As far as problems go, it’s not a bad one to have. But the Ohio State football program has more talented offensive skill players than it can use at any one time.
At the X wide receiver position, four-star recruits Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor took most of the reps last season. That left 6-foot-5 Jaylen Harris, who was a 4-star prospect as well, limited to spot duty.
Chris Olave, another 4-star prospect, eventually earned some playing time at Z receiver, but he had to push his way on the field past two guys who will likely get drafted into the NFL this month, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon.
The depth chart might have been even tougher to crack at H. Parris Campbell racked up 90 catches for 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns, one of the greatest receiving seasons in OSU history. Behind him, K.J. Hill had 70 catches for 885 yards and six scores. It’s no wonder that C.J. Saunders had less than 100 yards receiving, and Jaelen Gill had just one reception.
Now Campbell is gone, off to the NFL where he’s projected as a late-first or early-second round pick. That opens up an opportunity for one of the younger guys to step in.
This spring, Gill is doing everything he can to be that guy.
“He’s definitely making plays,” K.J. Hill said.
Wide receivers coach Brian Hartline agreed.
“He’s one of the guys that have made probably the biggest jumps,” Hartline said.
It makes sense that Gill is primed for a big second season with the Buckeyes. Not only does he have a year of experience in OSU’s offensive system, he also now has a season as a wide receiver under his belt.
“He made plays last year, but I feel like he’s polishing up to be a receiver now because he was a running back, coming in from high school he was a running back,” Hill said. “So now he’s been a receiver, and when you’re comfortable out there, you can start playing faster, knowing what you’re doing, having plans at receiver on the line, off the line, stuff like that.”
Gill has stood out as a playmaker during the portions of practice that have been open to the media this spring. He’s made some impressive catches downfield, and shown good elusiveness in the short passing game as well.
The coaching staff is clearly looking for ways to get the ball in his hands, and have given him opportunities to return punts during practice as well.
Both Hartline and Hill said that Gill has impressed them with his drive to learn and get better.
“He’s asked about a coverage, how should I attack it? If there’s a man over here and I have to go out there, what should I do?” Hill said.
“He’s at my hip, he wants to learn and learn,” Hartline said. “He’s doing a great job on the field and I’m excited for him.”
Now, Hill said it’s just a matter of Gill continuing to improve his game between now and the start of the season.
“I feel like he’s playing at a high level right now and he can keep enhancing it.”