With Noah Brown off to the NFL two years early, the Buckeye receivers had to find a new starter this spring. Given how unproven the entire group was, however, they were actually looking for two starters. Everything with this group is up for grabs, and whoever grabs the job will be doing so both figuratively and literally. Did that happen this spring? Not completely.
9 Binjimen Victor, Soph (6-4 195) OR
1 Johnnie Dixon, rJr (5-11 198)
80 Brendon White, Fr (6-2 200)
83 Terry McLaurin, rJr (6-0 204)
11 Austin Mack, Soph (6-2 215)
While I mentioned above that the Buckeyes have to find a starter to replace Noah Brown, they also have to find a starter to replace Parris Campbell. Campbell started nine games for the Buckeyes out wide in 2016, but now that he’s at H-back, Ohio State essentially has to find two new starters at wideout. As receivers coach Zach Smith normally does, there will be a rotation of at least six receivers, so the Buckeyes will need more than just two receivers to step up. Currently, Ohio State’s returning wideouts had just 23 total catches last year.
“We’ve got to make big plays. We’ve got to hit the deep ball, we’ve got to throw the deep ball, we’ve got to protect the deep ball. When that happens, and you’ve seen it here before, it opens everything up. And when it doesn’t, it’s hard to move the ball. So we as an offense have to do that. We’ve put a huge emphasis on it and it’s been pretty good this spring.” — Zach Smith
Two more Ohio State receivers were drafted this past weekend, giving Zach Smith six receivers drafted over the last three years. That number is twice as many as any other school in the nation, so that’s something for Smith to gloat about. Unfortunately for him, he keeps losing receivers early, which then puts his room in a bit of a flux.
For the first time in a while, the vast majority of Ohio State’s wideouts actually played wide receiver in high school. There are no players still transitioning from running back. If I were to go with one player here to carry the football, however, it would be Terry McLaurin. McLaurin played running back his senior season in high school and played it well. He’s strong and would quickly get back to his roots of protecting the football.
“Had trouble getting open deep for the last two years the buckeye receivers have. A huge emphasis this spring that was. Success with it they had. Due to a new secondary how much of that was? The ball well the quarterbacks threw, but the receivers still need to finish the job. Yrsssss.”
This group is too unproven to look at one guy and think that he is likely to receive some All-Conference or All-American votes. Every single player listed in the depth chart above comes with a caveat. Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin made plays this spring, but neither have yet to do it during the regular season. This is still a group looking for an identity, as well as some consistency.
In a word, everybody. Nobody is above losing a job in this group. Terry McLaurin is the No. 2 or No. 3 receiver right now behind Parris Campbell and maybe K.J. Hill according to Urban Meyer, but even he isn’t safe. After all, he has 11 career receptions and 12 career tackles.
Position coach Zach Smith is the perpetual scapegoat here. Despite sending nine receivers to the NFL over the last three years — including undrafted free agents — the consistency and production hasn’t always been there. Last year, that was magnified. With a new-and-improved offensive attack this season, if there are once again issues with the wideouts, there will be one collective finger pointing at Smith.
I kind of get the feeling that Johnnie Dixon is itching to have an end zone celebration or two. The guy has to be feeling the football equivalent of cabin fever. He’s been cooped up for basically his first three years as a Buckeye due to knee injuries. He’s played in 13 total games and has just seven career catches. He scored his first career touchdown last season, but it came on the ground. His first touchdown reception in 2017 will be celebration-worthy given how far he has had to come to get to this point.
New offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson recruited both Terry McLaurin and Austin Mack when he was the head coach at Indiana. Both players are Hoosier-state natives, so when Wilson arrived at Ohio State he was already familiar with them. When practice began, however, that familiarity brought some faux-contempt, as Wilson gave his former recruits grief. McLaurin said Wilson teased him the first couple of days of practice, saying that he couldn’t catch. After a few days of McLaurin catching everything thrown his way, however, the chiding died down.
Both Urban Meyer and Zach Smith have said that sophomore Binjimen Victor can do anything he wants to on a football field, but he’s still young and raw and learning. Once he puts it all together, however, Meyer said he could be the best he’s ever had. Smith’s job is to make that happen, and preferably sooner given the need for players to step up. At 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, Victor is stronger and faster than he was a season ago, but he showed in the spring game that he still has work to do in bringing the contested passes down. A summer in the weight room will help in that regard.
The youngster who should be doted on most isn’t yet on campus. Trevon Grimes might be the best receiver recruit the Buckeyes have signed under Urban Meyer. He’s still recovering from an ACL tear, so he wouldn’t have been available to do anything this spring even if he had enrolled early. Fellow freshman Brendon White was on campus, however, and got better each week. As Zach Smith said, White doesn’t always know what he’s doing, but he still finds a way to make plays with the ball in his hands. That’s a skill that a coach can work with.
I was expecting more from sophomore Austin Mack this spring, but he was dealing with small injuries throughout camp. He’s sort of bubbling under the surface right now, but a good summer could see him shooting up the depth chart and promoted to starter. He came to Ohio State with plenty of expectations a year ago, and played in 11 games as a true freshman, but caught just two passes.
Both Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack were hampered with injuries this spring, and everybody is going to hold their breath where Johnnie Dixon is concerned. Victor and Mack both played in the spring game and never really missed time during camp, so don’t get too concerned. Dixon made it through every practice, which is a tremendous sign and a tremendous relief for the Buckeyes. Trevon Grimes is doing very well in his recovery and is expected to be full go for fall camp. Right now, everything looks good for the wideouts and their health in 2017.