To this point, most of the talk about Ohio State wide receiver Jaylen Harris has been about whether or not this was the year that he would be able to contribute.
Now a junior, Harris has provided glimpses and flashes over his first two years, which is what has always prompted the questions.
The potential is unmistakable. The inconsistency and the depth chart, however, have been difficult to overcome.
With Austin Mack’s move from X receiver to Z receiver, the depth chart for Harris is starting to unfold in his favor.
Harris and senior Binjimen Victor are now the top two players at the X for the Buckeyes, but it will still require consistency on Harris’ part to stay there.
“Every guy in our room can do it once,” said receivers coach Brian Hartline. “But which guys do it either every time, or every now and then? So where do you fall? To me, you keep chasing that ‘every time’ word and you continue to execute when the ball’s in the air your way and when the ball’s not your way. How often are you open, would you have been able to catch the ball?
“So it’s never good enough. We’re always getting better, but he’s on a good track too and I think that in our room, I’m really, really excited to come through summer and fall with the work we’ve done so far in spring.”
Over his first two seasons, Harris was behind both Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor at the X position. With the Buckeyes losing their top two Z receivers to graduation in Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon, however, Hartline decided to move Mack to Z in order to get the Buckeyes’ top three receivers on the field together.
That decision probably wouldn’t have been made had Hartline not been confident that Harris is now ready for a larger role in the Ohio State offense.
“Yeah, it helps, definitely. I think that says a lot about it,” Hartline said. “If maybe I didn’t feel the No. 2 guy or the guy next up or in tempo, who am I subbing with, if I didn’t feel good about Jaylen Harris, it would be hard to make that move. But with Jaylen Harris and how he’s coming, that’s a great example of why I feel comfortable moving Austin.”
Harris played in three games as a true freshman, catching two passes. Last year, he played in 10 games for the Buckeyes, but again caught just two passes.
With his time at Ohio State now half over, the desire to do something more builds every day, but so has his preparation.
Bowl preparation was productive for Harris and provided Hartline with an inkling that he would be ready for a larger role in 2019.
“Coach Hartline is a very good coach,” Harris said. “That’s my guy. Every time he sees me doing something wrong, he’ll send me clips. He’s very interactive. He will do the drill with us to make sure we’re doing it properly. He’s a really good coach.”
Not every player bursts out of the gate, especially at receiver, and especially at Ohio State.
Harris’ four catches after two years is one more than Michael Thomas had, and four more than both Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin.
The examples set by all three are proof that not everything comes quickly and nothing comes easily.
The entirety of work that Jaylen Harris has put in to this point, however, now has him ready to make his mark in the Ohio State offense. And he doesn’t think he’s alone.
“At the pace we’re going, I feel like all of the young players like myself and everybody else will be able to step up,” he said. “We’ve just got to follow the blueprint and follow the road our leaders paved for us. I feel like as long as we keep grinding and do the things we do, then we’ll be able to meet the expectations.”