The OSU department of athletics schedule interviews with wide receivers coach Brian Hartline as well as four student athletes today. Unfortunately unforeseen technical problems with the Zoom meeting made it very difficult to hear much of the responses of the interviewees. As best we can, here is what we managed to get from the interviews.
Hartline was asked to run down which of his talented wide receivers are practicing at the X and which are practicing at the Z. Hartline immediately harkened back to his former head coach, Jim Tressel, and launched into an explanation as to why it wouldn’t be in his best interest to really answer that question. He did, however, impressively channel his former head coach and delivered a Tresselesque monologue of coach-speak as to why it it a good idea for players to practice at both positions. He did so without once ever hinting at who is practicing where, making it an outstanding piece of Tressel-talk.
One thing that Hartline did confirm is that the freshman wide receivers all have a chance to play. “The film doesn’t lie” Hartline said when asked if would have any reservation playing the freshmen but quickly added that the best way for the freshmen to get on the field is to willing to play multiple roles, be that different positions, as a blocker at the point of attack, and on special teams. Also critical to freshmen getting playing time is the ability to not make silly and critical mistakes. It is expected that they can make plays. Avoiding mistakes is another story, and something that almost all young players need to learn.
Hartline coaches what is undeniably a skill position, the wide receiver position, but steadfastly asserted that the best football team is the one that blocks, the best, tackles the best and is the toughest. Those are the qualities he’s looking for in his players even though they play a skill position.
There was a lot of discussion regarding the rise of second-year wide receiver Jamison Williams. Williams is one of the fastest Buckeyes on the team. Speed has never been an issue for Williams, but Harline said that Williams has improved because he is doing all the things to improve as a player who might not have that speed. He is becoming a better route-runner and blocker and has improved his overall consistency. That improvement is not limited to on-field improvement. Harline said Williams has improved as a leader and is the classroom as well.
There is a lot of excitement over the move of Garrett Wilson to the slot receiver position. While most people are focused on Wilson’s role in the passing game, Hartline is just excited about his role in the running game. Wilson will be called on to block linebackers from his slot position “and he can” said Hartline. Hartline also called him a nightmare matchup and a very dynamic inside receiver. Hartline is also excited about slot receivers Demario McCall and Mookie Cooper. McCall has versatile skills as both a receiver and runner at the H-back position, and Hartline is very pleased and surprised at the progress Cooper has made, saying that he is “much further along that I anticipated”, particularly in view of the fact that Cooper missed his senior year of high school football and also spring football due to the pandemic shutdown. “He has natural ability to play football” said Hartline of Cooper.
There were off-season rumors that Olave would be three-and-done as a Buckeye and that if there was no season this season his last play as a Buckeye would be the last play of the Fiesta Bowl when a miscommunication between Olave and Justin Fields ended up in a game-sealing interception by Clemson. Today however, both Harline and Olave said the speculation about his leaving school was inaccurate. “I would have come back. That’s a guarantee,” said Olave. “I couldn’t let that be my last play.” Olave has also placed a high priority on earning a degree.
Regarding that last play in the Fiesta Bowl, Olave said he and Justin Fields have discussed it only once and have moved on. He did say, however, that the memory of that play has haunted him. During the virus-related shutdown he had trouble keeping it out of his mind, so would play video games or would work out two or three times a day in the hopes of keeping thoughts of that play out of his mind. “It’s a chip on my shoulder” said Olave. “It’s a bunch of what ifs. What if we didn’t call that play, what if it came out different.”
Williams confirmed that his game is now becoming more well-rounded, not just relying in his speed. He also said that he has improved academically as well as a football player. His biggest improvement overall has been in his focus and his ability to be consistent.
Williams is an improved player, but was happy to talk about another player who is improved, Justin Fields. He said Fields is more hungry this year and has become “a football gym rat.”
[Editors Note: This report is light on comments from players due to technical issues during the Zoom call that made it impossible to to hear players’ comments at times.]