From day one, Urban Meyer has been less impressed with the receiving corps than any other position. The receivers and tight ends have never been as bad as feared; in 2012 and 2013, they were average. Urban Meyer hates average.
The response to two years of average production: grabbing four receivers in the February recruiting class, adding a transfer from Georgia Tech, adding a JUCO transfer and converting a linebacker to tight end. All in all, the receiver and tight end corps have seven new contributors in 2014.
While the receiving corps has reams of unproven talent, the tight ends have one proven target and several younger players waiting for their break. With everything to prove, it's up to the receivers and tight ends to show they can achieve greatness.
The Receivers and Tight Ends in 2013
First, a refresher on how Ohio State uses its receivers. Roughly speaking, the Buckeyes have X, Y, Z and H receivers with the following roles:
- The Y receiver is the tight end. He either blocks, tries to exploit seams in the defense, or lines up in the backfield as an h-back or fullback. Last year's starting Y receiver was Jeff Heuerman.
- The X receiver is the split end. He usually lines up on the line of scrimmage opposite the Y receiver and serves as a deep threat. Last year's starting X receiver was Devin Smith.
- The Z receiver is the flanker, who lines up outside the Y receiver. He lines up off the line of scrimmage and is often the go-to receiver. Last year's starting Z receiver was Corey "Philly" Brown.
- The H receiver is the slot receiver, also known as the H-back. The H-back is often a superathletic hybrid between a running back and receiver. He attacks the middle of the field, exploiting the defense in the short to medium passing range and hoping to break off long runs after the catch. Last year, Dontre Wilson, Jordan Hall and Philly Brown split time at H-back.
In 2013, the passing game was complementary to the running game. It wasn't bad by any means; Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton combined for an efficient 38/9 TD/INT ratio. However, the receivers' inability to get open made the offense one-dimensional at times.
For the most part, the passing game relied on a 1-2 punch of Brown and Smith. Brown led the team in targets, catches, receiving yards and touchdowns, while Smith was right behind him in each of those categories. Heuerman was the third option for the Buckeyes, unusual for an OSU tight end.
Brown's production is gone, along with three others: Chris Fields, Jordan Hall and Frank Epitropolous. None of them made a serious difference in the passing game, though Hall's versatility will be missed.
Devin Smith has been making plays since 2011; he's an easy pick for split end. Heuerman is an even easier choice as the tight end. Dontre Wilson appears to be more of a receiver than he was last year; he will continue to be the featured H-back.
|85||TE||BAUGH, MARCUS||6-4||248||FR||Riverside, CA|
|80||WR||BROWN, NOAH||6-1||244||FR||Sparta, NJ|
|21||WR||CAMPBELL, PARRIS||6-0||188||FR||Akron, OH|
|82||WR||CLARK, JAMES||5-10||186||FR||New Smyrna Beach, FL|
|1||WR||DIXON, JOHNNIE||5-11||198||FR||West Palm Beach, FL|
|24||TE||FERRELLI, GUY||6-0||252||FR||Columbus, OH|
|89||WR||GREENE, JEFF||6-5||220||JR||Peachtree City, GA|
|87||WR||GWILYM, PETER||6-0||195||SR||Freeport, ME|
|86||TE||HEUERMAN, JEFF||6-5||255||SR||Naples, FL|
|17||H-B||MARSHALL, JALIN||5-11||205||FR||Middletown, OH|
|20||WR||McDANIEL, DEVLIN||5-11||200||SO||Marion, OH|
|83||WR||McLAURIN, TERRY||6-0||184||FR||Indianapolis, IN|
|18||WR||MITCHELL, KATO||5-11||190||JR||Cleveland, OH|
|8||TE||MOORE, J.T.||6-3||260||SR||Youngstown, OH|
|19||WR||RAMSTETTER, JOE||6-3||210||SO||Cincinnati, OH|
|84||WR||SMITH, COREY||6-1||180||JR||Akron, OH|
|9||WR||SMITH, DEVIN||6-1||197||SR||Massillon, OH|
|6||WR||SPENCER, EVAN||6-2||208||SR||Vernon Hills, IL|
|3||WR||THOMAS, MICHAEL||6-3||212||SO||Los Angeles, CA|
|81||TE||VANNETT, NICK||6-6||260||JR||Westerville, OH|
|2||H-B||WILSON, DONTRE||5-10||185||SO||DeSoto, TX|
The flanker role is tougher to figure out. Michael Thomas has a chip on his shoulder after redshirting last year, and he's impressed in practice. Jeff Greene sat out last year after transferring from Georgia Tech; he's 6-5, the perfect size for a flanker. Sources close to the program say Thomas has been stellar in practice and that he should start.
When Ohio State goes to four or five receiver sets, they'll take off Heuerman and/or a running back and put on dynamic speedsters like Johnnie Dixon or Jalin Marshall. Don't sleep on James Clark, either. The burner forced his way onto the field early as a freshman before an ankle injury ended his season.
If you'll look at the starters section again, you'll notice I named eight starters for four or five spots in the lineup. Pity wide receivers coach Zach Smith, who has to choose between a dozen viable options leave several qualified receivers out of the mix.
I hesitate to call Evan Spencer a backup considering he was the fourth leading receiver last year. But given the influx of talent and meh results last year, he might be stuck as a backup along with with Corey Smith, an athletic JUCO transfer with two years of eligibility remaining. If there are injuries, though, one of these two is playing.
At the tight end position, Nick Vannett is the established backup. Marcus Baugh provides a solid receiving threat as long as he keeps his nose clean, and converted offensive lineman J.T. Moore might make appearances in jumbo packages if his career isn't actually done. Freshman Sam Hubbard has switched back and forth between linebacker and tight end; wherever he ends up, he is a near-guaranteed redshirt.
As for the other young receivers: true freshmen Terry McLaurin, Parris Campbell and Noah Brown (did we mention he's 244 pounds of wideout?) look headed for redshirts. Curtis Samuel was a wide receiver in high school, but he's more likely to end up in the backfield.
The Buckeyes lose their leading receiver and virtually no other production. They gain a variety of weapons, some of which may be spectacular and some of which may flop. The offensive gameplan will be more oriented toward the passing game, but there still won't be enough touches for everybody.
Given the talent and the likelihood of a shift toward the passing game, I wouldn't be surprised to see the receivers and tight ends combine for 300 receptions and 3500 passing yards. I also wouldn't be surprised to see a dozen people getting a handful of catches in 2014, most of them fleeting.
Given all the chaos in the receiving corps, the stability of the tight end corps is reassuring. With Heuerman in the fray and Vannett a solid backup, OSU doesn't have to worry about the tight ends. All tight ends coach Tim Hinton needs to do this year is focus on developing the younger talent and recruiting for 2015.
Now that Carlos Hyde is gone, opponents are going to stop loading the box and play the pass more often. Braxton Miller can get the ball where it needs to go, but it's up to the receivers to be playmakers and create opportunities they couldn't in 2013. If they do, a Big Ten championship – and possibly more – is within reach.
- Terry McLaurin was named Indiana's Mr. Football in 2013.
- The wide receiver position grouping has 11 scholarship players, second only to the offensive line (17).
- Jeff Heuerman's 466 receiving yards are the most for a Buckeye tight end since the Cooper era.
- Noah Brown missed his sophomore season in high school with a punctured lung. Ow.