Wanting More than Average at Wide Receiver

By Vico on June 6, 2014 at 1:00p

"We don't want to coach 'average'. I don't want to be around you. Why be around 'average'?"

These three sentences were the Ohio State fan's first real introduction to the Urban Meyer era at Ohio State. They were broadcast on ESPN's All-Access feature in the lead-up to Meyer's debut season, an undefeated campaign in 2012.

These words may also define Urban Meyer's tenure at Ohio State. The simplicity of the words chosen and their brute honesty capture both the baseline expectations for Ohio State football and the frustration with the team (and offense, in particular) at the tail-end of the Tressel era.

However well these words resonate with the Ohio State fan and complement a 24-2 start to Urban Meyer's tenure, they belie the production of Urban Meyer's pet position of wide receiver. Wide receiver play has been average at best since Dane Sanzenbacher and Devier Posey combined for 1,796 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns in 2010. Ohio State fans will hope to see that "touch of greatness" at the position in 2014 to which Meyer alluded in that now famous post-practice speech.

Understanding "average" can be difficult. Metrics exist to operationalize the concept of "average" but they may be misleading. For example, Dane Sanzenbacher and Devier Posey had 948 yards and 848 receiving yards respectively in 2010 though the accumulation of yards is more tractable in what was mostly a base I-formation offense for Jim Tressel. An offense featuring multiple wide receivers can still accumulate similar receiving yard totals (i.e. 203 yards per game in 2013 to 228 yards per game in 2010), though these receptions will be diffuse across multiple wide receivers. That Ohio State got far more production from Jeff Heuerman at tight end in 2013 than any of the tight ends in 2010 complicates a swift statistical comparison.

Further issues of overall quarterback play and offensive philosophy may work to the detriment of the wide receivers' statistical output. Ohio State football, then and now, is predicated on the run. Braxton Miller's play under center was variable down the stretch.

If "average" is a qualitative judgment for this purpose, I maintain it is a fair assessment of the wide receivers in Meyer's first two seasons at Ohio State. No one has done better than Corey Brown's back-to-back All-Big Ten Coaches' Second Team selections in 2012 and 2013. Brown had 771 receiving yards in 2013 and ten touchdowns in his senior season before going undrafted in last month's NFL Draft. The best of an average bunch last year graduated, leaving behind a bunch that, right now, is average at best.

This is not to cast shade on Ohio State's returners. Each player has some nice properties. Devin Smith is a serviceable deep threat. Evan Spencer is an unselfish player who does not get enough credit for being a great blocking wide receiver. Excellent wide receiver blocking springs big plays for Ohio State's running game.

However, Ohio State fans want more than "serviceable" for a deep threat lest we find more synonyms for "average" in our describing wide receivers. Smith has several bad habits after the catch, limitations in the short to intermediate passing game, and his hands have been inconsistent. Spencer is a great blocker on the perimeter though does not accumulate yards. He does not get open much and his contributions are mostly in the short passing game. His ceiling may not be much higher than that even if his role is important. All told, we may have already observed the ceiling for both Smith and Spencer. Both will be entering their senior seasons in 2014.

This evaluation does not speak ill of them, just that they are okay. They're "average".

Entering his third year as head coach, Meyer's remedy for "average" seems to be a youth movement. Few positions (namely defensive line and linebacker) have received more attention on the recruiting trail under Meyer than wide receiver. This is curious because, unlike linebacker, the emphasis on recruiting at wide receiver is disproportionate to the quality of play at the position and the eligibility of the players at the position. Ohio State recruited wide receiver hard in 2013 and 2014 despite having known commodities with years of eligibility remaining, "average" as they may be.

However, a youth movement we are seeing now brings as much as uncertainty as it does prospects of past excellence at the position observed in the 1990s. Dontre Wilson is now a wide receiver after debuting as a hybrid-back as a true freshman last year. Players like Noah Brown, Parris Campbell, James Clark, Johnnie Dixon, Jalin Marshall, Terry McLaurin, and Curtis Samuel all bring promise to the position. However, All-American-caliber performances are rare for freshmen. These players can improve the quality of the position, but only by so much in the short term.

More interesting than the freshmen are the older options. Corey Smith redshirted last season but has two years of JUCO experience under his belt. His last JUCO season was at one of the best community college programs in the country in a state well-regarded as a hotbed of JUCO football. He even earned a scholarship offer from Alabama for his potential.

The players about whom Ohio State fans may be the most curious are Michael Thomas and Jeff Greene. Thomas was right to bemoan how average Ohio State's wide receiver corp was last year (in his own peculiar way). However, his redshirt last season suggests he could have done little to improve that position in 2013. He had a great spring in anticipation of (hopefully) a break-out year as a redshirt sophomore.

Jeff Greene is a walk-on transfer from Georgia Tech who sat out last season. Not much has been said of him when compared to Thomas, but his size could be an asset. At 6-5, he has already demonstrated an ability to be a pest on special teams.

Still, the promise is for him at split end, where his size makes him unique among our current options. Given what Ohio State's coaches told Noah Brown on the recruiting trail, an emphasis on size at split end may be a new approach to improving "average" at the wide receiver position.

