2014 Season Preview: Ohio State's Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

By Nicholas Jervey on August 16, 2014 at 8:30a
Devin Smith will be the number one target as a senior.

Kirk Irwin Photography

28 Comments
Eleven Warriors' 2014 Ohio State Football Season Preview

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.

The Starters

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.

Ohio State WR/TE Depth
No. POS Name HT WT YR Hometown
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.

The Backups

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.

Overview

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.

2013 Receiving Statistics
Name REC YDS AVG LONG TD
SMITH, DEVIN 44 660 15.0 90 8
HEUERMAN, JEFF 26 466 17.9 57 4
SPENCER, EVAN 22 216 9.8 25 3
WILSON, DONTRE 22 210 9.5 32 2
VANNETT, NICK 8 80 10.0 16 1
MITCHELL, KATO 1 5 5.0 5 0

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.

Etc.

  • 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.
28 Comments

Comments

WesPatterson23's picture

In the depth chart box, Chris Fields isn't there, because he graduated, but in the article you say Chris Fields and Spencer may be stuck as back-ups? But anyway awesome article. Excited to see what we can do with all this speed and talent.

+1 HS
Nicholas Jervey's picture

I'm not sure how Chris Fields ended up in the backups section since he was supposed to go under the 2013 departing players. Apparently I done goofed. Thanks for the correction.

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gumtape's picture

This is the one position group where I have absolutely no idea what to expect in the Navy game.

just another psycho, irrational, delusional Ohio St fan

+5 HS
chirobuck's picture

This is one of the things I'm most excited about the Navy game, I can't wait to see who lines up where and how the targets are split up and who starts making plays

 
^ best post ever ^

IGotAWoody's picture

I think Navy is in for a world of trouble with this bevy of receiving talent. A ton of guys eager to show what they can do, against a very questionable secondary. And with a QB and offensive coordinator that will be ready to test out their new passing offense.Their DBs are going to be completely overmatched.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Great writeup on the receiver situation.  Expecting Smith to really step it up this year as well as Wilson, and I also think Evan Spencer may be featured more than we expect.  Hope Braxton's shoulder heals well and he stays healthy.  One ESPN analyst stated that the bucks are too dependent on one player.  As much as I grumbled after hearing that not sure what might happen in a big game if we need the backup QB to come in for an extended period of time.  Kenny G. was a tremendous luxury and blessing to have the last two seasons.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

brbrbuckeye's picture

I still think he should have been put in the Clemson game when Brax injured his shoulder.

GO BUCKS!!! URBAN RENEWAL!

+3 HS
ibuck's picture

Occasionally ESPN gets it right. We can't reasonably expect Braxton to come up with miracles, even though he has done this a lot, whenever the Bucks get into a tough situation. OSU needs to have a very diverse attack, and that requires other playmakers getting the ball outside the box. And Miller can't be the only one who can deliver the ball to them. If he is, defenders are going to tee off on him.

Our honor defend, we will fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

+1 HS
HotSauceCommittee's picture

I am not understanding the 2nd paragraph under The Backups. Who might be stuck here and who might be playing? Am I missing something? Thx team.

+1 HS
hetuck's picture

Don't overlook Spencer's blocking ability. That will be key to springing Wilson and Elliot. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

+2 HS
Hovenaut's picture

Excellent point, 

Especially entering  the PEGE (Post-El Guapo-era). With a new line up front, a quick pass scheme, and a shift in running towards the perimeter, the WR's are going to have be stout on the edges. 

Spencer may not have the stats, but I'm thinking he's providing a decent blueprint in one of the more vital aspects of playing receiver. 

+3 HS
Tater_Schroeder's picture

I did not realize that Heuerman's year was the best by a TE since Coop. He was a quiet contributer, which I am completely OK with. 

It appears we have plenty of options for gaining big chunks of yards.  I'm  curious who will be viable red zone targets outside of Heuerman. 

How Firm Thy Friendship

BuckminsterFullback's picture

I'm  curious who will be viable red zone targets outside of Heuerman. 

I think that Greene and Thomas have the size and athleticism to create match-up problems in the red zone. 

I wonder if we'll see both Heuerman and Vannett in some formations inside the 5-yd line; in this case, the extra TE isn't essentially an offensive tackle, but rather a big receiving target who can also block. 

+2 HS
Habu71's picture

So many unknowns, yet so much potential. I'm looking forward to seeing Baugh surprise us with a solid, productive, nose kept clean, season. 

+1 HS
buckeyepastor's picture

OSU's tendency throughout last year was "lean on our strength," and thanks to Hyde and Miller the results were spectacular.   This year, too, in spite of so many athletic but young receivers, the run game going in is the more "established" strength of the offense.   I am hoping to see a September where the offense is truly balanced.   Last year and the year before, it was sometimes said, "Well, we want to have things equal between run and pass, but the run game is so good we decided not to pass."   To me, when there are 7 or 8 in the box, that's rationalizing.  Truth is that based on the numbers and alignments last year most defenses were daring us, practically BEGGING us, to throw all over the field and we didn't, or couldn't.   

