In Final Season, Devin Smith Wants to Lead and be Playmaker

By Kyle Rowland on April 15, 2014 at 9:15a

Kirk Irwin Photography

20 Comments

Urban Meyer wanted to identify playmakers during the spring. Mission Accomplished. But – there’s always a but – the order of operations at wide receiver remains unknown. The numbers exist, just not the separation coaches desired.

Devin Smith and Dontre Wilson are expected to make the biggest impact. Only Smith played in the spring game and he didn’t have a single catch, which didn’t exactly sit well with head coach Urban Meyer. In a season that’s ripe for a surge in the passing game, speed and stretching defenses was not evident in the spring game

“We’re not where we need to be,” Meyer said. “I think we’re better than we were two years ago, and I’m hoping we’re a notch better than we were last year. We have a ways to go.

“It better be one of our strengths.”

While Wilson is the flashy one with speed and elusiveness, Smith has experience and the ability to make catches with a high degree of difficulty look easy. In three seasons at Ohio State, Smith and Braxton Miller have teamed up on several crucial pass plays. If it’s thrown in Smith’s direction, chances are it will be a completion.

An issue in the spring game – if you can call it that – was the improved secondary. Were the cornerbacks shadowing the wide receivers, causing quarterbacks to look another direction? Or is there an underlying problem with the wideouts? Meyer spoke in positive tones about the improved secondary and gave a mixed message on the receivers.

“I can’t name you one [wide receiver] that’s going to start,” Meyer said, “ which is concerning. But it’s comforting to know I can name about six that have the ability.  Those would be Devin Smith, Johnnie Dixon, Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, before he got hurt he was having a great spring, Dontre Wilson and Evan Spencer. We have some depth there.”

To not name Smith a starter ahead of his senior season is clearly a message. And it’s not too subtle. Meyer and wide receivers coach Zach Smith would like to see their top returning receiver take another step in his career progression.

Smith had 44 receptions for 660 yards with eight touchdowns last year. All three numbers were career bests. But Smith was invisible the final month of the season. In the final five games, he recorded six catches for 118 yards with two touchdowns. Smith only had three receptions for 16 yards in the Buckeyes’ losses to Michigan State and Clemson.

Becoming more dependable means becoming more consistent.

“We’re moving Devin around a little bit,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “That might help him in his development and allow him to utilize what he does best.”

Bumps and bruises contributed to Smith’s decline in production toward the end of the season, he said. In the first nine games, Smith tallied 38 receptions for more than 500 yards and six touchdowns. The injuries meant fewer plays in practice, which compounded itself in games.

“He’s great when things are great, and when things are hard that’s when he needs to shine,” Zach Smith said. “He’s been inconsistent in that.”

But Zach Smith said that changed during the spring. To better challenge him, Devin Smith often found himself lined up across from the best cornerback Ohio State has to offer – Doran Grant. Going head-to-head against superior corners has sometimes left Smith baffled and looking lost.

The confidence and temperament of being a great player is part of Smith’s offseason work. He’s learning to win matchups over top-tier cornerbacks and ignoring misfortune.

“We played a lot of games where he was faster than the guy he lined up across and that’s a gift and a curse,” Zach Smith said. “You can run by a guy over and over. Eventually, you play a guy you can’t run by and it kind of exposes your flaws. That’s what we’ve harped on since the season ended. He’s got to prepare every day to play the best corner in the country so that when he does, he’s ready.”

In a career that’s included more highlight-reel plays than some can remember, Devin Smith is poised to create more memories. Part of being a great player centers on being a good teammate. Smith is taking over the Philly Brown role of being first to the facility and last to leave. There’s also tutoring underclassmen.  

Summer months will be spent with Miller. Even though the duo’s made noise for three years, cohesion only comes from continually working together. It’s been three months since Smith last caught a pass from Miller.

June, July and August won’t be spent at the beach. The surface of choice will be FieldTurf at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

“I just have to make sure I take care of my body every single day and make the plays that I can, act like practice is a game,” Smith said. “I think if I can do that here and perfect that, it’ll carry over to the season.”

20 Comments

Comments

HattanBuck85's picture

We all know Devin can fly but can he deal with press coverage and create separation? That has yet to be seen...And that has been against the likes of Indiana, Illinois, Purdue, etc...

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." - Woody Hayes

Mark's picture

Consistency is definitely needed for Smith.  He'll make a great catch here & there, but then disappear for 4-6 quarters.

+2 HS
DeepSouthBuckeye's picture

It may be a little quick to judge Devin based on the Spring Game. No Braxton, and half the starting OLine not playing, the offense was not much to look at. Braxton has shown he will look for Devin on some deep balls, and normally that is successful. Devin may not have as many catches this year, due to the number of players wanting the ball, but I still think he will have 7-8 TDs due to his speed on deep balls.

