Confident Receivers Could Carry Buckeyes Far in 2013
By Patrick Murphy
COLUMBUS, Ohio — "Swagger". It's a term that has recently reemerged in pop culture and has become prevalent in the sporting world, especially to big-time college programs.
Since Urban Meyer and his coaching staff came to Ohio State, there seems to be a renewed sense of swagger with this Buckeye football team. After a 12-0 first season, it is hard to not be confident heading into 2013.
Yet wide receivers coach Zach Smith is still looking for more from his position group.
“Where we are today, I wouldn't say panic mode, but there's also no satisfaction with our performance,” he said at the conclusion of Spring Practice.
“We can always get better, and we still have a ways to go before we can truly run out in the Horseshoe and say we're the best wide receiver group in the country or the Big Ten.”
Just like any position on this team the goal is to be the best. This staff is recruiting the nation’s top talent in the hopes that they can turn them into the best college players. When that happens, wins and championships follow.
So how do the Buckeyes’ receivers put it all together and get to an elite level? According to Smith, it all starts with self-confidence.
“There's times when they may be going against a DB that they feel confident against, and all of a sudden they're doing things that would work against anyone, but they just feel more comfortable and confident in what they're doing and who they're going against,” he said. “So that's a big thing that we've got to develop, is confidence.”
For receivers, developing confidence can be difficult, especially at a place like OSU. Everything Buckeye players do is scrutinized. Each time they attempt to make a play, every eye in Ohio Stadium is on them. While each catch is seen, so is every mistake and those are often magnified.
“If you run the wrong route, or you don't get open, or you don't catch the ball, it's not like people don't notice” Smith said, but he was quick to point out that it can do wonders as well.
“But also, I think the spotlight and focus on you when you have the opportunities to make those plays can rapidly increase your confidence, because everyone does see you make the play, and all of a sudden your confidence skyrockets. It's kind of a gift and a curse I guess.”
This was the case in 2012, as the Buckeyes searched for a go-to target and a playmaker.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Corey “Philly” Brown was the top target for quarterback Braxton Miller last season, finishing with 60 receptions for 669 yards and three touchdowns, playing mostly from the slot. While those numbers are not terrible, Brown was not able to take his short passes and turn them into big plays.
Ohio State’s number two receiver was Devin Smith. While at times he could make the spectacular play, the sophomore lacked consistency that comes with confidence. He did almost eclipse Brown’s total yardage, with 618 yards of his own, in half as many catches, but was also generally targeted in deeper routes.
Other than those two, the Scarlet and Gray struggled to find options. Jake Stoneburner – who is now in the NFL – and Evan Spencer had the next most receptions, with 16 and 12 respectively. After that, no player had more than nine.
makes a spectacular one-handed grab against Miami of Ohio.
Photo by Dan Harker
The passing game may need to make the biggest jump this year if Ohio State is going to achieve their goals. While some of this is on the shoulders of Miller, the wide receivers have to statistically improve significantly from where they were a year ago.
“We had a nice foundation to build from,” Smith said regarding how things were this spring.
“Whereas before we were just trying to get lined up and running the right routes, as opposed to getting open—never mind that, we just needed to make sure we knew what we're doing when we got here initially. So it's nice to have that foundation and build from it.”
This base can help with players’ confidence as well. Most of the players the Buckeyes will rely on will be in their second year in the offense; they have gone through the repetitions and understand what is expected of them.
“I think last year there was some discomfort in the fact that they knew they weren't as good as they needed to be, and they were really uncomfortable with new people calling them out and telling them they weren't very good,” Smith said of his group during Spring Camp.
“Whereas now they feel like they've put in four months of hard work to get to a different level, to do what we want them to do.
"So they're more confident just because they know how committed they've been, how hard they've worked, and they know what it's going to end up being in the fall if they continue.”
Putting in the work and building confidence in the spring will help come fall, but this must translate to Saturdays on the field. With much higher expectations this year and the target firmly placed on the Buckeyes’ back, the likes of Brown, Smith, along with Spencer, Michael Thomas, converted running back Jordan Hall, and the young tight ends will need to be considerably more productive than a year ago.
If these guys can bring the swagger to the receiving group that the rest of the team has exuded, the Buckeye offense might just get to the elite level necessary to meet their preseason expectations.