Talent = Buzz, Experience = Playing Time
By John Porentas
A poster on the-Ozone forum posed a question to me on Saturday. He wanted to know if I ever remembered a freshman who brought as much stir as Dontre Wilson is bringing this year.
I had to think about it.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The honest answer is yes, I have, but the stir Wilson is creating is right up there with any that I can remember. Some of those past frosh who were highly anticipated lived up to their billing. Ted Ginn comes immediately to mind as does Maurice Clarett. Going back just a bit further, Andy Katzenmoyer certainly did not disappoint.
Wilson has yet to play a down in college, but all indications are that he will certainly get playing time this fall. He is playing at a position that will involve him in both the running and passing games, and if he lives up the hype, he should have an impact on both.
Wilson is just one of several new players at the skill positions for whom expectations are very high. Jalin Marshall falls into that group. For that matter, expectations are high for James Clark, Ezekiel Elliott and Corey Smith as well.
It wouldn't surprise me one bit if a good number of those players are significant contributors this season.
It also wouldn't surprise me if all them ended up playing supporting roles this year and that the real load will be carried by the returning skill players, not the new guys.
There are going to be some people who take real exception to that idea. The new guys, as always, are the ones fans want to see on the field, but talented freshmen almost always produce selective memory with fans. They tend to remember very well that those players are indeed very talented. What they tend to lose sight of completely is that they are still freshmen. That may be lost on fans, but not coaches.
"Anything in life, when you first do it you're learning the delicate intricacies day in and day out. You don't become an expert until time permits," said OSU wide receivers coach Zach Smith in talking about the value of experience.
"A guy like Devon (Smith) doesn't have to learn how to get in a stance or how to catch the ball. He's now able to learn that football 201 as opposed to football 101, remedial football.
"A freshman comes in and they're starting at ground zero. You're teaching them how many yards are on the field. As opposed to teaching them that, Devin is way beyond that. That's just the natural growth of a guy that's been in the system for X amount of years."
It's a simple idea, but the consequences are profound. Talent isn't always able to express itself when that talent is inexperienced because there is too much thinking involved and not enough just plain reacting and playing. It's the old paralysis by analysis, and that has the effect of turning fast players into ordinary ones.
There is no hurrying the process of getting talent to be expressed on the field. Only time does that, and until it does, the talent just cannot shine through in a way that allows it to meet expectations.. According to Smith, he is just now seeing the fruit of experience emerge in his veterans.
"I think it's been a long process but it's not something that could have happened over night," he said.
"I think that where we're at right now is 'Ok, we've taken a step, we're no longer dysfunctional, now lets really go be the best receiver unit in the country, so that's the next step we have to take, consistent domination as a group. When we take that step, I'll be really pleased."
Devin Smith was able to describe how experience has allowed him to develop as a player.
"Now I'm more relaxed because I understand the offense a lot better just from studying all summer.
"Last year I was more of 'Awe man, what do I have the next play, or what is the defense playing?' It kind of threw me off my game a little bit. Now because I understand the offense a little better I can just go out there and play."
That is one edge the veterans will have. They will also have the advantage of a year with quarterback Braxton Miller in an offense which has become familiar to both the receiver corps and Miller.
"It's definitely a comfort level thing," said Spencer.
"It's the difference between knowing where a receiver is going to be and hoping that he's there. Or whether we're running a route where it's got to be on time or wait until he's open to throw it. It's mainly comfort. Once you get a year under your belt in anything the second year you are going to be a lot more comfortable, a lot more quicker on your reads."
That is why the veterans will be the backbone of the offense, not the newcomers, though those first-year talents will also have a role. They will be spoon fed the offense and will play situationally, because they are just too talented to ignore, especially Wilson.
"Man I'm going to tell you. That little joker right there is quick,' said Spencer.
"You guys will see, he's so explosive. you never know where he's going to go or what kind of move he's going to make. He's a real guy. He can move."
There is no doubting that. There is also no doubting that most likely he will make plays, but he will also make freshman mistakes, and that will limit his time on the field.
"He doesn't know left or right sometimes, he doesn't know to go 10 yards or 20 yards, but you know what, when the ball moves, he's just going," said Smith his position coach.
"That's what's most evident. You watch a play where he's really insignificant to the play, but just the speed at which he goes and the effort he gives it makes you sit that and say 'Wow, look at that. That is a beautiful thing."
It's hard to keep that off the field, but it's also hard to endure the inevitable mistakes that can slow down an offense as a whole. He'll play and make plays, but it will be the veterans who will get most the load.
By next season when Wilson and his fellow freshmen are veterans, watch out.