I Was Just Thinking: The Ohio State Receivers

Johnnie Dixon Ohio State Football Buckeyes

First off, yes, this is the best name I could come up with for a standard “thoughts” piece that every writer does. I’m guessing nobody else has used this title though, so that’s good.

The reason I wanted to write about the Ohio State receivers today is plentifold. Last week, on my podcast Accost the Field I was asked the following question: “Ohio State will win a national championship if…” And my answer was that the Buckeyes would win it all if Zone 6 is as good as they should be.

Basically, if the Ohio State receivers are the playmakers that the team needs, then I think they’ll win it all.

That might not sound like good news to the fans, especially when you consider there are a grand total of 59 career receptions between every current Ohio State receiver and just five total touchdowns. The fate of a national title is a heavy burden to carry for any position group, especially one that is as unproven and magnetic to criticism as this one.

It’s an easy group to doubt. In fact, to believe that they are going to emerge as one of the nation’s best groups of receivers absolutely takes a leap of faith. But this is Ohio State and some type of leap of faith takes place with every position group every year. That’s where the recruiting comes in, and we’ve all seen how well the Buckeyes have done in that regard.

I think the No. 1 question that I get when I do radio shows or YouTube shows or podcasts is about the receivers and who has stepped up or looked the best. This is a difficult question to answer because when you ask the players or coaches, they all say everybody looks good, but nobody is a finished product. It’s Trickle Down Coachspeak, basically.

So when I’m asked who has stepped up, there are a bunch of different directions to go in. I always start with Parris Campbell, however. He is at the premier receiver position in this offense, and now we’re going to get to see what that looks like in Kevin Wilson’s “director’s cut”. But then you can’t talk about Campbell without talking about the “1B” at H-back in K.J. Hill. Dontre Wilson was last year’s second H-back and he finished third on the team in receptions and yards, so there is still plenty of action available for a second H-back.

A third H-back can even get some time, as Hill showed a year ago. Don’t forget, that was him scoring the Buckeyes’ first touchdown of the season in 2016. That third H-back right now is probably Demario McCall, who also showed some highlight moments in 2016. What should we expect from him in 2017? More of the same.

And then you’ve got somebody like this, who is now sitting at fourth on the depth chart at H-back.

Granted, Eric Glover-Williams picked up all of about 1.5 yards after the catch, but it took four guys to bring him down, and he made the first three defenders whiff. As Kerry Coombs said last week, “Eric Glover-Williams can make you miss in a Port-o-Let.”

The Buckeye receivers have faced some very tough and consistent and fair criticism, but when a guy who can do what EGW did above and is still behind three other players at his position, things can’t be all that bad.

The season won’t come down to receivers who are asked to get open against linebackers and safeties, however. It’s going to come down to the guys on the outside getting open and making plays against talented cornerbacks.

Those players have been receiving glowing reviews as well. Everybody on this team will tell you that Johnnie Dixon finally looks like the player he was always promised to be. He is explosive in and out of cuts, he can get deep, he’s an improving blocker, and he’s hungry. That’s a lot to work with. And if you ask him who the best deep threat on the team has been, he’ll tell you Terry McLaurin. (And he wouldn’t be alone.)

We’ve heard the McLaurin stuff each of the last two years, but never really saw it in action on the field. This year, however, the mentality is to allow the receivers a chance to make a play, which is something that J.T. Barrett was reticent to do a year ago. Now he’s being told to let it fly, while also being told to let it fly in a position to best be caught by a teammate.

We’re also seeing more and more of Trevon Grimes in the practice highlights being released by Ohio State. He keeps getting better and better and he is improving now at a good pace. Urban Meyer said he is on the verge of making the travel squad at this point. I don’t know if Grimes is working at Z behind McLaurin and Dixon, but it would give them a unique body and skill set there if they choose to do that.

The other outside spot is being shared between Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack, and this is another spot where hype has been built by teammates and coaches. But how much faith do you put in a duo that has just six career catches? Zach Smith says Mack is still on pace to be a great receiver, and the defensive backs have all said he’s a different player than he was a year ago. Then you have Victor, with his 6-foot-4 frame and 7-foot wingspan. Meyer and Smith have both said he’s got more potential than any receiver they’ve ever had, so it’s easy to expect something special from him this year.

