Final Post-Spring Overview — Wide Receivers
By Tony Gerdeman
There was never a secret that 2011 was going to be a rough year for the Ohio State wide receivers. Team MVP Dane Sanzenbacher was gone, Devier Posey was going to miss five games, and then miss five more, and the quarterbacks throwing the ball to a very young group of pass catchers weren't necessarily qualified to do so.
It was a perfect storm of recipes for disaster in the cliché soup that was the 2011 football season.
The talk last Spring was whether playmakers would emerge. Different players had their moments throughout practices, so there was hope that Ohio State would find reliable receivers, which they had always seemed to do before.
The problem, however, was the passing offense was even more limited at quarterback than it was at receiver.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Though even with a better passing game, the injuries at receiver still would have taken some type of toll. Both Corey Brown and Verlon Reed, who were the team's two best eligible receivers, missed multiple games. Five different Buckeyes started at receiver during the regular season in 2011, and none of them were leading receiver Devin Smith.
Last year was a lost season for the Buckeyes, and it's beyond time for these receivers to start finding themselves.
Urban Meyer came in lamenting the lack of playmakers at receiver, and hasn't really stopped since he's been here. Last year, the Ohio State wide receivers accounted for 65 total receptions. This year, it wouldn't be outrageous for a single receiver to approach that number, or better it.
With Verlon Reed still out with a knee injury, the Buckeyes entered the Spring down a man who should make an impact in 2012, though it would allow other receivers to get a better look than they might have otherwise.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Much is expected of Corey Brown, who was recruited by Meyer at Florida. He fits Meyer's mold of receivers who can do more than just catch the football. Rising sophomores Devin Smith and Evan Spencer are more traditional pass catchers. Spencer can move the chains and Smith can move the meter.
Tyrone Williams will be a redshirt sophomore this season, and while his 6'6” size makes him a mismatch, all of his other elements tend to even the odds. Rising junior Chris Fields will be looking to be more than “just a guy” this season.
Michael Thomas is the only freshman receiver to enroll early, and with everyone having a clean slate, he'll have as much opportunity as anybody else. He'll just have to maximize it.
It's hard to disagree with Urban Meyer's assessments about a lack of playmakers. There was very little running after the catch from these receivers last year, and the best of them—Verlon Reed—was too injured to prove himself a weapon.
Anybody can run a stop route, or run across the middle and get tackled immediately. What this team needs is somebody to make people miss, and while it is assumed that that will be easier when a defense is spread out, there was still very little proof that these types of receivers were on the roster.
This receiving corps can certainly be a complement to the running game, which should be outstanding this coming season, but will it be anything other than a complement?
We can assume there will be playmakers simply because of the offensive system that they will be playing in, but a little bit of proof would be nice before we start believing in assumptions.
While Verlon Reed was held out of any actual contact, it's not hard to see him thriving in this offense. He is a guy who can make a simple catch, and then cut upfield and get power yardage. He just needs to get healthy.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Much of the talk after the Spring Game was about freshman Michael Thomas. It was interesting to watch him go from being the very last scholarship man in drills at the beginning of spring practices, to being the star of the Spring Game at the very end. While twelve catches for 131 yards is nice, let's not forget that much of it came against a freshman, and it doesn't even equate to eleven yards per catch.
Essentially, because of this offense, whomever ends up winning the starting jobs outside will have opportunities to makes similar plays. This bodes well for Thomas, as well as Devin Smith and Evan Spencer.
Corey Brown started slowly in this offense, but quite obviously picked it up as he went along. He touched the ball all over the place, including misdirection carries. He might finish fourth on the team in receptions, but his presence on the field will create opportunities for everyone else.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Tyrone Williams performed well this spring, though at times seemed out of sorts when his number was called on various screen passes. He still has to show that he is more than just a sideline and endzone weapon. Can he be used over the middle of the field?
Despite Urban Meyer's lamentations to the contrary, there are certainly some intriguing prospects at receiver for the Buckeyes this season. Michael Thomas showed that he has a knack for finding open spaces, and most important he actually catches the ball.
While the nature of the offense will allow several receivers to move the chains like Thomas, very few can simply run by defenders as easily as Devin Smith can. While he may not lead the team in receptions—even though he intends to—he should certainly lead the team in yards per catch.
Corey Brown will only get more comfortable, prompting his coaches to give him even more to do.
Verlon Reed will have to work his way into the lineup when he is healthy, which he should certainly be able to do. He is strong, physical and able to pick up tough yards after the catch. There is always a spot for a receiver like that.
There should be a pretty healthy rotation among the receivers this coming season, and while it might be done in the guise of looking for a playmaker, it might just turn out that Meyer has more than he originally thought.
And don't forget, there are two more freshmen coming in this fall to get into the mix, and this staff won't hesitate to play them if they are capable.
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