If ‘X’ marks the spot, then people might want to start digging No. 9.
Ohio State has been in search of a take-charge X receiver since Michael Thomas left for the NFL after the 2015 season. It looked early on like Noah Brown would be that guy last year, especially after catching five touchdown passes in his first three games. He would finish the season with just two more touchdowns, however.
It was not the production that the position or the offense needed.
The position right now is being manned by sophomores Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack. Both are considered starters, and both will need to step up this season in order to make this passing game championship-caliber.
Neither player had much of an impact as true freshmen, but late in the season, Victor did come on and was a part of Ohio State’s offensive plans. This fact should not be overlooked.
“In the playoffs, in the big game, and you have a true freshman out there in a critical spot that’s going to make a catch to move the ball,” receivers coach Zach Smith said of Victor. “There was a lot of trust in him at that point. Our offense wasn’t clicking, obviously, so he didn’t have numbers and stats like maybe he would have if it was clicking, but he was a guy on the field in a critical time, so that should be telling in itself.”
Victor finished the season with just four receptions for 64 yards, but flashed potential in his limited opportunities. There is a lot to be said for being a part of the offense at the end of the season last year. There is even more to be said, however, for the role that he will play in 2017.
“He’s a year older,” Smith said. “He’s gained some weight. He’s stronger. He’s able to fight through and make it through practice and go hard and get open and be a dominant guy at the end of practice. He was always a guy that flashed. He was always a guy that showed some ability and you’d be like, ‘Wow, this kid could be really good.’ But he’d get tired. He’d get exhausted. Maybe not the toughest kid in the world when he first got here. And now you’re seeing him fight through stuff. He’s tough. He’s working hard. And he brings an element that we need, which is playmaking. He has to be a playmaker.”
One of the reasons Victor is being looked at as an answer to a problem is because he can do some things that most receivers can’t. Smith has never had a receiver with the kind of ceiling that Victor possesses, but that doesn’t mean things are going to be automatic this year.
“I don’t know if I’ve had one with as high a ceiling as he has,” Smith said. “It’s just his ability. He is a 6-foot-4 kid with a seven-foot wingspan that can run. He’s loose. He can get in and out of breaks. He plays physical at times. He still needs to grow up and mature, but he’s got a skill set. He does some things sometimes you’re like, ‘Whoa.’”
Nobody is saying that Victor is a finished product or that Ohio State’s prayers at X have been answered, but with Mack and Victor, there is enough potential to give Smith confidence that they’re going to be very good. It’s Victor’s confidence, however, that still needs to be expanded.
Once that happens, the Buckeyes might just have the guy they’ve been looking for since Michael Thomas left.
“I mean he’s 190 pounds, 191 pounds,” Smith said. “You’ve got to be a 200-pound kid. He’s got to be physical. He’s got to play big. He’s got to play like a dominant receiver. He still doesn’t have the self-confidence to play to his ability level. So he’s got to experience success. He’s got to have small victories. He’s got to keep getting coached, keep getting grinded to the point where he goes out and feels like he’s a dominant guy. And when he is, he’s going to be a dominant guy. His attitude is great. The best.”