Film Study: Redefining the "Percy Position"

By Kyle Jones on April 3, 2014 at 2:30p

Kyle Rowland wrote earlier this week about Dontre Wilson’s desire to be more involved in the Ohio State offense, getting his hands on the football more than the 31 rushes and 22 receptions we witnessed in 2013. One of the key reasons that Kyle highlighted for Dontre’s lack of playing time was his inability to settle in at a specific position, splitting time between running back and wide receiver.

This Spring, however, Wilson finds himself as the starting ”H” receiver, lining up most often in the slot. As has been the case since he committed to play for Urban Meyer, Wilson has regularly compared to former Meyer pupil, Percy Harvin, who manned the same spot during his time in Gainseville.

However, as Meyer had this to say about the talented Mr. Harvin: 

“I don’t use that term ‘Percy Harvin’ very loosely because there’s only probably one of him, but we like Dontre,” Meyer said. “That hybrid position is really a key guy.”

Barring injury, Dontre will most certainly not be the best player on the Ohio State offense next fall. That title lay squarely on the shoulders of the guy in the #5 jersey. As long as he is in Scarlet & Gray, Braxton Miller will still be the focal point of the OSU offense, with a game-plan built to best utilize his talents, both running and passing the football. Wilson will be counted on to keep defenses from focusing solely on Miller by using his speed to stretch a defense horizontally.

In 2013, Dontre Wilson contributed to that game-plan by motioning in and out of the backfield, creating a distraction so that Braxton Miller or Carlos Hyde had fewer eyes on them as they moved the ball. OSU force-fed him the ball early in the year (13 rushes and 7 catches during the first 3 games), simply so teams had to watch out for him when he was on the field.

But you all know this already. Ross, and others, have broken down the 2013 OSU offense at length.  What you want to know is, “how will they actually get Dontre the football in 2014?”

As much as I like to pretend otherwise, I am not Tom Herman. I will not be calling the plays in Ohio Stadium this fall (although I’d like the record to clearly state that I’m open to the possibility), but if I were, Percy Harvin footage wouldn’t be the first place I’d turn for ideas.

While in Gainesville, Meyer had a stable of small, fast running backs, including Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, neither of whom excelled at running between the tackles. As we all know, Meyer turned to another gentleman to handle those duties on a regular basis. Still, Meyer had to find creative ways to run the ball inside.

In fact, Harvin’s most successful concept while at Florida was an inside run: 


However, Ohio State's depth chart is stocked at the running back spot, especially with inside runners. As such, simply taking the Florida playbook and replacing Wilson's name for Harvin isn't a seamless solution. So where else should we look?

The next easy comparison to Wilson would be DeAnthony Thomas of Oregon. Thomas is nearly identical in size, and might be even one of the few players that wouldn’t balk at racing Wilson in a sprint.

The Ducks utilized Thomas’ skills quite often while he wore the Green, Yellow, Black, Gray, White, Liquid Chrome, the other green, and whatever other colors I may have forgotten that Oregon featured during the past three years. Scoring 46 touchdowns in that span, Thomas was a threat as both a runner and receiver.

Most commonly, Thomas carried the ball in Outside Zone, or Stretch, plays that Oregon has for years made the foundation of their offense. However, Ohio State’s core running plays are the Inside Zone and “Power” plays, meaning that the offensive line would have to master a new scheme that is not often utilized elsewhere in the offense.

The more likely concept that Ohio State may replicate from Thomas’ time as a Duck was when he lined up as one of two running backs on either side of the quarterback, and utilized all three in a triple option play:

Oregon Triple Option

In what has become and extremely popular concept across college football, the offensive line blocks as if it were any other inside zone play. If the quarterback correctly makes his reads, the offense is either given a numbers advantage inside, or has two electric players on the outside that defenses now have to deal with in open space.

Thomas lined up in the backfield quite a bit early on in his career, but later began working out of the slot as his career progressed (sound familiar?). With Oregon’s 4 wide receiver formations, defenses often weren’t able to match up well will Thomas, as seen below:

Thomas quick out

The opposing Defense is operating their base defense in an attempt to hedge their bets against either a run or pass on the first down play. Unfortunately, that means that a linebacker (green circle) is the closest defender to Thomas at the snap. After the outside receiver to his side runs downfield, occupying the cornerback to that side, all that is required from Thomas is to run a short route to the flat, away from the linebacker, and keeping the 5 yard cushion he’s already been given, intact:

Thomas quick out 2

Thomas need not be an expert route runner to exploit situations like this, simply catch the ball in space and turn upfield, where his speed is even more dangerous.

