COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the Buckeyes, this spring was as much a quest for consistency as it was a search for playmakers. A season ago the Ohio State wide receivers started out productive enough, but that production faded late.
2014 Spring Positional Recap: Wide Receiver
By Tony Gerdeman
It can be argued that there were other reasons for the decline that went beyond just the receivers themselves, such as weather, quarterbacking, or love of running the ball, but there are probably no innocents in the matter.
Regardless of the cause last season, the continuing goal is for everybody to improve, which should then allow the Ohio State passing game to avoid any similar dips in production this time around. For instance, Devin Smith had 256 yards receiving in the Buckeyes' first three games last year, but just 136 yards in the final six games.
What Ohio State will be striving for this season is to have the results from the second half of the season resemble the results from the first half of the season as closely as possible, if not better them. If that is going to happen this year, then that path needed to begin in the spring.
Receivers coach Zach Smith wanted competition this spring, and he got it. But without consistency, competition only shuffles an uneven deck.
"We have to be the best receiving group in the country," he said earlier this spring.
"We have to, and we're taking steps toward that. That's been our goal every year because that's what Ohio State deserves, but we haven't reached that goal. It's my expectation and the group's mentality that we will be that this fall. We have to be.
"We just have to keep taking steps. Keep making strides. We're a long way away, but luckily the season is a long way away. We have to be consistent every day. We need to make plays when plays present themselves and we need to do it every single time."
Returning Starters: Devin Smith (6-1 197, Sr.); Evan Spencer (6-2 208, Sr.)
The Buckeyes' returning starters caught a total of 12 passes over the final six games last season, which means that every job in the receiving corps is wide open.
Devin Smith was rather quiet this spring, though he still showed his deep speed on a few occasions. The inconsistent quarterbacking is certainly partly to blame, but Zach Smith was also trying to make the senior from Massillon a bit uncomfortable.
"The biggest thing that we've had to do and I've had to do is present adversity to him," Smith explained.
"I had to move him positions and move him around and create those situations because he's great when things are great, and when things get hard, that's when he needs to shine. He's been inconsistent in that, so so far, so good. We're a long way from the season, but he's making strides to get their fall, which is the ultimate goal."
Evan Spencer was out this spring recovering from a leg injury suffered in the Orange Bowl. He should be fine for the season, however. Urban Meyer has routinely praised his run blocking, but with an expected increase in the passing game this season, receivers will also need to receive.
Others Returning: Michael Thomas (6-3 203, rSo.); James Clark (5-10 182, rFr.); Frank Epitropoulos (6-1 206, rSo.); Jeff Greene (6-5 220, rJr.); Corey Smith (6-0 190, rJr.)
It was another solid spring for Michael Thomas who made a nice case for himself as a starter, at least as far as spring depth charts are concerned. He will not be given anything, and will have to work to keep the job from the likes of Corey Smith and Evan Spencer moving forward.
Speaking of Corey Smith, he was looking like the team's best receiver at the start of spring. He was a deceptive deep threat, who was consistently making catches under duress. Both players sat out last season, but both also prepared each week to play.
"Corey and Mike were guys that redshirted, but I prepared them every week to play," Smith said back on signing day.
"Because we redshirted so many players this past year, there wasn't an opportunity to just redshirt them and let them have a year to develop. They were preparing to play because one injury and they're in. So they got the benefit of preparing like they were playing, but they didn't waste a year. The strides they made this past fall, I was very pleased. They made phenomenal strides."
They continued those strides in the spring, providing a glimpse of what is to come this season. Jeff Greene and Frank Epitropoulos provided depth, with Greene on the outside and Epitropoulos spending some time in the slot.
James Clark didn't participate fully this spring, but did dress and take part in position drills. He will be full go this season following his leg injury a year ago. He had explosive speed a season ago as a true freshman, but where he stands now in that regard remains to be seen.
Newcomers: Johnnie Dixon (5-11 198, Fr.); Noah Brown (6-2 225, Fr.); Parris Campbell (6-1 184, Fr.), Terry McLaurin (6-0 190, Fr.)
Johnnie Dixon was the lone early enrollee and he benefited greatly from spring participation. Like the other receivers, he battled consistency, but that is entirely normal for a freshman. The fact that he already got some of it out of his system will help him this fall.
Dixon was used all over the field, running deep routes, inside routes, quick screens, etc. He is powerfully built and can break tackles when he isn't making a defender miss entirely. He still needs to consistently make the plays that are available to him, however.
"He's a grown man for an 18-year old," Smith said of Dixon.
"He comes in and handles his business. He handles his business outside of this facility. He handles his business in the classroom. I'm excited about where he's gonna be. Now he's a typical freshman that's still learning and trying to figure everything out, but he has the commitment to be great and he's doing everything that we ask him to do right now. That's usually a formula for success."
Noah Brown and Parris Campbell are still in high school, and either could project at receiver or H-Back. Brown is a strong, physical receiver, and Campbell is a speedster who is still learning the position. Until they get to campus and start working with the team, expectations will be a bit muted. That doesn't mean they will stay that way, however.
Terry McLaurin will likely be one of the fastest Buckeyes on the team the day he arrives on campus. While some may see him as a redshirt candidate, his speed is something that the coaches will want to take a good long look at, not unlike James Clark a season ago.
Devin Smith (6-1 197, Sr.)
Michael Thomas (6-3 203, rSo.)
Evan Spencer (6-2 208, Sr.)
Corey Smith (6-0 190, rJr.)
Johnnie Dixon (5-11 198, Fr.)
James Clark (5-10 182, rFr.)
Jeff Greene (6-5 228, rJr.)
Frank Epitropoulos (6-1 206, rSo.)
Noah Brown (6-2 225, Fr.)
Terry McLaurin (6-0 190, Fr.)
Parris Campbell (6-1 184, Fr.)
Consistency the Key for Buckeye Receiver Corey Smith
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Spring's Unanswered Questions for the Buckeye Offense
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Spring Practice Insider: Buckeye Offense Finding Receivers
OSU Spring Forecast: Wide Receiver
Noah Brown's Versatility Will Keep Teams Guessing
Zach Smith on OSU Receivers: 'There is not a starter in my room.'
New, Yet Veteran Faces Should Bolster OSU Passing Attack
Ohio State an Easy Choice for Johnnie Dixon
Ready for Takeoff: Influx of Speed Gives OSU Added Burst
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