Demario McCall is one of the clearest examples of Ohio State's logjam of talent.
McCall was one of the most highly-rated recruits in the country – the No. 2 player at his position and No. 44 overall player in the nation – and dazzles every time he has a chance to see the field, averaging 6 yards per carry and 22.5 yards per reception with 6 touchdowns on just 69 touches.
But ever since his arrival in Columbus, there's been no clear way to get him on the field. McCall came in as a running back, and was behind both Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel on the depth chart his freshman year, then was passed by J.K. Dobbins the following year.
His skillset translated more towards an h-back or a wide receiver than a traditional tailback, so he made the position switch, but the path to playing time has never been any clearer there. McCall was behind Samuel, Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill and Dontre Wilson at the h-back position.
Combine that with the injury struggles McCall had during the 2017 season, and you've got an electric player buried on the depth chart.
Heading into the 2018 season, circumstances haven't changed all that much. Campbell and Hill – Ohio State's two most productive receivers last season – return after combining to take nearly every meaningful snap at the h-back position in 2017. And it's not just them, the Buckeyes return every one of their top seven wide receivers from last season.
The roster is still crowded with talent, and there are still too few snaps to go between too many talented players. But one big thing that has changed is McCall's mindset and preparation.
“I still had to work on myself becoming a receiver and not a tailback because I had the mindset of ‘I’m a tailback, but I’m going to help the receivers.’ That’s one thing that I had to change,” McCall told Colin Hass-Hill of The Lantern after the Cotton Bowl. “Now that I know that I’m a receiver, I had to put more work into jugs, route-running, top ends, just things like that.”
The work seems to have paid off as McCall looked like a dangerous receiver during Ohio State's spring game on Saturday, amassing 150 receiving yards and two touchdowns while playing for both the scarlet and gray teams.
Though he was playing primarily against second and third team players, especially in the second half, McCall showed off his hands, his ability ability to find space and get open as well as his skills with the ball in the air. If he continues to grow in those areas, he might earn himself meaningful snaps this fall, even at one of the team's most crowded positions.
Even if that doesn't happen, Urban Meyer has a plan to get him on the field and utilize his game-breaking ability and knack for making people miss in space.
"I want him to be our returner," Meyer said. "That's his spot. And he's training as if that's the position. So he's watching videotape. He's training. He's doing it no different than if he's a starting corner or starting receiver."
McCall said he's spent time studying film of Devin Hester and Dante Hall and wants to take multiple kicks back for a touchdown this upcoming season. If he blossoms in that spot this year, continuing to show his playmaking ability, his path to playing time on offense might be clearer during the 2019 and 2020 seasons with the departures of a few veteran players.
But the most important thing for McCall at this point is continued improvement and consistent production. If he's going to play, it's his responsibility to earn that playing time. It won't just be given to him.
"It's on him," Meyer said. "The job description’s very clear. The first two years, it's kind of on us. And once you start getting to be in year three, that's on you. And you either need to perform, or you're not going to perform. And it's on him. And the good thing is he's responding very well."