Spring Forecast: Wide Receiver
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Last year the talk of the preseason was that the Buckeyes needed to find playmakers at receiver. They were semi-successful in their quest, as both Corey "Philly" Brown and Devin Smith topped 600 yards receiving, but Smith was inconsistent, and Brown's longest reception was just 38 yards.
That quest continues this year, and more will be expected of this now-veteran group of returning receivers. Smith's issues with drops need to end, and Brown needs to average more than his 11.2 yards per catch from last year.
Urban Meyer has brought in a new crop of receivers in the 2013 recruiting class, so each of the veteran receivers will need to strengthen their foothold in the spring. If they don't, then they may lose their place altogether.
Who's Coming Back?
The Buckeyes lose just one true receiver from last year, as Verlon Reed (one reception for 13 yards) transferred. Jake Stoneburner (16-269-4 TDs) is also gone, but other than that, everyone else is back.
Photo by Dan Harker
Overall, the Buckeyes return 109 of the 126 receptions (86.5%) that the receivers (including Stoneburner) came down with last season. The percentage is actually higher than that, considering Stoneburner also had receptions while at tight end.
Smith and Brown will again be the workhorses in this passing game, and another 90 catches between them should probably be the low end of their benchmark.
Evan Spencer (12-136) and Michael Thomas (3-22) will be asked to do more in the spring as the coaches still need to see what they have on the roster currently.
Chris Fields and Jordan Hall will likely be in the slot quite a bit, and considering the type of freshman receivers that will arrive in the summer, there may not be two receivers more under the gun to produce in the spring than these two.
Expectations Heading Into Spring
The expectation is that Smith catches every open pass that he dropped last season, and that Brown breaks a few more tackles in order to make some big plays.
Photo by Jim Davidson
If Smith is frequently getting open and coming down with everything thrown his way, people will then begin to panic about the Ohio State cornerbacks. If Brown is making men miss like a skinnier Barry Sanders, then the two-year fretting about the Buckeye tackling could stretch into its third year of life.
Spencer will be expected to push both, and get plenty of snaps in practice with the ones. He also needs to show that he can get some yards after the catch. Thomas had a great spring last year, and he'll need to show that that is actually who he is, as opposed to the receiver that he became, catching just three passes last season.
Hall will need to perform like the weapon the coaches expected him to be last season. Anticipate them trying to get him involved at the pivot position in as many ways as possible so that they can see what he is capable of, but also so that everyone else can get used to this being a more involved part of the offense.
Best Case Scenario
If things go as planned, Smith and Brown will both make plays after the catch, and Spencer and Thomas will prove to be downfield threats who can move the chains.
If everything goes as planned, Meyer won't need to spend entire interview sessions talking about his desperate search for playmakers at receiver. Instead, he'll spend entire interview sessions talking about his desperate search to find more footballs for each of his receivers.
One to Watch For
Let's keep an eye on Devin Smith. He has always shown that he is capable of the big play, but he also left quite a few big plays uncaught last season. He had 618 yards receiving in 2012, but easily could have had over 800 yards. With an improved Braxton Miller at quarterback, could Smith be the first Ohio State receiver to top 1,000 yards receiving since Michael Jenkins in 2002?
Trending Up or Down
Corey Brown was certainly trending in the proper direction at the end of last season, catching eight passes for a season-high 95 yards and a touchdown against Michigan. He also had a season-long 21-yard run in that game as well.
Early in the year Brown was simply relying on instincts and physical ability. He became more polished in his role as the season wore on, which is good, because defenses began focusing on him more over the second half of the season.
This season, defenses will already have expectations for him, and the spring will be an opportunity for him to show that those defenses will have some additional planning to do once they see the player that he has become.
There are many who can't wait to see the incoming freshmen receivers out there on the field, including the coaches. However, before that can happen, there will be an entire spring for the incumbents to remind their coaches that there are already playmakers on the team.
For some, this will be where they re-establish their place at the head of the table. For others, they will simply be holding a place until the freshmen arrive in six months.
Regardless, the group that you see in April will be quite a bit different than the group you see in September. How much of that new group you see in September, however, will in part be based upon how well the veterans perform this spring.
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