Ohio State must replace Parris Campbell and his school-record 90 receptions from last year. Campbell set that record while splitting snaps with the returning KJ Hill, which gives you an idea of just how involved the H-backs were in the offense last season. Hill, now a fifth-year senior, will be joined at H-back by fifth-year senior CJ Saunders and redshirt freshman Jaelen Gill this season. All three will be in the rotation this season, which is why the depth chart has “ANDs” and not “ORs.”
KJ Hill AND
CJ Saunders AND
If Ryan Day and Brian Hartline weren’t comfortable with the situation at H-back, they probably wouldn’t have signed off on Demario McCall moving back to tailback. With KJ Hill, CJ Saunders, and Jaelen Gill, the position has depth, but each player also possesses their own distinct skill set. Hartline coaches his players to “be different,” and he’s got that with his H-backs. Hill and Saunders are annoyances for opposing coaches because they find open areas and move the chains. Gill, on the other hand, should begin to put fear in opposing defenses this season once they see what he is capable of doing.
“I don’t think there’s anything he doesn’t do. To me, he’s not going to be a Parris Campbell burner but there’s a lot of things that he does that Parris maybe didn’t do and he’s being a great leader, he’s growing up and I think that it’s an absolute pleasure and we’re blessed to have him back this year and I’m glad that he came back, to not only lead this group, stay on m hip and just get better. K.J. Hill’s in a phenomenal spot and he’s a staple right now in our receiver room.” — OSU receivers coach Brian Hartline on KJ Hill.
Losing Parris Campbell is a big blow for the Buckeyes, but redshirt freshman Jaelen Gill sure looked like a very promising replacement this spring. Gill is the only one of the H-backs who can replicate Campbell in terms of speed and explosion after the catch (or after the hand-off). He also showed some very nifty moves after the catch that involved more than simply getting into the next gear. Gill may not be as fast as Campbell, but he may have more make-you-miss.
While surrounded by the assembled Ohio State beat this spring, Brian Hartline was being asked question after question about this receiver or that receiver, and yet none of those questions were about leading returning pass catcher KJ Hill. So I began a question about Hill with, “It doesn’t seem like we talk about KJ Hill enough…” and he replied, “Nope, you don’t.” Hill had 68 receptions for 865 yards and six touchdowns last season. The 68 catches and 865 yards are the third-highest totals for a returning player in the Big Ten this season. For a new starting quarterback, Hill should be the perfect security blanket.
There wasn’t a lot of showboating this spring for the Buckeye H-backs, but KJ Hill has the kind of hands that make that sort of thing pretty easy. “KJ Hill’s got probably the best hands that I’ve seen in a long time,” Hartline said this spring. “That ball’s near him, it’s eaten up.”
In CJ Saunders’ quest to “be different,” he focuses on test taking and the minute details that it takes to be an Ohio State receiver. The tests allow him to show that he knows all of the ways to excel while running a route. “[Brian Hartline’s] going to ask you a question like what type of coverage do we expect, what do we do in zone coverage, those kinds of questions about receiver play. And then it will be diagramming the formation and the routes, and that’s what I’m talking about details. You can draw your catch point, where’s your landmark, where do you want to line up, and why do you want to line up there? That’s where you can really be different and add a lot of details and show what you really know about the game.”