Loving all things Buckeye from SEC country in Alabama.
"How firm thy friendship....O-HI-O"

+1 HS
dan_isaacs's picture

You left Corey Smith and Jeff Greene off your list. :)

Dan Isaacs

+3 HS
HattanBuck85's picture

Also have to think that Jeff Greene is at least pretty decent re: blocking. Dude is the biggest WR on the team and comes from a run-oriented team (Ga Tech). If we are going to run more to the edge this year, we need some great blocking by the WRs. 

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." - Woody Hayes

+1 HS
Hovenaut's picture

Glad to read the extra work he's putting in, both for the good of his own game and the younger guys. Devin Smith has been good the past three years, eager to see him elevate his game as we know he has the potential.

buckeyedexter's picture

While he's made some great catches, he also dropped balls that hit him in the numbers and disappeared when we played good teams.  From what I've seen/read, I would start Michael Thomas, Corey Smith, Jeff Greene and maybe even Johnnie Dixon over Devin Smith.

+6 HS
BoFuquel's picture

This is gonna be a runnin' team. Braxton will have 2,000 yards rushin'. Gotta keep that D off the field. GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

CGroverL's picture

Being a running team is fine...as long as the OL is up to the job. The Buckeyes don't need to be a passing team at all. They just need to be more consistent when they throw and having a receiver break a tackle here and there would be nice as well. They need to get a few shuffle passes and screen passes to hit big to bulk Miller's numbers up a bit. The Buckeyes have been running more and more screen passes, they just aren't very good at it yet.

It's strange that you mention "gotta keep the D off the field" though....EVERYTHING in the Buckeye offense goes against that. It seems that the Bucks' offense either scores very fast while going through a no huddle "packaged play" system that scores very quick or things don't go as planned, and Miller & co. have a 3 and out. Either way puts the defense back on the field very quickly. Plus, if the Buckeyes do score and score, the opposing team is then forced to throw against the tired Buckeye defense. Maybe that isn't perfectly true, but it did seem that way last season....

"I hope they're last in everything"

Thanks, Urb!

+2 HS
bignut2017's picture

It's still incredible what he did against cal this year. I think he had 3 catches for 150 yards and two tds in the first quarter

"Championships aren't won on Saturdays, they're won on Tuesdays in August" Kerry Coombs

-1 HS
lsjSnail's picture

Kenny G was slingin dimes.

cw823's picture

^^  WR will put up better numbers when they get a ball placed where it should be place, not thrown up for grabs as Miller tends to do at times.  Or as Jones and Barrett did consistently in the spring game.

Hit guys in stride, let them keep running. 

ibuck's picture

I think you put too much value on that Cal game, where he got 90 yards on that 1st play, against a team whose defense was abjectly horrible and whose only win last season was against an FCS school that went 6-6.

Our honor defend, we will fight to the end !

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

CGroverL's picture

Smith should be the leader....contrary to popular belief, Devin Smith has more receiving yards now than Philly Brown had during his Buckeye career. With a big year, Smith could end up with close to TWICE the yardage that Brown had. Smith doesn't get the props except for making a couple "circus catches", but Smith has 88 catches for 1,572 yards and 18 TD's in his Buckeye career. Philly Brown's numbers were bigger in the catch count, but that is it. His numbers make him look like the safety valve while Devin Smith has been the true weapon. Brown had 123 catches for 1,440 yards and 13 TD's.

Smith just didn't play a big enough part in the offense. Brown made the passing numbers look nearly acceptable because of having back to back 60 catch seasons...but Devin Smith is the true weapon by the numbers plus Smith has the 6'1" frame and jumping ability to make the big catches. He's not slow, either....Smith should be the leader of the WR corps as he has been the closest thing to a deep threat that Ohio State has had over the past 2 seasons.

 

"I hope they're last in everything"

Thanks, Urb!

TUNBUCK89's picture

His numbers would've been much better if he would've made so many easy catches this season.

buckeyesean's picture

Was anyone concerned at all (I know it was only a spring game) that many of the "big name" players were held out of the Spring game, but Devin Smith saw a lot of time on the field and did not really produce?  They took a few deep shots at him, in which he was unable to create separation, but otherwise he seemed to play a good amount and be very quiet.  Anyone hear anything on how he has been doing in practice?  Have not seen many interviews with him this spring or much about him in general, and was very surprised he even saw the field (yet alone for most of the game) in the Spring game.  Maybe an indication of work ethic/improvement issues, just speculation obviously, but would love to get some thoughts from some of you 11W folks.

cw823's picture

It's because he wasn't the first receiver that Barrett or Jones locked on to and then threw to no matter what the coverage.
 

+1 HS
MacG91's picture

It kind of looks like Devin is doing the Ickey Shuffle. 

Mac..yeah

Tiger76's picture

Hoping for a big year out of D.Smith

TraptnMI's picture

Devin dosen't have any lateral quickness and therefore cannot  separate effectively. Straight line speed only. Branden Saine kind of ellusiveness. Not gonna happen.

 

" It's real good whatcha done Anthony, real good ! "