Fall camp got underway for the Buckeyes this past Friday and every single Ohio State position coach has a mental list of things that they need to get done.
In fact, they may actually have a physical list as well.
Speculating as to what might be on each assistant coach’s list is always a fun exercise, and there are no shortages of items that will need to be addressed.
We have previously covered the to-do lists for defensive line coach Larry Johnson, secondary coach Jeff Hafley, offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, linebackers coach Al Washington, and running backs coach Tony Alford.
Up today is receivers coach Brian Hartline.
Hartline must find replacements for Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, and Johnnie Dixon, but that’s just one of the many things he will be trying to get accomplished this month.
What might the rest of his list look like?
1. Figure out a rotation that works.
For many years now, the Buckeyes had a group of six receivers they could rely on. Basically, they’ve had a two-deep at the three receiver positions since 2014. Back then it was Devin Smith/Corey Smith, Evan Spencer/Michael Thomas, and Dontre Wilson/Jalin Marshall. The last two years, it’s been Austin Mack/Binjimen Victor, Terry McLaurin/Johnnie Dixon, and Parris Campbell/KJ Hill. Three of those guys are gone now, however, and Mack may be playing on the other side of the line. Still, it looks like there will be more than the form-fitting six receivers that Brian Hartline can turn to this season. CJ Saunders and Jaelen Gill give the Buckeyes three H-backs. Garrett Wilson, Jameson Williams, and Ellijah Gardiner are three Zs looking to break into the current two-deep of Mack and Chris Olave. Things are a bit quieter over at X, where you’ve got Victor and Jaylen Harris. The math may not work out perfectly this season, and there may be some remainders, but it is easy to imagine there being guys beyond the top six who can be contributors this season.
2. Determine where Austin Mack is going to be.
When you look at the depth at Z right now, with or without Austin Mack, and compare it to the depth at X, you can see why it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Mack move back to X. Currently, he is still at Z and the Buckeyes seem determined to keep it that way. The growth of Jaylen Harris has made this a comfortable decision for Brian Hartline. It will also force guys like Garrett Wilson and Ellijah Gardiner to elevate their games even more if they want to break into any kind of rotation. In order for Mack to stay where he is, however, he is also going to have to show that he can handle it. While a senior like him might be taking fewer reps because of the experience he already has, Hartline can’t necessarily go that route with Mack because they need to get him ready and he needs to show that he can make the necessary plays.
3. Continue to refine Garrett Wilson’s skills.
Garrett Wilson may be the most talented receiver on the Ohio State roster, but he is far from the most skilled. Skill takes time, but Brian Hartline and Wilson have no problem punching the clock. Wilson is a quick learner and a productive applier. Refinement is always necessary for a freshman, but sometimes that refinement looks a lot like pouring boxed wine into a red plastic cup. Yeah, it’s better to drink out of a cup than a box, but there’s still a ways to go before the local country club is going to send you an invite. Wilson is clearly further along than most freshmen, which is why Brian Hartline is already able to focus as much on refinement as teaching.
4. Find another Terry McLaurin.
This one is simple. All Brian Hartline needs to do is find someone who does everything correctly no matter what is asked. Who is a leader. Who is also a hell of a blocker. Who is reliable. Who is fast, strong, and one of the toughest dudes on the team. He must be able to move positions at any point. Somebody who is more happy to see a teammate score than to score himself. Who prefers to block a couple of guys on a scoring play than being the guy who actually scored the touchdown. A receiver capable of wiping out three defenders in a single bound. Somebody who will run just as hard to clear out a defense as a receiver who runs a route knowing he is the primary read. Somebody who will do whatever it takes, whenever required, and for any of his teammates. And then somebody who can catch the ball and run a long way with it as well.
5. Give Jaelen Gill as much as he can handle.
Parris Campbell caught 90 passes last season and now he is gone. Jaelen Gill is the one receiver on this Ohio State football team who is most similar to Campbell. They’re both about the same size, both played running back in high school and had to transition to receiver in college. They’re both very fast, but in order to stay on Campbell’s good side, it must be mentioned that Campbell is certainly faster. That doesn’t make Gill slow, of course, because he’s not. The main point here is that a large chunk of the offense left with Campbell, and so did its explosion. In camp, Gill should be worked at every level. In the backfield, on sweeps, on drag routes, deep stuff over the middle, and deep stuff down the sideline. Gill could make up for a lot of the big plays lost from last season, but first Brian Hartline needs to know that he is capable of handling the responsibility.