Wide receiver Jaylen Harris has caught just two passes in each of his first two seasons as a Buckeye, playing in 10 games total.
The four career receptions after two seasons may seem low, but it’s still one more than Michael Thomas had after his first two years and three more than Johnnie Dixon. It’s also four more than Terry McLaurin and Parris Campbell combined.
A rising junior, Harris has played behind Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor at the X receiver position over his first two seasons. As co-starters in 2017 and 2018, Mack and Victor have combined for 94 receptions over the previous two seasons. As established veterans in 2018, it made snaps difficult to find for Harris.
For young players in Harris’ shoes, the bowl practices are always an opportunity to get reps and gain experience. Ohio State receivers coach Brian Hartline was pleased with Harris’ performance last month.
“Jaylen Harris has done a great job,” he said. “Had a great bowl prep.”
Harris put his opportunities to good use, catching the eye of his coaches and teammates in the process. The season may not have seen as many snaps as he was hoping, but he stayed focused on closing well.
“The season, I feel like I didn’t play as much as I thought I would, but I still had a great season and got much better throughout the process,” Harris said. “I was just happy to be here with my brothers and finish it off with a great note.”
Now headed into his third-consecutive year of playing the same position as Mack and Victor, some might wonder how a coach keeps him motivated to continue battling for playing time.
“To me, I’d be confused on how you’re not motivated,” Hartline said. “If you’re not playing enough snaps yet, if players ever think the best players don’t play at Ohio State, they’re wrong. They know that. Jaylen Harris is going to attack this offseason and take a job. In the end, I expect him to make this a hard conversation for me to talk to guys that have played a lot of football. But he is out there competing to take a job. That’s what I expect from receivers, to make my job hard and go take someone’s job if you don’t have one.”
Harris saw with his own eyes last year as freshman Chris Olave played a valuable role while playing the same position as veterans Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon. When Mack went down with an injury, some thought that Harris would move up in the depth chart. Instead, McLaurin moved over to the X and Olave stepped in at Z with Dixon.
It was proof for all of the receivers not to get hung up on the depth chart.
“Yeah, but I don’t think proof’s needed,” Hartline said. “I think they know that. I think they know that the best players play, whether it be a freshman or a fifth year. It doesn’t bother me. The best players play at Ohio State.”
Jaylen Harris understands why he didn’t get on the field as much as he would have liked this past season, but he also knows where he made his biggest strides.
“For sure, fighting through my fatigue and just using my big body as a tool,” he said. “Just being more physical. But fighting through my fatigue was my biggest issue and I’ve come a long way.”
Having worked on fatigue and consistency, as well as better utilizing his 6-foot-5 frame, Harris is closer than he has ever been to seeing regular minutes.
This offseason he will also work to improve coming in and out of his breaks. For a big receiver, those quick movements can be an uphill battle, but that’s been nothing new for Jaylen Harris.
He knows what his strengths are and he is working to add more than he had in 2018.
“My first five yards is where my explosion is,” he said. “But I need to work on everything to be the player I want to become, so this offseason is going to be a big one for me.”