Practice Insider: Thomas, Receivers Continue Strong Spring
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Urban Meyer referred to Ohio State’s offense as a “clown show” last spring, he didn’t stutter.
He didn’t flinch or backpedal either.
Meyer said what he meant and meant what he said, at least at the time. He would later call his wide receivers the least prepared group he had ever been around, which says a lot about how far those guys have come since Meyer and his staff took over the program last offseason.
“They went out in the winter and they thought they were working towards getting better, when really they weren’t doing what they needed to do,” second-year receivers coach Zach Smith said after practice on Thursday.
“After this last season, they came out of it saying we improved but we were not near as good as we needed to be. So they knew coming into this winter what they had to do. There was not a lot of explaining the plan or motivating, because they knew what they had to do.”
They had to get better. Plain and simple.
The wide receivers, as a unit, were much better in 2012 than they had been in 2011. Meyer and his staff probably toasted marshmallows over the film of Ohio State’s offense from the year before they got to Columbus.
Now that was a clown show, and it was a clown show of epic proportions. The leading receiver on the team had just 14 catches that year for an OSU football program that was only a year removed from wins over Oregon in the Rose Bowl and Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.
The Buckeyes had to replace Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey from those football teams, along with a lot of other talent on the offensive side of the ball, but Ohio State’s wide receivers started to show some promise last season.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Corey Brown finished in the top three in the Big Ten in catches during Meyer’s first season at Ohio State, while Devin Smith led the conference in yards per catch. None of that was good enough in the eyes of the new coaching staff, but it was a start in the right direction.
“We’re not the most dynamic group in the country, and we have the ability to be, the potential to be,” Zach Smith said Thursday.
“Which is probably the most awful thing you could say about that group, but there’s been growth, been development.”
Part of that growth has been the entire offense catching up to the system that was installed last spring. It wasn’t an easy transition for a group of kids who had run a very different style offense under the previous regime.
Offensive coordinator Tom Herman believes the offense was operating at a remedial level last season, despite the fact the Buckeyes led the Big Ten in points per game. He expects to put a much more refined product on the field this season.
“It’s a lot better this year that we have a year under our belts with the new offense,” junior wideout Evan Spencer said.
“Everybody is just flying around 100 percent knowing what they got, instead of holding back a little bit because maybe we don’t know what our assignments are. This year, we have everything down pat, so it’s 100 miles an hour.”
Photo by Dan Harker
One of the receivers who was holding back a little bit last season was freshman Michael Thomas. The 6-3 wideout from California appears to have every tool imaginable, but he never came close to matching his 12-catch, 131-yard performance in the spring game as a rookie last season.
“When you come in as a freshman, you just want to make plays and catch the ball. I was just trying to make plays to get open, but I wasn’t really learning concepts,” Thomas admitted after practice Thursday.
“I was just learning by paper, but now I’ve learned a lot of the concepts so it's helped me slow down the game.
Zach Smith was quick to remind everyone that Brown, Smith and Jake Stoneburner were on the opposite team in last year’s spring game, so Coach Herman had limited options for who to get the ball to on the perimeter.
That wasn’t necessarily the case on Tuesday, when Thomas hauled in a 42-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kenny Guiton during the scrimmage at the end of practice.
Thomas has been one of the top performers throughout the spring, and he could help the Buckeyes fill one of the few holes on their offense left by Stoneburner.
“Mike’s a very talented kid, a very talented player. He was a young kid that was a little clueless at first,” Ohio State’s receivers coach said.
“He’s talented. I don think it was a curse. I think it was motivating because of the year he had and the expectations he had after the spring game.”
Smith was a little bit happy to see Thomas go through some highs and lows as a freshman in 2012, as it kept the talented youngster from getting an inflated ego. The same could be said for the entire group of wide receivers at Ohio State.
“They put in a good winter, now they have to finish the spring, the last week and a half, out strong,” Zach Smith added.
“And this summer has to be the best summer in the history of Ohio State football for my group.”
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