Zach Smith's 'To Do' List for the Buckeye Receivers
By Tony Gerdeman
Ohio State receivers coach Zach Smith has his work cut out for him this season. The Buckeyes are coming off of one of their thinnest years at the position in recent memory, and Smith is walking into a new situation with young receivers in a completely different offense than the one that they were in last year.
Some would view this as a negative, but not Smith.
"I'm fired up about it," he said back in January. "They're some talented kids, and the best thing that they've got going right now is that they're young and they've got experience.
"Usually right now you're walking into a situation with a freshman or a sophomore that watched other guys play, and was sitting there like, 'Oh man, I wonder what that's like.' But now we're walking into a situation where the kid already knows. He's played twelve games or ten games, or however many. So when he walks into Ohio Stadium, it's not his first rodeo."
The fact that his young players are experienced will make the transition a little easier, but there's still going to be quite the feeling out process once Spring practice starts in three weeks.
With that in mind, we return once again to our series of "To Do Lists", and take a look at what Smith might be thinking about as he goes through the next few months and on into the summer.
1. Find out which receivers meet the minimum requirements to see the field.
Before you can find out who your best players are, you have to first find out who can actually play. For an Ohio State receiver to see the field under Smith, they have to be able to do two things.
"The first is that you have to be able to block," Smith said.
"We will be the best blocking receivers in the country. And then we have to be able to make big plays. You've got to be able to catch the ball and make things happen. If you can't do those two things, you're not going to be on the field."
That's nothing new at Ohio State, where there have been a long line of very good blockers, as well as very explosive playmakers. The combination of the two, however, might be a bit of a change.
"It's Ohio State, we're going to have plenty of athletes that can do those two, so if you can't, it's not going to work out," Smith said.
"You're not going to be on the field until you get that.”
With such simple requirements, it shouldn't be hard to figure out which players can meet them (and exceed them), and which players cannot.
2. Find out who can get open.
With the understanding that everybody on the field will be able to block and catch, the next most important skill will be for those players to actually get open.
As we saw last year with four freshmen getting minutes, getting open isn't something that just happens. It takes as much savvy as skill to get open, and as much technique as talent. It takes time to bring all of these characteristics together. The good thing for the Buckeyes, however, is that they went through these growing pains last season, so they shouldn't have to go through them as much this season.
"It makes you have the experience, and the scars," Smith said of so many youngsters playing last year. "You've been through dropping a ball and everyone being disappointed. You've been through catching a touchdown, and when you've done that, it's not your first time and you know what to expect."
Essentially, all but the incoming freshmen have been through the basic training, and now they need to be able to put it all together and show what they know. After all, there's not much sense in putting somebody out there who can catch if they can't ever get open.
3. Find the guys who will run the ball.
One of the unique parts of Meyer's offense is the number of carries that his receivers get. The more his receivers are suited to carry the ball, the more they will actually carry it.
While at Bowling Green, his receivers carried the ball only two or three times per game. When he got to Utah, that number doubled.
His first year at Florida saw that number drop, but when Percy Harvin was a freshman the following year, the number of carries again shot up to around seven carries per game. In 2007, during Harvin's sophomore season, receivers carried the ball around ten times per game.
Clearly, if the talent is there, Meyer will want to involve as many different players as possible in the running game. For a receiver to run the ball in Meyer's offense, however, they generally need to be able to run between the hash marks. This isn't just end arounds and reverses we're talking about.
The three most likely candidates to do this for the Buckeyes would appear to be Corey Brown, Verlon Reed and incoming freshman Ricquan Southward.
Reed was a quarterback in high school who was very successful running various read option plays. His speed and power would make him an ideal candidate to run the wildcat.
Brown was actually a running back in high school, so he is comfortable and familiar with running between the tackles, which is not uncommon for receivers under Meyer. As one of the two or three fastest players on the team, the staff will want to get him the ball in as many ways as possible, provided he can handle it.
Southward, despite being a true freshman, is also one to look out for because he touched the ball in a number of ways in high school, including running the ball between the tackles.
4. Find out who your best overall playmakers are.
Once Smith finds out who can block and catch, get open and run the ball, he'll then need to figure out who can take all of these skills and also make people miss.
He could probably create a Venn diagram of these requirements, and in the middle of that diagram would be a pretty good idea of who your best playmakers are going to be.
This is a progression of discoveries for Smith which will ultimately lead them to finding out who can do the one thing they want their players doing more than any other—scoring touchdowns.
He said back in January that the intent is to try and score a touchdown on every single play. If that's the goal, they're going to have to find receivers who are beyond difficult to defend. If they can find players who can get open and stay open they'll be ahead of the curve.
5. Find the guys that you can trust.
There needs to be a level of trust, not just between the quarterback and his receivers, but also between the receivers and their coach.
If a player can do everything talked about in the list above, but when the game is about to be won or lost, they tend to disappear mentally at the absolutely worst moment, that player simply can't be trusted.
If a player can't be trusted, then that handcuffs both the coach and the quarterback when they need that player most.
Granted, it's harder to know who won't fold under pressure until the actual games begin, but there are various situational drills that players are put through every day in order to get those players ready for the tense situations.
Not only does it get the players ready, but it will also give Smith an idea of who he should and shouldn't put out there with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.
Trust is so important that it can actually trump the other skills at times, though it's unlikely that such a trustworthy player wouldn't already possess desired abilities.
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