Whatever the remedy, Ohio State fans will hope it's a quick fix. Ohio State football has long conceded the mantle of "Wide Receiver U" to programs like Clemson or Southern California. Fans are hoping to reclaim it. Echoing Meyer's famous post-practice speech shown on ESPN's All-Access, if there is a touch of greatness in these wide receivers to remind us of players like David Boston, Cris Carter, Joey Galloway, and Terry Glenn (among many others of recent lore), how cool would that be to reclaim that mantle as a destination for wide receiver play? Its time has come.


Comments Show All Comments

Findog5's picture

I think Brax puts some up for grabs with athletes like Greene and Thomas. I see the receivers stepping up like the o-line did last year.  Big things from our receivers in 2014. 

Raleigh Buckeye

+4 HS
buckskin's picture

I watched the 2013 Northwestern game last night on BTN and noticed the same thing.  Our receivers were ok, they caught passes but did little else.  Separation was rarely created unless there was a breakdown in coverage and yards after the catch were almost nil.  These are just a couple of traits that we have come to expect and need with elite Buckeye receivers.  Nothing against our current starters, but we need some more game changers at the receiver position. 


+3 HS
HotSauceCommittee's picture

I cringe at the NW game almost as much as the ill-famed late game calls against Michigan State. We should have won that game by 3 touchdowns if we secured the ball and in my opinion didnt play down to our competition.

I would actually say, OSU plays down to their competition more than most top teams. Hopefully, it was the glaring gaps in defense that made this seem this way and that they will be fixed this season.

+6 HS
Byaaaahhh's picture

At the time, they were not someone to "play down to." They were predicted to be one of our toughest opponents before the season even started. 

+2 HS
seafus26's picture

Up vote/agree. I do think we are doing less playing down than we did under previous regime, but that NW night was an example of it still happens from time to time.  I like the Beastie Boys reference in your username!

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

osu407's picture

I'm very curious whether Meyer not naming Devin Smith or Evan Spencer starters was truly just a motivational tool, a true sign of drastically different depth charts, or some combination of the two. 

+2 HS
The Thrill is Gone's picture

Oh, more words coming out of Urban Meyer's mouth?

I am shocked.  Shocked.

I'll care what he has to say once he has lifted a trophy in the air.  Until then...it's just talking.  Blah, blah.


-10 HS
chemicalwaste's picture

In a sense I understand, but really? Maybe they haven't come yet in his time at the helm of osu but he hasn't won enough to be taken seriously prior to coming here? I would say that 2 national championships, 2 SEC championships, 2 B1G leaders division championships, 2 Mountain West championships, and 7 bowl wins make it reasonable to say it's more than just words.

+4 HS
rock flag and eagle's picture

He has zero MAC championships.  I...I just can't take him seriously.

+5 HS
Zimmy07's picture

Active head coaches record w/ current team:

1) Meyer 24-2 .932

2) Malzahn 12-2 .857

3) Helfrich 11-2 .846

4) Saban 79-15 .840

5) Fisher 45-10 .818

6) Stoops 160-39 .804

7) Carey 12-3 .800

Active Career:

1) Martin 74-7 .914

2) Petersen 92-12 .885

3) Helfrich 11-2 .846

4) Meyer 128-27 .837


+4 HS
The Thrill is Gone's picture

Urban Meyer in trophy games at Ohio State: 0-2

-5 HS
Humbuck's picture

Won the Illibuck.....Twice!

Technically correct is the best kind of correct.....

+5 HS
ohio gf's picture

While I understand Michigan is not what they have been in the past....still THE GAME...and he is 2-0 in that one.

+5 HS
hit_the_couch's picture

24-2 is OK, but it means little until there's something in place that resembles a defense. The D has been bad for 3 years now, and I hope there isn't a 4th.

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

+1 HS
Shangheyed's picture

Seems no one remembers the Cooper era...

If 24-2 is considered just OK... I am sorry we or some are spoiled. 

We are lucky indeed to have had Tressel and Meyers Back to Back... two of the best coaches in CF in the last 20-30 yrs.  They are all working towards NC.  National Championship as the goal, is something new, there is more focus now with Meyer on NC than with JT.

Enjoy the Chase...

+1 HS
buckeyedude's picture

Is that you, Nick?



ohio gf's picture

You must live a miserable life.

-1 HS
The Thrill is Gone's picture

I have a great life! Not a whole lot to complain about, really. I just don't worship at the altar of Meyer. Guy has yet to do anything here. A very well-paid letdown thus far. You know?

-4 HS
gm3jones's picture

Please elaborate on "A very well-paid letdown thus far".

There is nothing more remarkable as learning to think better.

sivaDavis's picture

Really hoping to see players step up and have deep depth at WR. The talent is there and now Coach Smith must make it work. Dontre, Corey Smith, Mike Thomas, Greene, Spencer, Devin Smith, Dixon, Jalin Marshall, James Clark, etc. I could go on. The talent is there for some major depth, now we just have to work these young fellas and bring out the best in them. I'm excited for the WR group. Hell I'm excited for the whole team. Speed and power, talent everywhere. Silver Bullets! We fight! We fight. We fight! We fight. We fight! 


