CHICAGO — Last season, it was never in doubt who was Ohio State's No. 1 wide receiver. There is a reason Michael Thomas left early and became a second-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints.
But another name percolated throughout the Woody Hayes Athletic Center during spring practice as someone set to step in for departed starters Evan Spencer and Devin Smith: Noah Brown.
"He was right there with Mike," Urban Meyer said of Brown Tuesday at Big Ten Media Days. "Mike was our best receiver, but a guy that was right below him was Noah. He would have for sure been a starter."
Brown lost his 2015 season when he suffered a broken leg Aug. 26, not even two weeks before Ohio State's season opener. Expected to be an impact player on the outside, his absence left a huge hole in Zach Smith's wide receivers room.
Healthy again after taking it slow through spring practice, Meyer sees the same look he witnessed from Brown before the injury.
"At the beginning of spring, he wasn't 100 percent yet. He's 100 percent now and he's at his bodyweight. He looks fantastic," Meyer said. "Noah's like a son to me. He's been with us for three years. I can look in his eyes and tell if he's feeling good. He wasn't right. He wasn't right all winter. Wasn't right all spring practice. But the last month that I've seen, he's got that look in his eye like he's ready to go."
“He has like suction cups for hands. Throw it around Noah and he'll go get it.”– J.T. Barrett on Noah Brown
Meyer went as far as to say he wants to see Brown blossom into an All-Big Ten wide receiver. The only player at the position to earn that title in Meyer's Ohio State tenure is Corey "Philly" Brown, who the coaches named second team All-Big Ten in 2012 after a 60-catch season. Philly Brown earned honorable mention the following year and Braxton Miller did the same in 2015, but Meyer's teams have yet to produce a first teamer at the position.
He hopes Noah Brown changes that.
"I'm hoping he has an All-Big Ten year for us," Meyer said. "My expectation for him is really good."
Quarterback J.T. Barrett shares the same sentiment as his head coach. He said Tuesday Noah Brown is already his favorite target, even though the latter only has one catch for nine yards in his career.
"He has like suction cups for hands," Barrett said. "Throw it around Noah and he'll go get it."
Noah Brown's frame is outstanding. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, the Flanders, New Jersey, native dropped considerable weight since arriving with Ohio State's 2014 recruiting class. He played sparingly as a freshman but Meyer wanted him to lose more weight, which Brown did.
Now the head coach and his team expect Noah Brown to head a pack of deep talent at the wide receiver position.
"A few years ago we had Devin Smith and guys like that who can go out and make that play," center Pat Elflein said. "I think Noah Brown is going to be one of those guys that when we need a play to be made or we’re down and it’s in the 4th quarter we need a first down, he can be the guy to go out and make that play."