That’s nine names that I’ve gone through for a rotation that is only supposed to be six players. With Kevin Wilson’s tempo, however, having more receivers mixing in and out can only be a good thing.

I believe the receivers are the answer to OSU’s title hopes. Others will say quarterback J.T. Barrett, but I’m of the opinion that if he’s not productive in this offense and it is deemed his fault, he’ll be replaced by the time a second loss comes along.

If the receivers aren’t hitting, however, there’s nowhere else to go — except back to the running game, and probably “J.T. Left” and “J.T. Right”.

Look, I completely understand having reservations about Zone 6. I know plenty of you don’t have faith in Zach Smith to get the job done. I see your emails and tweets and posts. I’ll address that more in this week’s Accost the Field, if you’re interested.

Overall, though, I just think it’s time for some of that potential to start putting up numbers. There is a good combination of young talent in Victor and Mack, and older talent in Campbell, McLaurin, and Dixon.

Ohio State has never gone all that long without having several dynamic wide receivers on the team, which is another reason for me to believe they’re already here, and we’re going to get to see exactly what they are capable of this season.

12 Responses

  1. One factor that may help the WR’s in 2017 is the presence of Brian Hartline. Smith has proven that he can recruit, but many of us question his ability to teach the position. Hartline knows the intricacies of playing the position having been a successful NFL WR without tremendous god-given talent.

  2. A 6-man rotation, let alone a 9-man rotation, is a prescription for underachievement and a sign of a coach who can’t make a decision. I’ve said for some time that Smith is the weak link (probably the only one now that Laurel and Hardy are gone) of this coaching staff and I continue to believe so.

    It’s very difficult to have an effective passing game without timing and familiarity. A big rotation builds neither. I hope I’m proven wrong but the only hope I see is that the Wilson O will cause so much stress on the opposing D that it will create larger gaps and therefore larger windows. I hope that’s the case.

  3. I’ll be watching Noah Brown at Dallas this year with some interest. I wonder if he could get separation against those weak pro defenses. I realize that those defenses don’t compare to the loaded rosters of Bowling Green, Rutgers etc etc etc……..but so far he doesn’t seem to have separation problems at Dallas. Wonder if some of those “post” 2014 receivers are glad to be away from the mighty unshakable secondaries of the Big 10 and mid tier and below rosters. I’m sure that Michael Thomas is breathing that same sigh of relief that Noah seems to be taking thus far in the pros.

    The problem hasn’t been receivers at Ohio State.

  4. If they could not run or catch they would no be there. Can they block? Can they sustain a block? If so that 10 yard pass can easily get the team 50.

  5. Ok, I have heard this before, that our receivers just need to play better but when I watch video of past games I see open receivers but JT is consistently not seeing them or waiting to throw until they are significantly open. The last two spring practices combined with last years performance by JT has shown that he has trouble throwing accurately into tight spaces. He has done it at times but it appears he lacks the confidence to do it consistently so he holds the ball often too long.

  6. I agree that the receivers are important. We know the natural talent (speed, elusiveness) is there. Consistency catching the ball is the unknown. I also think the offensive line is just as important. Give J T time and he will complete passes.

    1. I personally think the receivers are rock solid, and have been rock solid. They just don’t have anyone to get them the ball.

    1. I think your first comment has to be approved so that we can prove you’re not a bot. I’m still not convinced tho. 😉

    2. Okay Gerd, I now see my comment. Thanks! Actually, I agree that if every one does their job, then the Buckeyes will win. There’s just too much talent not to be a winner!

  7. That is probably true about the receivers, however if the Offensive Line can’t hold an oncharding Defensive Line, then our Qb’s won’t have time to find any open receivers no matter how good the receivers and passes are. This was the case the last two years in my opinion. Our O L wasn’t doing the job well enough far too often especially in those critical games.. It looks like this year’s O L has more experience and is better prepared, so the passing game should show up much better this year if the receivers are as good as it seems they are. If these two things go well, I believe the Buckeyes will go far this year, assuming the run game continues as good or better than the past. I don’t see hardly any other team’s defense that will be as good as the Buckeye defense. GO BUCKEYES!

  8. Hope you’re right, Gerd. All the potential in the world doesn’t mean a hill of beans if they can’t do it on the road against the best – and no one in this group, especially Zach Smith, has shown they can…YET!

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