The 2013 football season served as a re-birth for the Ohio State passing game and, more importantly, for the players catching those passes. Luke Fickell’s one season at the helm of the Buckeyes would be best described as disastrous when offense is discussed. Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman exhibited zero creativity, which didn’t bode well for a senior quarterback who lacked experience and a true freshman.
Joe Bauserman and a young Braxton Miller combined for 125 completions, 1,651 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. Devin Smith, Philly Brown and Jake Stoneburner tied for the team lead with all of 14 receptions. Few, if any, were proud of the dismal numbers. Attached was a 6-7 record, tied for the most losses in school history.
In came Urban Meyer and his high-octane offense, and everyone thought the passing game would be transformed overnight. The win-loss record certainly was, as Ohio State polished off a perfect 12-0 season in 2012. But the receivers still weren’t at the desirable level. Wide receivers coach Zach Smith became a target for much of the scorn; he even piled it on himself.
Finally, 2013 assisted in the reclamation project. Miller and Kenny Guiton approached the 3,000-yard mark and the receiving corps delivered highlights from the moment the season started. And the coming year could prove even more dramatic.
An impressive haul of pass-catchers was added in the 2014 recruiting class, unveiling visions of the 1980s, 90s and early-2000s. Names like Carter, Galloway, Boston, Jenkins and Holmes. Smith, Evan Spencer and the versatile Dontre Wilson return, but perhaps the most excitement surrounds true freshman Johnnie Dixon.
The South Florida native picked Ohio State over a handful of blue bloods, pointing to the Buckeyes’ tradition of molding receivers into capable NFL producers. Dixon, a four-star recruit, will begin his Buckeye career next Tuesday at the dawn of spring practice.
“I wanted to be a great receiver, and under Coach Meyer and Coach Smith, I can make that happen and they can make that happen,” Dixon said. “If I wanted to be a great receiver, I knew it had to be here. Nothing is ever given to you. You go out and work for it. Depending on how bad you want it and how hard you work, it’s there for the taking.”
Height is certainly not an advantage for Dixon – he stands just 5-foot-11. But he doesn’t shy away from contact, possesses elusive speed and will rise in the air for the football. Once you scan pass the height, one quickly sees the qualities Dixon provides.
“I like electric guys that are going to take the football and put it across the goal line,” Smith said. “That’s it. I want it in the end zone. I don’t care how big you are. It doesn’t matter, just get it in the end zone. It’s nice to have size, but I like playmakers.”
Without even playing a down yet for Ohio State, Dixon has become one of the team’s most coachable wide receivers. During the recruiting process, Smith observed several practices at Dwyer High School. The pats-on-the-back didn’t come until after Smith went down a checklist of the wrongs with Dixon.
In nearly two months on campus, Dixon has been active in the weight room and the indoor field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Video of Miller working with the wide receivers has appeared on social media. A strong work ethic is central in Dixon being the recipient of immediate playing time.
“I feel like if I work hard enough, I can hit the field and I can make an impact,” he said.
The wide receiver rotation could feature several names that were absent a year ago. Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Corey Smith redshirted, James Clark played sparingly and suffered a season-ending injury and Jeff Greene was a transfer. That doesn’t include an influx of freshmen skill players.
It adds a dose of excitement to spring practice that’s otherwise nonexistent. And backups Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett will deliver a majority of the passes because of Miller’s shoulder surgery. The duel for the No. 2 quarterback position is another layer in a spring full of storylines.
“You don’t want to take away from what guys like Devin Smith and Evan Spencer have done for us this past year,” Smith said, “but at the end of the day, we need to get better. We were a better unit, but we weren’t where we needed to be. There’s not a position in my room that is locked down or anyone who really has an edge.”
It could pave the way for a freshmen invasion with Dixon playing a starring role.