Garrett Wilson Leads a Talented Group
The Buckeyes return 127 of their 271 receptions from last season, and while that might sound like a lot, 79 of those returning catches belong to Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. The returning tight ends own 23 of the returning receptions, which leaves 25 other receptions mixed among five receivers and four running backs.
Wilson and Olave are certainly a good start at receiver, but it’s just that — a start.
And now with Wilson having moved inside with Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Mookie Cooper this spring, that leaves a grand total of eight catches from guys who are being looked at to cover the other wide spot this year.
Despite the lack of production, Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson is excited about the strides made by senior Jaylen Harris. And if things don’t click out wide with everyone else, Wilson can move right back where he was last year.
“Yeah, yeah. [Wilson] is good enough to go outside, but right now it’s kind of he and Jax and Mookie inside. It’s a little bit more speed. And really good receiver play,” Wilson said.
“And then you got Chris outside. Jaylen Harris has had his best offseason. Really matured and steady. Worked hard, been on the front line. Been the leader of that group. Kind of nice to see him kick up, and there’s some young guys behind him. We got Ellijah Gardiner in there. It’s a good group.”
Crosstraining the Linebackers
Versatility is one way coaches get away with having a lack of depth at certain positions.
When Jim Tressel was the head coach and Jim Bollman was his offensive linemen, they liked recruiting offensive linemen who could play multiple positions. A guy like Jack Mewhort, for instance, could play all five spots on an offensive line, so he was like having two or three offensive linemen on the roster by himself.
This allowed them to sign fewer offensive linemen and use a couple of those spots for skill players or walk-ons or whatever. The problem with that theory, however, is that only one of those three Jack Mewhorts can play at a time, and that’s saying nothing of the guys who never panned out.
Versatility certainly has its strengths, but only if you can get away with it.
Versatility in numbers, however, is where things get a bit more comfortable. This is exactly the situation right now with the Ohio State linebackers. They have lost one starter (Malik Harrison) to the NFL, but still return seven upperclassmen, each of whom can play multiple positions in this defense.
And most of them can play all three.
Considering linebackers coach Al Washington is looking for his best three linebackers and will then put them where they fit best, he isn’t likely to find a combination that won’t fit into the three starting spots.
In fact, in moving guys around this spring, he’s hoping to find many more than just three who can be called upon this season.
“I think what we’re trying to do is try to develop a skill set so that as we go down the season, and we feel one player may be better here or there, they got something to fall back on,” Washington said. “As opposed to just putting them in that situation during the season, because it’s hard.
“So the one takeaway for this year that motivated us in spring is that we do have really talented guys that have a broad skill set. Let’s give them a chance to have experience in different spots so that we can be more flexible as the year goes.”
Familiarity Breeds Contentment
A popular saying in coaching is that players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
This is especially true for new coaches, of which the Buckeyes have a couple this year.
Interestingly, however, none of them are actually unfamiliar.
New quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis has been around the quarterbacks at Ohio State since they’ve been here, so that transition was fairly seamless. And even though new defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs was gone for a couple of years, he had a hand in recruiting most of the guys he is now coaching in the secondary.
The players already on the roster were familiar with him, but it was the recruits — specifically Michigan prospect Cameron Martinez — who had to be brought up to speed.
“I think that the players have confidence because we have a relationship. You can’t coach without a relationship,” Coombs said. “The hardest thing about recruiting Cam Martinez was the timeframe was so tight. How do you develop trust in that short window of time? Well, you’d better spend a lot of time with him in person and on the phone, whatever the rules allow.
“But the other kids, I’ve known Sevyn Banks for a long time. When you start dealing with that, Shaun Wade, it was like going home. We can sit down and talk about anything.”