Demario McCall has finally cracked the starting lineup.
When Ohio State's first official depth chart is released a few days before their season opener against Oregon State, McCall's name will be at the top of one of the categories as the starting return man.
It's not a traditional starting spot, and it's certainly not one a team can typically afford to dedicate one specialist to perform, but Urban Meyer is treating it that way. Just like Nick Bosa will start at defensive end, or Jordan Fuller at safety, McCall will start at the returner position.
"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."
It's rare that a team has enough excess talent to dedicate one talented player as a return specialist, but Ohio State is in a unique situation. It seems every time McCall enters the game, he dazzles with his shiftiness and his ability to make people miss in the open field, but since he's been in Columbus there just hasn't been a clear way to get him on the field.
Arriving as a running back, McCall sat behind Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel on the depth chart before he was passed by J.K. Dobbins the year after.
McCall made the shift to more of a wide receiver or h-back role, but has been behind Samuel, Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill and Dontre Wilson on the depth chart there throughout his career. And with all of Ohio State's top 2017 receivers returning this year, he's not going to see much time on the offense this year either.
Thus, McCall will be the return specialist. It's a great way to get him on the field a year before there will be room for him in the offense and given his skillset, there's reason for optimism that he can be successful in the role.
His ability to make people miss in the open field has been on display since his freshman year, but he also has the strength of a running back to break through early arm tackles as well as breakaway speed a returner needs to turn a big return into a touchdown.
Given that natural talent, if he treats this as his position and takes nearly as many reps catching and returning the ball as any starter would, McCall could be a big spark in the return game. And based on the declining production of Ohio State's returners lately, that is a much-needed spark.
For the past two years, the Buckeyes' punt return output has been mediocre at best, and the team hasn't scored a punt return touchdown since the 2014 season.
|YEAR||TOTAL RETURNS||TOTAL RETURN YARDS||AVG PER PUNT RETURN||NATL RANK||TD|
McCall hopes to change that.
"Yeah, I feel pretty confident about a couple return touchdowns," McCall said when reminded of Ohio State’s return touchdown drought. "Just based on the guys blocking for me. I’ve definitely got confidence in them."
McCall is Ohio State's return man this year. It's his responsibility, and he's taken ownership of it. He knows this is his opportunity to contribute, see the field and help his team, and he's planning to do it well, saying that his goal is to be an All-American return man by the end of the season.