With the departures of fifth-year senior receivers Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, and Johnnie Dixon, the Buckeyes must replace a trio of receivers that accounted for a total of 167 receptions, 2,433 yards, and 31 touchdown catches in 2018.
Despite the losses, Ohio State will return six receivers with extensive playing time in Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor, KJ Hill, Chris Olave, CJ Saunders, and Demario McCall. Those six players combined for 146 receptions this past season, and that’s with Mack missing six games due to injury and Olave and McCall not really coming on until the end of the season.
There are also redshirt freshmen and true freshmen coming in, as well as receivers like Jaylen Harris and Ellijah Gardiner who have yet to make an impact.
So while the Buckeyes are losing a ton in Campbell, McLaurin, and Dixon, receivers coach Brian Hartline is excited about the players who are returning.
“It’s great. It’s mixed emotions,” he said. “They deserve it. They’re awesome. I can’t wait to cheer them on in their next endeavors and all that, but obviously we’re losing them. So I’m excited for the next guys.”
There is no reason for Hartline to feel bad about the situation he finds himself in. With Victor and Mack, he is returning a pair of players headed into their third season in the receiver rotation. Victor has caught 11 touchdowns over the past two seasons, and Mack still finished fifth on the team in receptions (26) despite missing the final six games.
Mack’s departure forced McLaurin to play ‘X’ in Mack’s place, freeing up freshman Chris Olave to finally get some reps, which he capitalized on.
And the return of KJ Hill will allow the Buckeye passing offense to have reliable receivers returning at all three spots.
“I’m excited for Chris Olave and Ben Vic and Austin Mack and CJ Saunders and KJ Hill,” Hartline said. “Jaylen Harris has done a great job. Had a great bowl prep. Ellijah Gardiner has taken a good step.”
Since Hartline came to Ohio State late in the 2016 season, Campbell, McLaurin, and Dixon have been constants in his life. So while he is excited for what is to come at OSU, he is also going to miss the guys he has helped grow so much.
“Again, it’s mixed emotions,” he said. “I’m excited for both. If there’s any tears, it’s tears of joy because I really look forward to the next chapter. But there will definitely be a hole when they leave next year. And really the biggest hole will be the leadership and seeing who now will step up into that role and take it on with a full head of steam.”
The Buckeyes will have four senior receivers in 2019 in Mack, Victor, Hill, and Saunders, but the leadership provided by guys like McLaurin and Campbell has been unique throughout their careers. Early on, strength coach Mickey Marotti pointed them out to Urban Meyer and said they would be leaders in the program.
Hill returning tells you he wants to be a leader. Saunders, who began his career as a walk-on cornerback, has his team’s respect. Mack was blossoming last year prior to his injury, and Victor’s last season is expected to be his best. The possibilities are there for the kind of leadership the Buckeyes will need.
The other question is will there be the necessary six or seven receivers that can be counted on? Ohio State wants to rotate at least two players at each position, and right now there are a number of jobs up for grabs. In fact, Brian Hartline will tell you that every job is up for grabs because the best players are going to play.
Whether or not any of those young players can lay claim to one of those prime spots is still very much up in the air.
“The real question will be which guys can take that step through the offseason program and into spring camp to then really establish themselves and where their role is going to be,” he said. “Where they establish themselves and how they take care of themselves through the fall, because competition breeds excellence and we’re going to be competing for jobs from the middle of January through fall camp.”
It will be a daunting task for Hartline to integrate the new leadership while developing the new, young talent to a level where they can contribute as needed.
He wouldn’t have it any other way, though.
“Being a doctor or being a coach, whatever it is, you thrive in those situations and you want to be the guy to make an impact,” he said. “So I really look forward to the opportunity and I don’t take it lightly.”