Another creative way Oregon got Thomas the ball was through screen passes. While Ohio State fans are now intimately familiar with how successful a screen pass to the slot receiver may be, Oregon occasionally also ran a number of screens to Thomas while he lined up in the backfield:

Thomas middle screen

Thomas was blessed with many talents, but great natural route-running and catching ability does not appear to be among them (at least not yet). However, the Oregon coaching staff did a fantastic job of finding creative ways to get him the ball in areas where he could maximize his nearly unparalleled speed and quickness.

To me, however, the gold standard for a collegiate “space player” over the past few years was Tavon Austin. While part of an Air Raid offense at West Virginia that featured multiple NFL receivers and an NFL QB, all eyes often were on #1.

The game that put him on the map for most fans was the 2012 Orange Bowl against Clemson, where he scored 4 touchdowns:


This game sparked a trend that is now seen all over college and pro football: running the jet sweep as a shovel pass instead of a handoff. The reason for the adjustment is in case something goes wrong with the exchange, the play is dead, as it’s considered an incomplete pass instead of a fumbled handoff.

This concept should look fairly familiar to Buckeye fans, as it was run not only by Dontre Wilson a couple times last season, but also by Philly Brown in the Orange Bowl. My guess is that we’ll be seeing a lot more of it this fall.

What stands out most when watching Austin is his ability to change speeds and accelerate out of cuts, leaving defenders reeling and back on their heels as he runs past them.

The other concept for which Austin is famous is the "Jerk" route:

Austin Jerk

To the defender, it appears that he is running a slant inside, but after cutting inside, Austin immediately plants his outside foot, completely pivots his body to face back towards the quarterback, and then explodes towards the sideline.

Austin’s incredible acceleration allows him to create separation and turn an easy three-yard route into an eight-yard gain.

Ultimately, the goal for any player like Harvin, Thomas, Austin, or our friend Dontre, is to easily get them the ball in places where they can maximize their unique skills. While many concepts within passing playbooks are often attempting to gain an advantage in separation between a receiver and defender of equal athleticism, the goal of many of these plays is to get the ball to a player that clearly has an advantage over his defenders when there is room to run and move.

This is not to say that the existing Ohio State playbook will have to be rewritten to give Dontre Wilson some of these opportunities. As the previous “H” receiver for the Buckeyes, Philly Brown ran a number of different screen pass concepts, as well as became a master of the Option Route from the slot, which became the go-to pass play on 3rd downs in the 2012 season. Brown was a much more polished receiver than we should expect Wilson to be, meaning the number of downfield pass concepts that will go his way is likely to be limited in the early part of the 2014 season.

However, after losing Carlos Hyde and Philly Brown, the 2014 Buckeyes simply can’t afford for talented players like Dontre Wilson to be an accessory. Players like him need to be at the core of what the offense tries to accomplish week in and week out. So, if Urban Meyer and Tom Herman are serious about getting him the ball more, there are certainly worse places to look than a Percy Harvin highlight tape. It’s just not the only place. 


Comments Show All Comments

mc22's picture

It's so refreshing to actually have this many weapons on offense and coaches that will actually try to use all of them.

Can't wait  - even with the oline losses along with Hyde and Philly  - next yrs. O might even be better because of the potential growth of Braxton and utilization of Dontre.

Defense coordinators will have match up issues all over the field.

+1 HS
BrooklynBuckeye's picture

Great writeup. I gotta admit, those look like plays Dontre can (HOPEFULLY) make. He's not Teddy fast, but maybe he's Tavon quick. Fall? Heck, the spring game can't even get here fast enough.

+2 HS
OSUpawn's picture

I need to stop reading this stuff just makes me want to watch football now.......

I believe the SEC players put their pants on one leg at a time like we do.

+2 HS
tussey's picture

Great write-up.

stevebelliseeya's picture

I'm going to have to have my wife limit my internet time or I'm going to start committing crimes of withdrawal. 

"We are eternal. All this pain is an illusion." - Tool

+1 HS
WesPatterson23's picture

Definitely not only need to utilize him but find unique ways to get it to the other speedsters such as Johnnie, Curtis, James Clark, and Jalin Marshall.

CGroverL's picture

If it is possible to get the ball to Wilson in space like the Tavon Austin show we just saw, teams will not be able to cover the other speedsters you spoke of. Mastering the screen pass (it seems the Buckeyes have had some trouble with that for a while now) would be a safe and easy way to utilize ALL of the playmakers' speed...including the RB's which all seem to have breakaway speed that El Guapo lacked. Hyde was great, he just didn't possess the "home run threat" like these kids do.

"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



DC-town's picture

Great write-up Kyle, I think the 'Percy harvin' needs to be out to bed, unless a coach is using it in recruiting.

looking beyond next 2014, I start to think that the offense would be better off without a Torrence Gibson type.  With as many playmakers we have, we need a smart qb that can distribute the ball to our playmakers, but still be tough enough to get some short yards when we need them.

