Going into the 2018 season, the biggest storyline surrounding Ohio State’s wide receivers has been the coaching situation, as Brian Hartline – who has never been a full-time assistant coach before – is now the Buckeyes’ interim wide receivers coach following last month’s firing of Zach Smith.
The Buckeyes make up for what they might lack in experience coaching the wide receiver position, though, with the experience they have playing the position.
Ohio State returns all six of its wide receivers who saw regular playing time last season – Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill, Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon, Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor – plus several other wide receivers who are talented enough to make an impact this season, giving Hartline a plethora of wide receivers to work with.
In the next installment of our position-by-position Season Preview, we take a look at Ohio State’s deep group of wide receivers, which should give the Buckeyes’ quarterbacks lots of pass-catching options but is also a group that still has a lot of uncaptured potential.
What We Know
In 2017, Ohio State deployed a six-man receiver rotation, with two receivers primarily rotating at each receiver position: Campbell and Hill at H-back/slot receiver, McLaurin and Dixon at the ‘Z’ spot and Mack and Victor at the ‘X.’
Campbell led the Buckeyes in receiving yards, with 584 yards and three touchdowns on 40 catches, while Hill led the Buckeyes in receptions, with 56 total catches for 549 yards and three touchdowns.
Dixon had the least catches among the six, but reached the end zone the most times, scoring eight touchdowns and gaining 422 yards on just 18 receptions. Victor had the second-least catches but the second-most touchdowns, scoring seven times and gaining 349 yards on just 23 catches.
McLaurin, arguably the best blocker of the group, had 29 receptions for 436 yards and six touchdowns in 2017, while Mack had 24 receptions for 343 yards and two touchdowns.
The only other wide receiver to see semi-regular playing time last season was C.J. Saunders, a former walk-on who was placed on scholarship this spring after catching 17 passes for 221 yards and one touchdown in limited action in 2017.
In addition to those seven seniors and juniors, though, the Buckeyes also have seven sophomore and freshman receivers on scholarship, giving them tremendous depth at the position.
|No.||Name||Pos.||Ht.||Wt.||Year||Hometown (High School)|
|1||JOHNNIE DIXON||WR||5-11||198||RS SR||West Palm Beach, Fla. (Dwyer)|
|5||JAYLEN HARRIS||WR||6-5||215||SO||Cleveland, Ohio (Cleveland Heights)|
|9||BINJIMEN VICTOR||WR||6-4||200||JR||Pompano Beach, Fla. (Coconut Creek)|
|11||AUSTIN MACK||WR||6-2||215||JR||Fort Wayne, Ind. (Bishop Luers)|
|14||K.J. HILL||WR||6-0||198||RS JR||Little Rock, Ark. (North Little Rock)|
|17||KAMRYN BABB||WR||6-1||189||FR||St. Louis, Mo. (Christian Brothers College)|
|21||PARRIS CAMPBELL||WR||6-1||208||RS SR||Akron, Ohio (St. Vincent – St. Mary's)|
|23||DE'SHAWN WHITE||WR||5-9||170||SO||Canton, Ohio (McKinley)|
|24||SAM WIGLUSZ||WR||6-0||175||FR||Brecksville, Ohio (Brecksville-Bridgeview Heights)|
|26||JAELEN GILL||H-B||6-1||182||FR||Westerville, Ohio (South)|
|30||DEMARIO MCCALL||H-B||5-9||193||RS SO||North Ridgeville, Ohio (North Ridgeville)|
|80||C.J. SAUNDERS||WR||5-10||185||SR||Dublin, Ohio (Coffman)|
|82||GARYN PRATER||WR||6-5||205||SO||Cincinnati, Ohio (Wyoming)|
|83||TERRY MCLAURIN||WR||6-1||204||RS SR||Indianapolis, Ind. (Cathedral)|
|85||L'CHRISTIAN "BLUE" SMITH||WR||6-6||205||FR||Huber Heights, Ohio (Wayne)|
|86||CHRIS OLAVE||WR||6-1||170||FR||San Marcos, Calif. (Mission Hills)|
|87||ELLIJAH GARDINER||WR||6-3||200||RS FR||Kemp, Texas (Kemp)|
Redshirt sophomore Demario McCall and freshman Jaelen Gill could both be candidates for playing time at H-back, while sophomore Jaylen Harris should challenge for playing time outside. Redshirt freshman Elijah Gardiner and true freshmen Chris Olave and L’Christian “Blue” Smith will also look to earn their way into the rotation.
