Urban Meyer stressed the importance of special teams throughout his tenure at Ohio State and in most facets, the Buckeyes performed admirably.
In fact, Ohio State ranked second in the country a season ago in forcing opponents to start, on average, 73.9 yards away from the end zone. That metric's success can be attributed to a kickoff coverage unit allowing the second-fewest yards per return in the country (14.9) while the punt coverage team gave up just 3.3 yards per return, good for eighth nationally.
One aspect of special teams that hasn't found its footing in three years however is an anemic punt return team failing to sniff even 10 yards per return since Jalin Marshall left the program following the 2015 season.
|YEAR||TOTAL RETURNS||TOTAL RETURN YARDS||AVG PER PUNT RETURN||NATL RANK||TD|
Last year the Buckeyes improved over the 2016 and 2017 punt return averages but that's not saying much considering the units ranked 98th and 105th respectively in average yards per punt return over those two seasons.
Along with the poor average, the Buckeyes haven't generated a true punt return touchdown in four years. Yes, the stats say one was recorded last year but while that's statistically accurate, it came via a punt block Sevyn Banks scooped up and took to the house against Michigan.
|YEAR||RETURN MAN||ATTEMPTS||RETURN YARDS||AVG PER RETURN||LONG||TD|
K.J. Hill served as Ohio State's primary return man last year and while a sure-handed punt returner which is absolutely job one, he rarely shook loose and put pressure on the defense.
Not all of the punt return unit's struggles fall on the return man – maybe the blocking has been subpar and/or the punters have done their job – but Hill generated just two returns over 10 yards in 12 attempts during 2018 conference play.
Through two seasons and 40 punt returns, Hill checks in with a 5.5 yard average and again, while a trustworthy punt catcher and an even more valuable slot back – Ryan Day should be interested in trying to find a more effective option.
Could that option be redshirt freshman Jaelen Gill?
Gill certainly looked to be the primary guy in the spring game and while he didn't produce anything magical in the scrimmage, he is blessed with all the tools needed to operate in space. If nothing else, giving him a shot in the non-conference seems like a no-brainer.
If the experiment fails, Hill will be there. If it succeeds, Ohio State could finally have its first legit home run threat on punt return since Marshall averaged 12.7 yards over 52 returns across the 2014 and 2015 seasons.