Sorry, it's Friday and I just got off work. Cheers boys, have a great weekend.

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

+4 HS
Crimson's picture

I would love to see a bunch of new guys step up, for Zach Smith to have a few strings ready to play.  It would be great to see Devin Smith, Spencer, Thomas, Greene, Corey Smith, Wilson, Marshall (hopefully healthy), and Clark constantly rotating in 3 WR spots.  Then they can all run like hell, keep fresh, and either wear out the opposing D or have them play 2nd string guys who are less prepared.  Either way, I hope to see more separation and a better passing game.

+1 HS
buckeyedude's picture

I love your enthusiasm, Sivadavis. I hope we can get you in a seat near the field on game day.



AlwayzABuckeye614's picture

I do not think we will have more than an "average" receiver until our offense is more apt to get them the ball. When you have Braxton and Hyde in the backfield at the same time for 2 years the offense was geared towards A- Braxton running or B- Carlos running. With that it's hard for a receiver to prove to be more than "average"

This 2014 season I hope to see it opened up even more so we can finally say OSU has receivers that are a threat again!


+3 HS
whobdis's picture

There is some truth to this..but on the other hand..every coach says a great running game opens up the passing game.One would think with Braxton and Carlos in a backfield the defense would be focused on the running game. We SHOULD get some big plays with the guys we have. There are issues with the guys mentioned (starters) but one thing I'd really like to see would be a great YAC guy..someone who can take a short/intermediate pass and make something of it. Wilson looks like he could be that...and Corey Smith showed he excelled in that area (albeit JUCO). Marshall could also help in that area imo..if he ever get's healthy. Should be fun


+3 HS
BeijingBucks's picture

remember when Troy Smith was a running QB?  Enter Teddy Ginn, JR and suddenly throwing to him looked like the smartest play on the field and Troy became an ace fearless passer.  Percy Harvin?  I think we made him even more famous the way he torched our D in that damn debacle.

Imagine last years bowl game without Sammy Whatsisname and the dreaded words 'tunnel screen'

If you have the players who will get it done with the ball in their hands... you get the ball in their hands. period.

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

Jbucks's picture

ok so I hope I dont get mud stomped with dv's here byut with all this speed we do have, how come seperation was non existent, our passing game was simple last year, tgrow to devin on the deep ball or screen to philly, to me it seems as though its a coaching/scheme problem, the spread is made for spreading the field, making all the passes, but when u only use two route patterns to throw the ball then it makes it harder our guys to get open. coach them the tricks to seperate & lets air it out!

Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it-John 1:5 SEC meet Ohio State, Ohio State meet SEC

+5 HS
lsjSnail's picture

I waited all season to watch Dontre or even Brown catch the ball in a crossing route and make a play. 

+4 HS
Dillon G's picture

I am going to shift gears slightly, to a mans verbiage.


These words may also define Urban Meyer's tenure at Ohio State. The simplicity of the words chosen and their brute honesty capture both the baseline expectations

2 Corinthians 3:12
Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech


-2 HS
buckeyedude's picture

Personally, I am really excited to see what Jeff Greene can do. Other than our TEs, we haven't had a receiver of his size in a while. Sometimes it takes a newbie to shake things up, and I'm hoping this dude can be a huge target for Braxton when he gets "happy feet" in the pocket.

I really hope this is the year Mike Thomas steps up and puts his money where his mouth is. But again, Braxton has to get him the ball.

Dane wasn't the type of receiver that had a lot of YAC, but he always seemed to get open and he saved Terrelle's ass numerous times, but especially in the Sugar Bowl. I would like to see receivers that were more consistent like Dane.



+2 HS
ohio gf's picture

Dixon looks like a seasoned player as a true freshman...that dude can play and I hope he gets to show case it.

+2 HS
Barkley684's picture

Not really related but...Does anyone else think that Chris Ash looks like the loudmouth squirrely captain on the show "Wicked Tuna"?

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

All falling into the master plan!  This team is headed in the right direction.  The talent is just increasing and increasing!!

Go Bucks!!!

+1 HS
BuckInNashville's picture

Beijing you are right on - "if you have the players".  Guys, let's not be fooled. The cupboard was EMPTY when UFM got here. (Of course Simon, Hankins, Shazier, Miller, Roby, Hyde - but from a NC level standpoint - that's it) 

I'm not disparaging JT recruiting, but Tattgate took it's toll. Now we have 4 stars 2 deep at virtually every position (save OL - but you don't need them there since you have a 5* OL coach). Meyer may miss on 2 of Marshal, Dixon , Samuel, Wilson, Brown, McLaurin, Greene, Clark, but that still leaves 5 who run 4.4 or faster !


theshoe's picture

Spencer needs to show up to play next year.  22 receptions is unacceptable, especially when he has a total of 0 receptions in the 3 most important games of the year.  Might as well been playing with 2 wide receivers