Today’s Topic: What Does KJ Hill’s Return Mean for the Ohio State H-Backs?
In a bit of a surprise move on Tuesday, Ohio State fourth-year junior H-back KJ Hill announced that he is returning for his fifth-and-final season with the Buckeyes.
Many times, players are graduated and simply ready to move on by the time a fifth season rolls around. Hill, however, is following the path that was also chosen by receivers Johnnie Dixon, Parris Campbell, and Terry McLaurin a year ago when they all decided to return for their respective fifth seasons.
The Buckeyes have lost the three receivers mentioned above, but returning Hill is significant. His 68 receptions this past season is the sixth-most in school history, and his 142 career receptions are seventh-most in school history. His next catch will tie him with Parris Campbell for sixth place.
When you look at who was in the rotation this season, the Buckeyes will return four members of the “starting” six. Both ‘X’ receivers return in Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor, Hill returns at ‘H’, and Chris Olave returns at ‘Z’ after finishing strong down the stretch in Big Ten play as a true freshman.
Hill’s return is great for a Buckeye offense that will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, but it moves each of the other H-backs down a peg in the depth chart.
When talking to fellow H-backs Demario McCall and Jaelen Gill after the Big Ten Championship Game and the Rose Bowl, they both were well aware of the increased opportunities that were going to come with Parris Campbell’s departure. They may have also expected Hill to leave as well, which would have made touches even more prevalent.
Considering that Campbell caught 90 passes this past season while sharing time with Hill, there will still be plenty of touches to go around.
KJ Hill is 50 receptions away from being Ohio State’s all-time leading receiver, and barring anything unforeseen, he should better that number by about 20 or 30.
Campbell’s departure still leaves a wealth of reps and opportunities for both McCall and Gill, and as receivers coach Brian Hartline told me at the Rose Bowl, stop neglecting CJ Saunders in this conversation as well.
With the uncertainty about running back Brian Snead’s status, don’t be surprised if McCall is used more as a running back next season. He will still have work in the slot, but his skill set may be utilized in the backfield more along the lines of Curtis Samuel. Gill, however, with a skill set more along the lines of Campbell, could see plenty of work on jet sweeps and screens. Don’t be surprised when you see him used deep down the field as well. He is further along as a receiver than Campbell was at the same age.
Campbell had 99 touches on offense this season. McCall, Gill, and Saunders are all different players, but each of them should have quite a bit of say in how those 99 touches are replaced in 2019.
Whoever ends up starting at quarterback for the Buckeyes in 2019 will have a wide array of receivers to choose from, and once again, the H-backs could be the deepest position on the team.