against the pass every down, so that proves he can evolve into a cornerback. Still, however, I don't think it is necessarily his top strengths. He'll have to develop new skills, new techniques, and improve his hips and backpedal. Although both classified under the all-encompassing "defensive back" grouping, safety and cornerback are not the same and require different skill sets in order to succeed.
Regardless of where he ends up, Hardy should prove to be a very big pickup for Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish. His versatility is key and he should be able to immediate pay dividends on special teams where he has shined at Pickerington Central. Expect him to be a dominant player during his senior season in 2010 and enter Notre Dame with a chance to see the field as a true freshman.