Ohio State's receivers room is getting quite the makeover this offseason.
The Buckeyes begin fall camp with some definite holes to fill, especially at the receiver position. Following the 2016 season, the team lost its three most productive receivers – Curtis Samuel, Noah Brown and Dontre Wilson – to the NFL Draft and graduation.
Ohio State also lost James Clark, who transferred to Virginia Tech, as well as Corey Smith to graduation. While neither put up good numbers in 2016, both were listed as at least co-starters all the way until the team's Fiesta Bowl matchup with Clemson.
Simply put, Buckeye fans will see a lot of new faces at the receiver position in 2017, whether those players are new to the program or simply haven't seen many meaningful minutes until now.
Wide receivers coach Zach Smith said he needs six starting receivers when the season kicks off. He said he needs two starters at each receiver position – X, Z and H.
"They do a little video board and I tell Jerry (Emig) all the time ‘there should be six guys up there.’ Because there’s not like, one starting X. If there is, we’re going to be really bad," Smith said. There’s gotta be two. There’s gotta be two Hs, there’s gotta be two Zs."
Smith said some of those players are interchangeable – Parris Campbell can play multiple positions, as can K.J. Hill – but ultimately he needs six players ready to starts and a seventh waiting in the wings in case of an injury.
If the season started today, those six would likely be Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon, KJ Hill, Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack – the six players that sit at the front of Ohio State's receivers room. Though, Smith wasn't quite ready to commit to that group as his starting six, saying a freshman could still work his way into that mix.
"If you struggle in practice, we can’t put you on the field."– Zach Smith
Smith went on to explain what he looks for at each receiver position.
“Our X is an isolation guy. He’s gotta be a 1-on-1 – you can’t cover him," Smith said. "That’s what he has to be. That’s been the Michael Thomas here, Noah Brown was that."
The team's top-two X receivers are currently Victor and Mack, Smith said.
"Then your Z has to be a good perimeter blocker," Smith went on. "He’s gotta be a deep threat, he’s gotta be a guy that can take the top off a coverage. That’s the Devin Smith and Evan Spencer."
Those two would likely be Dixon and McLaurin if the season started today. Urban Meyer raved about Dixon when asked about his deep threats during Big Ten media days, and Dixon singled out McLaurin as a deep threat during Thursday's media availability.
That leaves Campbell and Hill as the team's H-backs – the Curtis Samuel position.
"Then your H is obviously your slot that can work isolation and mismatches on linebackers, safeties, stuff like that,” Smith explained.
While this is how things appear to be shaping up, Smith was clear in saying that this is by no means set in stone. There are a few freshmen pushing for playing time as well.
"You have guys like Trevon Grimes, Jaylen Harris and Elijah Gardiner that are kinda pushing," Smith said. "A guy like C.J. Saunders – he’s a walk on – he makes plays. He’s a good little player.”
Whoever takes the field at the receiver position this fall, they're going to have to prove to Smith that they can run, block and, most importantly, get open. And if you can do that against what Smith calls the best defensive backs in the country during practice, you're in great shape.
"If you struggle in practice, we can’t put you on the field," Smith said. "You have to be able to get open in practice every day, and if you can do that here, you’re going to get open on anybody in the country.”