The Ohio State Buckeyes have to replace their top three receivers from last season, which will always cause growing pains.
The fortunate thing for OSU is that the players who stepped up this spring all saw the field in 2016. The unfortunate thing is that their production last season totaled just 54 receptions between six returning receivers.
The numbers could have been better, but it just didn’t happen. Be it the fault of the quarterback, the offensive line, the system, or the receivers themselves. Don’t expect the blame to be deflected, however.
“All you guys saw it,” H-back Parris Campbell said in the spring. “We weren’t making plays when they were supposed to be made. Too many balls on the ground, too many opportunities left on the field. As a whole unit, I feel like we never left a game feeling like we did what we wanted to do. For me that’s the summary.”
In terms of experience, the Ohio State receivers have it. K.J. Hill is the leading returning pass catcher among receivers for the Buckeyes with 18 catches in 2016. He missed a few games due to injury, but was a fixed member of the rotation. Parris Campbell chipped in 13 receptions, but his nine starts are a much better indicator of his experience level. Fourth-year junior Terry McLaurin (11-114-2) started four games last season.
It is time now for that experience to meet expectations. New coaches will help that, but so will the mindset from the receivers that this team is now theirs, and how they play will dictate the Buckeyes’ success.
“There’s a lot more ownership,” McLaurin said this spring. “I feel like there was a lot of ownership last year, but we meet with the quarterbacks every single day, we watch every single deep ball that’s thrown. There’s just more emphasis on the passing game. Coach Wilson and Coach Day coming in here, that’s the one thing they said from day one, we want to get this passing game going because when that gets going, it opens up everything else. So from day one, we knew what the objective was and we’re just pushing every day to get better towards that task.”
“Coach Ryan Day, he’s amazing,” Campbell added. “I just feel like they came in here with the mentality to change and to win. So everybody on offense has a winning mentality now. We’re not backing down. We are trying new things. We’re successful on the field. Everything is working. It’s good to see improvement.”
The only consistent playmaker for the Buckeyes in the passing game last season was Curtis Samuel. Without him, they lose 74 receptions and 865 yards. They also lose the threat that he posed to opposing defenses.
The current receivers know they have their doubters because they’ve spent plenty of time answering questions about their limitations. They will tell you that they don’t pay attention to the outside noise because the inside noise is plenty loud enough.
“You know, for us we try not to pay attention to outside noise,” Campbell said. “Obviously, we didn’t live up to our expectations and what we wanted to do, so I guess that’s where that chip comes from. We don’t necessarily pay attention to outsiders. Our chip is internal more than external.”
The internal pressure at a place like Ohio State can be too much for some players. Those who have persevered, however, should come through the other side as productive players. This is how the receivers themselves see the current situation. Yes, the Buckeyes lost their top three receivers in Curtis Samuel, Noah Brown, and Dontre Wilson, but they return plenty of players who have spent years readying for this season coming up.
“At a premier program like this, there’s always going to be guys coming in and guys leaving,” Campbell said. “It’s a huge rotation. There’s so much talent that comes through here and so much talent that leaves, we have no choice but to step up. We have an incredible amount of talent in our room right now and I think we’re going to live up to our expectations.”