Dontre Wilson Much Improved, But Still Progressing
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The preseason buzz generated by Dontre Wilson as a freshman last year is still bouncing around in the ionosphere. The reports from practices had him making as many plays as anybody else on the offense, and that included guys like Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde.
Once the season got underway, however, that buzz gave way to impatience as Wilson was rarely able to duplicate the excitement that he had generated in the preseason. He was expected to be an important part of the offense, and instead was rarely used.
Despite the lessened impact, he still finished with 460 yards of total offense, averaging 8.7 yards per touch. Many freshmen have done much worse, and Wilson was just learning the position. His inexperience limited his production and his play, and it limited what his coaches could do with him.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"He couldn't play receiver last year," offensive coordinator Tom Herman explained.
"He didn't know what the hell he was doing. He didn't know how to do it. He was 175 pounds or whatever the heck he was. So him and his ability limited us, and the ability doesn't just include running fast and making guys miss. There's a lot that goes into ability and usability in the offense."
Without usability, a player really has very little purpose on a football team, and there were times last season when Wilson's purpose was essentially confined to special teams.
In order to have a purpose in 2014, not only did Wilson have to become a better player, but he had to become a different player. He had to stop being strictly a running back and he had to become a wide receiver.
"He's had a great offseason and really took to the position," Herman said.
"He's still learning and still makes mistakes that you wish he wouldn't at this stage in his career. But at the end of the day he's played tailback his entire life and to move him into this “hybrid” role, he hasn't been doing it very long. He wasn't an early enrollee last year. He didn't get here until June and didn't start playing in the offense until August. He's progressing, and he's gotten stronger and bigger and learned technique, so the ability and his usability continues to rise with every step he takes in terms of learning how to play the position."
Wilson had to learn on the fly last season, and much of that learning came from the sidelines. This season, however, that is expected to change. The work continues to be put in and so far the returns have been very positive. Wilson is making plays in practice once again, but now he's doing it as a starter.
His role is going to grow much larger this season, especially when you consider who he is replacing in the lineup.
"He's the starting H," Urban Meyer said on Tuesday.
"He took Philly Brown's spot, so he's a full-time receiver. We did take him today and put him in some backfield action. I don't use that term 'Percy Harvin' very loosely, because there's only probably one of him, but we like him. That hybrid position is really a key guy."
Last April, running backs coach Stan Drayton told people that the offense won't be fully operational until the H-back is completely immersed in the offense. That includes running and catching the ball from all angles, which hasn't yet happened in their first two seasons.
This year, however, they will finally have a guy who is as comfortable running the ball as he is catching it, and skilled at both.
"He knows what he’s doing," Drayton said.
"He’s starting to really take ownership of that position. He’s asking the right questions. The one thing about Dontre, Dontre walked through the door with a mentality, he ain’t scared of anything. He’s not a shy person at all. He will ask a dumb question and not feel bad about it, and we encourage that. So as long as he keeps that mindset, he’s going to continue to grow as a football player. And because of that, he has."
That growth and that mindset has found Wilson atop the depth chart at a position that has been talked about at Ohio State for nearly three years. And now, for the first time since Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus, the Buckeyes might finally have somebody at that spot who can do everything that the position demands.
And all it required was that Dontre Wilson know what the hell he was doing.
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