I think most would agree that while EZE and Co. are very good, whoever is back there with Braxton will be a slight drop off from what Hyde brought to the table.   Everything about this year says to me that we HAVE to be able to pass more effectively and more often than last year, though unlike last year defenses may not be aligning against us as favorably for that to occur.  It will be interesting.   

I want to see an offense bold and fearless about throwing the ball in September.  I want OSU to send a message to its opponents that while we are still a team with a great run game we are not a team that can only kill you with the run game.    In 2012 and 2013, we had a great, high scoring, efficient offense.  I want this to be the year where we add balance to it and at least get into the top 50 in passing.    

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

+1 HS
BuckeyeCrusdader's picture

You talk about JT Moore..... http://www.elevenwarriors.com/ohio-state-football/2014/07/37583/jt-moore...

Im also pretty sure that Sam Hubbard is back at LB

+1 HS
Nicholas Jervey's picture

For the purposes of the preview, I'm including everyone that could forseeably fit in at the position. Because of that, I'm toeing the official line on Moore (that his career isn't over) and including Hubbard (because he converted once and might again). Still, you're right that their situations weren't clear, so I added clarification to their sections.

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Sims_tOSU's picture

In the ETC. section it says the wide receivers have "1" scholarship players. So I'm guessing thats a typo. 

BuckeyeGrownFloridaLiving's picture

Does Michael Thomas have 2 or 3 years left of eligibility?

TURD_BUCKET's picture

I would like to see more passing to the tight ends, for sure. 6-8 times over the middle, 10-15 yards downfield.

Last year I was never sure if the receivers couldn't get open or Braxton never found them, or both.

There is a lot of depth here so I am hoping 3 or 4 guys can step up and make opposing defenses have to game plan for them and really 'spread' the field.

Geeezz, with the cool mornings lately in central Ohio, the juices starting to bubble, the expectations and excitement reaching critical mass, and.....and...deep breath...Sorry

“Being average means you are as close to the bottom as you are to the top.”

Ahh Saturday's picture

[The Buckeyes] gain a variety of weapons, some of which may be spectacular and some of which may flop. 

While this is undoubtedly true, the Buckeyes have so many weapons coming in that we'll be able to absorb the flops.  There WILL be play makers at X, Y, Z, and H this season.

CPDenn's picture

As much of a question mark as it might seem like, I'm really not worried about this group. Way too much talent for there not to be good production. These freshman and sophomores, especially Dixon, aren't going to wait for their opportunity. Add in Corey Smith and Jeff Greene and I think this passing game goes to a new level. Hopefully the line is able to hold up in pass protection and run effectively to keep the defense on their heels, but talent wise we haven't had a group like this since '05. So. Much. Speed.

seafus26's picture

Gotta know where all this talent will be coming out of cuts and have thrown the ball effectively throwing them open. Ala I'll give a young QB who only had Titus Young as NFL talent and he put up passing numbers and was leaned on as a true freshman and for all for years as a passer. Crap, can't remember his name, but was a four year starter at Boise. Higher profile QBs do it to once given chance to play. Manzeil and Winston did it as red shirt freshman, but they had NFL talent around them much like Brax does now. We can't have second halves passing like the B1G champ or the last couple minutes and fourth quarter of Orange Bowl. When in must pass mode, D drops more people and ball must be perfect. 

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

CPDenn's picture

There are a handful of kids at the college level per season who consistently throw their receivers open, and that's being generous. Even guys like Winston and Manziel aren't throwing their receivers open on a vast majority of their throws. The kid you are thinking of is Kellen Moore, and I'd be wiling to bet that one of the reasons he wasn't a higher pick is because he can't throw guys open. That's the case with a lot of QB's who don't get run in the NFL, including Troy Smith. Moore also had Austin Pettis who was a 3rd round pick. Working with superior talent on the outside that is going to get open is the best thing for Braxton this year passing wise, and that's something he hasn't had consistently yet. 

I'm not sure where people get this idea that for us to win big, Braxton needs to be a top passing QB. He doesn't, and he never will be like Winston or Manziel. Thats OK, because each year he's improved and it's a safe bet that he'll take another step forward this season. And now it looks like there are not only legitimate threats on the outside that Braxton finally gets to work with, but can help cover up some of those passing deficiencies. 

brbrbuckeye's picture

LOL at any team who thinks we won't be running over them still just because we don't have Hyde.

GO BUCKS!!! URBAN RENEWAL!

+1 HS
ibuck's picture

"Break a leg" to all the receivers. We need 'em to get open and hang on to the ball.

Just for fun, I'd like to see senior Peter Gwilym from Freeport, Maine (home of LL Bean) receive an airmail package on time and with the right stuff, and be completely satisfied with the result.

 

Our honor defend, we will fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

GVerrilli92's picture

I really think this is Mike Thomas and Jalin Marshall's year. It's their time.

How many cheeseburgers are you gunna drive into that dirty old cheeseburger locker Brady Hoke?