'Piss excellence' -RB

+1 HS
CGroverL's picture

Now that we have seen a true dual threat QB, I really want more of the same. The truth is though that your comment is 100% correct. A sharp throwing Cardale Jones with his size and toughness may be EXACTLY what Ohio State will need after Braxton's era. Great comment! With Meyer's offense, I had totally forgotten about how a 6'5, 245 pound QB would fit.....I love it.

"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



+1 HS
OSU_1992_UFM's picture

I love the versatility you get with a dual threat QB, but I've always said I would prefer a pocket passer with smarts(McCarron,Murray). Just think with the weapons on the roster now we may be better suited with that style, though Cardale has fantastic size and a cannon.

Give me Krenzel all day

Spring football is like non-alcoholic beer.  It looks like what you want, but only intensifies your desire for the real thing--Earle

ToetotheFace's picture

Doubtful considering the spread option offense Urban runs. The QB HAS to be a threat on the ground or the defense will overcommit to the RB or the sweep. I'll take Miller over Krenzel(as well as McCarron and maybe Murray) in every situation with this offense, it just wouldn't have the same explosiveness without a capable runner at QB. Which is why Urban's worst offense came in 06 and 2010, even with the compensation by allowing a backup to run read plays. 

FitzBuck's picture

As much as I like to pretend otherwise, I am not Tom Herman. I will not be calling the plays in Ohio Stadium this fall (although I’d like the record to clearly state that I’m open to the possibility)

i only have one question: it's 4th and 1 the game is on the line and you need to pick this up to win.  What do you do?  (Also you have last years roster.)

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

Kyle Jones's picture

Ha, well I think instead of trying to run inverted veer, or a QB sweep, I'd rely on the inside zone run somehow. OSU's O Line was so effective with that scheme, and it's adaptable to a lot of defensive fronts. 

I would've probably ran some kind of inside zone read-option, getting the ball to Hyde inside or Miller on the edge, maximizing the abilities the two best runners, and forcing the defense to pick which one they want to defend.

FitzBuck's picture

Youre hired if the need for a new OC arises.

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

CGroverL's picture

Was it just me or did Tavon Austin's work look TOO EASY? If opposing defenses play Wilson like these opposing defenses played against Austin, Dontre should average 25-30 yards per catch. I have a feeling that Big Ten defenses will have a scheme to neutralize Wilson a bit and his work will be a bit harder than Austin's. If Wilson can get the ball in that kind of space and hit top speed in 3 steps (although Austin ran 4.3 FLAT 40's) he should be unstoppable. I think it will be a bit harder for Wilson but it will open other options. This is not to say Wilson will be a decoy as it seemed he was a lot in 2013 but Austin has unmatchable quickness. Wilson is close but almost no one is as quick as Austin, even at the next level. The bottom line though is that Ohio State should put up record numbers offensively in my opinion, especially if we are looking at overall offensive weapons. Wilson has the ability and CHANCE to give the Buckeyes something they have never had before which is a true home run hitter EVERY time he touches the ball from 2 different positions.

Really, the Buckeyes haven't had but one receiver in the last decade that truly could take it to the house nearly every time after making just one defender miss. This offense should look and feel different even though it is seems to be a replica of sorts to Meyer's offenses at Florida. Exciting times are coming soon Buckeye fans. This team has true RB's, Meyer's Florida squads didn't.....sorry 'bout the length, I'll shut up now.

"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



shortbus20's picture

Please may I never hear the name "Percy Harvin" again as long as I live!!!  This is not Florida!   

  • shortbus20
+1 HS
mobboss1984's picture

I agree with you. Anyone from the Florida team as well. Too many memories from the NC game.

Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.
Bruce Lee

mobboss1984's picture

I think the BIG will not be able to design a defense to stop Dontre, because of the weapons we have. If they have to stop Dontre then it opens up Braxton, Michael, Zeke, Marshall, etc. There is no way to key in on Dontre this year as long as Braxton spreads the ball well. If you take away one receiver, there is other receivers to worry about. If they can create separation this year. The only way the BIG is to stop Dontre will be to tackle him in space. Urban has done an exceptional job recruiting. So many weapons coming from all angles.

Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.
Bruce Lee

+1 HS
spqr2008's picture

Thanks for the great content.  I do wonder whether Dontre will have the hands to be more of a utility guy than D. Thomas was at Oregon, because I don't remember how often he was getting hit while catching a pass (which will occasionally happen playing as a wideout).

Kyle Jones's picture

That's one reason why I wanted to highlight Thomas, as he doesn't have great hands, and dropped a number of passes when defenders were nearby. I expect D Wilson to have the same problem, early on in his time as a wideout. The key will be to get him the ball on early downs, when defenses are just as worried about the inside run game, and playing off Wilson with a LB or Safety.

southbay's picture

Wouldn't mind seeing Dontre Wilson score four TDs on Clemson some day.  I will always cheer for whomever is playing Clemson.