Kamryn Babb, also a true freshman, is expected to miss the season after tearing his ACL during a summer workout.
The Buckeyes’ current roster also includes three walk-on wide receivers: Garyn Prater and De’Shawn White, both sophomores, and Sam Wiglusz, a true freshman.
What We Don’t Know
Considering that Hartline has only been Ohio State’s wide receivers coach for less than a month – and has yet to interview with the media since taking over that role – it’s still unknown how he could shake up the receiver rotation.
The Buckeyes could go status quo with their receiver rotation, considering that they have all of their key players back at the position, but the coaching change opens the door for a potential change in philosophy.
With all the talent the Buckeyes have had at the position, there’s reason for them to try to get even more receivers in the rotation. Saunders looked like he belonged on the field last year, and he earned a scholarship for a reason. Harris should make a serious push for playing time at ‘X’ receiver, and could prove too talented to keep off the field this year, and the same could be true for McCall and Gill at H-back.
It’s also possible, though, that Hartline could choose to shorten the wide receiver rotation, keeping his top receivers on the field for more snaps. There’s no clear-cut answer as to who the best receivers are, and it’s hard to envision any of last year’s top six receivers being cut out of the rotation entirely, barring injuries. But if any of those receivers can separate themselves from their peers with their performance by the end of fall camp, they could see a greater chunk of playing time when the season begins.
The other big question surrounding just about every one of Ohio State’s wide receivers – who were, as Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said this spring, good but not elite last season – is whether they can elevate their games to the next level and play up to their full abilities.
Campbell and McLaurin have top-notch speed, but can they take advantage of that speed and more consistently make plays as downfield receivers? Mack and Victor flashed star potential as sophomores, but can they become more productive on a game-to-game basis? Could Hill or Dixon emerge as the overlooked star of the group?
Those are all questions that can be asked as Ohio State’s wide receivers, one of the deepest and most experienced units in college football, tries to also become one of the best units in college football.
It’s typically not ideal to have a coaching change less than two months before the season, but Hartline’s energy, knowledge of the wide receiver position and NFL pedigree already seem to be resonating with the players he now oversees, and he could ultimately prove to be an upgrade.
Regardless of the coaching situation, Ohio State’s wide receivers should be better this season with every key player back and another year of experience under their belt. They’ll need to be on the same page with new starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins – as well as second-string quarterback Tate Martell, who also seems likely to see some significant playing time – but if they are, there’s reason to be confident the Buckeyes’ pass-catchers will make more big plays in 2018.
Campbell, who looks poised to not only be the vocal leader of the wide receivers but also the entire offense this season, is likely to play a big role and continue to make big plays for the Buckeyes this season, potentially in the running game in addition to the receiving game. Hill, who was the Buckeyes’ most consistently reliable pass-catcher in 2017, should continue to be a go-to target in the intermediate passing game in 2018.
Mack and Victor, though, might be the most gifted downfield pass-catchers among the upperclassman receivers, and in an offense that is expected to feature more deep passing attempts with Haskins throwing the ball, each of them have the potential to be the breakout star of the group.
It’s hard to forecast exactly how the Buckeyes’ wide receiver rotation will shake out, simply because they have so many talented players at the position and only so many snaps to go around. But Saunders should see at least a slight uptick in playing time; Harris is likely to earn himself some reps; and Ohio State should try to find a role in the offense for either McCall or Gill as a true H-back because of the playmaking potential they offer as both receivers and runners.
The upcoming season is an enormous audition opportunity for Hartline, who will look to prove he deserves to be Ohio State’s permanent wide receivers coach after the 2018 season, and he’ll have a ton of talent to work with that could make him look good. Figuring out how to balance out playing time among his receivers could be a challenge, but as long as the players who are on the field make plays and don’t make many mistakes, that’s a good problem to have.