Spring Recap - Wide Receivers

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Football
2013 Spring Recap - The Wide Receivers
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A full calendar year removed from last spring, and the Ohio State coaches are in a collectively much better mood about the situation at wide receiver. That doesn't mean they're happy yet, but they are probably sleeping a little bit better.

Urban Meyer has mentioned that he expects Philly Brown to be one of the conference's best receivers this season, and given his versatility, that's probably a pretty good bet. Returning both starters from last season in Brown and Devin Smith is a luxury, but both will be asked to do more this season. Fortunately, that's what both have been working towards.

Depth is a little bit of an issue, as there are only four "X" and "Y" receivers who have any experience. Michael Thomas and Evan Spencer will be productive players, but there is nobody behind them who has seen the field at Ohio Stadium.

Despite the depth issue, which may or may not actually be an issue, the Buckeyes should have one of the top receiving groups in the conference. After what they showed this spring, Thomas and Spencer would start on many Big Ten teams.

Returning Starters: Philly Brown (Sr.), Devin Smith (Jr.)

Corey "Philly" Brown
Photo by Jim Davidson
Corey Brown

Philly Brown and Devin Smith picked up right where they left off last season. Brown was able to show his entire repertoire as a receiver, both short and deep. He made a point to become more of a threat after the catch, and we saw some of that this spring. What we saw more of, however, was Brown simply getting open repeatedly, and he was a complete mismatch against Ohio State's nickel backs.

"I put an emphasis on open field running," Brown said last month. "You know Coach Meyer said that I can't break a tackle, so I put an emphasis on that too. Basically coming out here running routes and trying to get them as precise as I can. It's really paying off right now."

Perhaps the bigger news this spring was that Devin Smith was no longer just a deep threat. He was catching underneath passes, quick hitches, screens, etc. There is an increased desire to get him the ball, and he has shown as increased desire to not drop passes this year. He was very consistent throughout practice, and was never overmatched against Bradley Roby, who might be the best cornerback in the nation.

Devin Smith
Photo by Dan Harker
Devin Smith

Smith is serious about improving as a receiver, and it's one of the reasons he changed his jersey number.

"I wanted it when I first came here," he said of the number nine that he is now sporting, "but the reason why I changed numbers is simple – just to start over. I wanted a new slate for myself. I think last year people knew that Devin Smith can make plays, but at the same time sometimes he's not consistent. And I want to be consistent, so I'm going to start over and show everybody how good I can be."

Others Returning: Evan Spencer (Jr.), Michael Thomas (So.), Chris Fields (Sr.) Frank Epitropoulos (rFr.)

There was quite a bit of talk about Michael Thomas this spring, and for good reason – he was dominating at times. However, there was comparatively very little talk about Evan Spencer. Spencer had a very solid spring, even if he wasn't talked about. He made catches all over the field, was frequently running with the ones, and looked as fast as he ever has.

Evan Spencer
Photo by Dan Harker
Evan Spencer

One of the reasons that he received so little attention this spring is because of all of the talk that was aimed at the other receivers, specifically Thomas, who was punishingly physical at times. Both are big-bodied receivers with tremendous body control. The search is still on for the consistency that the coaches are looking for.

"He's a guy that we're gonna count on," Zach Smith said of Thomas. "Leaving spring he was a guy that every now and then you said, 'Wow! He made a great play.' Or 'Wow, that's the guy we need you to be every play.' So it's just about consistency and developing into an accountable guy that everyone can look at and say that he'll get the job done."

"I know I'm on my way, but I definitely haven't arrived yet," Thomas said this spring. "But I know I'm going in the right direction. I'm far from where I want to be, but there's always ways to get better and develop as a player."

Chris Fields was named a starter by Urban Meyer after the Spring Game, but Ohio State's offense could arguably feature 12 or 13 "starters". He may be an H-back right now, but given his experience, you can expect him to line up in other spots as well.

Michael Thomas
Photo by Dan Harker
Michael Thomas

"It feels good to be one of the starters on the team," Fields said after the Spring Game. "I worked hard in the offseason, we all worked  hard as a unit, and it seems to have paid off as we go into the summer."

Frank Epitropoulos was mostly with the third unit this spring. Before the coaches can have confidence in him, he needs to have confidence in himself.

"He's a guy that has the physical tools to play at this level, but we need to see him perform," Zach Smith said. "He's probably the greatest example of lacking confidence and lacking experience, and lacking the mental fortitude that he can do it, so he needs to do it. We just need to see that development from him to help us on offense."

Newcomers: James Clark (Fr.), Corey Smith (Jr.), Jalin Marshall (Fr.), Gareon Conley (Fr.)

The Buckeyes would have been greatly helped had any of their incoming receivers enrolled early, but none of them did. That will put them all a little bit behind, though if any of them is ahead of the other, it is probably junior college transfer Corey Smith.

"We're looking for him to come in and compete right away," Zach Smith said of the former Akron Buchtel star. "Not that we're not of the freshmen, but he's just a little ahead of everyone physically, and he should be. We're excited about him getting here and excited to see where he fits in the offense, and how far along he is and how far along we can bring him."

James Clark and Jalin Marshall have two of the better high school highlight reels you will find anywhere. Meyer would love for them both to see the field immediately, but that will be up to the individual players themselves.

"Everybody knows he's one of the finest players in the country," Meyer said of Marshall on Signing Day. "We wanted to get some playmakers, and we have two sub-10.5 100-meter players coming in (Dontre Wilson 10.55 and James Clark 10.43), which is real fast.

"10.5 100 meters is a benchmark we'll use from here on out. You have to have a couple of guys like that on your team. Big plays are a problem for us. And we have Dontre and Jalin and James Clark, so we have actually three guys that we would put in that category."

There is also Gareon Conley, who could either be a cornerback or a receiver. The current thinking is that he will start out on defense, but he was unstoppable at receiver in the recent North - South game.

Depth Chart
SPLIT END (X)

Devin Smith (6-1, 198, Jr.)
Mike Thomas (6-2, 199, So.)
Frank Epitropoulos (6-1, 200, rFr.)

FLANKER (Z)
Corey Brown (6-0, 187, Sr.)
Evan Spencer (6-2, 206, Jr.)
Corey Smith (6-0, 180, Jr.)
James Clark (5-11, 170, Fr.)

Spring Links
Spring Standouts: Offense

Coaches Want Philly Brown to 'Turn It Up' in 2013

Spring Practice Insider: Big Plays Headline Practice No. 11

Practice Insider: Thomas, Receivers Continue Strong Spring

Spring Practice Insider: Receivers Continue to Impress

It's Never Enough 

With More Speed Approaching, Meyer Still Looking for Playmakers This Spring

Spring Forecast: Wide Receiver

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