Young Wideouts Improving

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Established October 31, 1996
Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 08/25/2011 7:39 AM

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Young Receivers Making Up for Lost Time
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was not a good spring for Ohio State’s young wide receivers.

Senior DeVier Posey seemed to be all over the field making plays for the Buckeyes, but he won’t be allowed on the field until week six of the regular season. Team MVP Dane Sanzenbacher won’t be out there at all, seeing as he is now playing for the Chicago Bears.

Verlon Reed
Photo by Jim Davidson
Verlon Reed

That left a young group of wideouts to fill some pretty big shoes in the spring, while also helping to bring along the most inexperienced group of quarterbacks Ohio State has had in years.

It didn’t go well, and as the dropped passes began to mount, so did the questions.

“We already expected it,” said redshirt freshman Verlon Reed.

“We only have one returning starter, and with the suspension going on, the only person we got were Philly Brown and Chris Fields who got a little bit of attention last year.”

Outside of Posey, the elder statesman of the group is Fields, a redshirt sophomore from the class of 2009. With that in mind, not many people were expecting much from this group, especially until Posey’s return in week six.

“First of all, we had it in our mindset to prove ourselves to the team before we prove ourselves to anyone,” Reed said.

“So we call ourselves 'the trendsetters', 'the tone setters', for practice, for whatever. To make sure everyone feeds off of our energy and then the country will see that as well.”

Those who have been out to an Ohio State practice this fall have already seen a change in this group. What once looked liked one of the biggest weaknesses of the team has quietly become a strength for the Buckeyes as they head into the 2011 season.

“I'm telling you, this camp everyone has been impressive,” said Reed.

“I'm not going to name any names, but when the season starts everyone will see how hard we've been working.”

The Buckeyes have to replace the nearly 1,800 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns that Sanzenbacher and Posey accounted for last season—at least until Posey returns—but new receivers coach Stan Drayton is much more optimistic about his group’s chances than he was in the spring.

“These kids have come out here and are working their butts off,” he said.

“They’re working hard in everything they do. They’re a very conscientious group; they’re not afraid to confront their weaknesses.”

But how have they been able to do it?

Emergence of Verlon Reed

Verlon Reed
Photo by Jim Davidson
Verlon Reed

One big reason to feel optimistic about this receiver group is the emergence of Verlon Reed, who went from an unknown commodity in the spring to a probable starter in the fall.

The former high school quarterback from Marion Franklin was labeled as Jim Tressel’s dark horse candidate in the spring, but he’s got everyone’s attention now.

“Verlon Reed has been very steady,” Drayton said.

“He has some big play ability and we expect him to be that kind of a guy for us. We want to be able to give him the ball and make something happen after the catch for us as well.”

As a legitimate 6-foot, 200-pound receiver, Reed has the size and strength the Buckeyes need while Posey is suspended. He has good hands, excellent body control and he is capable of making the big catch in traffic, something classmate T.Y. Williams has struggled to do this fall.

Progress of Philly Brown and Chris Fields

Corey Brown
Photo by Dan Harker
Corey Brown

Another reason the receiver group has made such a big jump this fall is the progress made by both Philly Brown and Chris Fields. With Posey and Boom Herron suspended, Brown is actually the team’s third-best returning pass-catcher from a year ago (behind Jake Stoneburner and Reid Fragel).

He caught eight passes for 105 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman in 2010, but struggled to come down with some of the big catches that were within his grasp down the field.

“I can really count one hand the amount of times he’s let the ball get to his body (this fall),” Drayton said.

“So that’s the improvement you’re going to see.”

It has paid off, as Brown as been one of the team’s most explosive offensive weapons in camp. Cornerback Bradley Roby called him the hardest guy to cover because of his speed and quickness, but Fields has also done a good job catching the ball out of the slot.

Transition of Jordan Hall

Jordan Hall
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jordan Hall

That is also where Jordan Hall has done a lot of his work this fall. The team’s No. 3 tailback from a year ago could start the season as the No. 1 back while Herron is out, but that won’t be his only role.

With so many other capable backs in their backfield, the Buckeyes are lining Hall up in the slot to get him out in space.

“He is a running back, but he creates so many different matchup problems for defenses when we put him out in the slot,” Drayton said of the junior out of Jeannette, Pa.

“(He is) just really natural in understanding coverage and can avoid reroutes by linebackers. If you get a guy like that in space against a linebacker you have to feel good about that.”

Addition of Devin Smith and Evan Spencer

Evan Spencer
Photo by Jim Davidson
Evan Spencer

The Buckeyes also have to feel good about what they have seen from their two freshmen receivers this fall. Both Devin Smith and Evan Spencer are big targets who have the ability to go up and get the ball.

There was a definite learning curve early in camp, but both have tried to soak up the offense this fall. They have been impressive in practice and both Smith and Spencer have put themselves in position to be a factor on the field this fall.

“I think that position has a chance to be deeper than it’s been for years,” Offensive Coordinator Jim Bollman said.

That’s a far cry from where this group was in the spring, but it’s clear they are making up for lost time.

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