Ohio State Giving Marvin Harrison Jr. Reps at Punt Returner This Spring As Buckeyes Look to Expand His Usage in 2023

By Dan Hope on March 7, 2023 at 2:30 pm
Marvin Harrison Jr.
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY Network

It wasn’t surprising that Ohio State opened its first practice of the spring with a punting period, as it customarily does. It was surprising who lined up deep to field the first punt.

With Emeka Egbuka sidelined for the entirety of spring due to an offseason surgery, Marvin Harrison Jr. was deployed as Ohio State’s first-team punt returner on Tuesday morning.

Ryan Day says the Buckeyes will give Harrison opportunities to return punts throughout the spring as it looks to build depth at punt returner with Egbuka out, and Day believes Harrison could play that role for Ohio State if needed.

“With Emeka not going this spring, we're just going to put a bunch of guys back (at punt returner),” Day said. “It's hard when we're inside. So looking at the weather, I'm hoping to get outside some, and that'll give us a better feel for it, but always looking to build depth there at returner. And he's been doing it now kind of in practice a little bit here and there. And he's got really good depth perception. So if we need him back there, we'll use him.

“Not having a few guys at spring practice allows us the opportunity to try new guys to build depth down the road. And that's always healthy. But I thought just seeing him back there today, he did a nice job.”

Most likely, Harrison won’t be returning punts when the season actually starts. Egbuka handled that role all of last season and has a skill set more traditionally suited to returning punts. Using Harrison as a punt returner might be an unnecessary risk for a player widely regarded as the best wide receiver in college football.

That said, Ohio State’s usage of Harrison as a punt returner this spring speaks to two things. For one, the Buckeyes don’t have much established depth at punt returner. Jayden Ballard and Reis Stocksdale are the only returning players besides Egbuka who have returned a punt for the Buckeyes, and Stocksdale muffed two punts when he got a late-game opportunity to return punts against Indiana last season.

Ballard and Stocksdale are both still in the mix at punt returner, as they took the third and fourth reps returning punts on Tuesday behind Harrison and Kaleb Brown, who may be the best candidate to ultimately back up Egbuka at punt returner or challenge for the starting punt return job as he gains more experience. Xavier Johnson and Carnell Tate were also in the punt return group on Tuesday.

What Harrison returning punts in practice also indicates, though, is that Ohio State will be looking for new ways to get the ball in his hands and take advantage of his immense talent even more this year. While Harrison already played a massive role for the Buckeyes in 2022, leading Ohio State with 77 catches for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns and also carrying the ball twice for 32 yards, Day says the Buckeyes are looking to draw up more plays for Harrison so he can make an even bigger impact in 2023.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Day said when asked if Ohio State is looking to get Harrison involved in new ways this year. “We were moving him around today, did a bunch of things with him. We want him to grow as well. Everybody kind of comes into spring with a different plan of what they want to get done. We don't want to just be the same old stuff for Marv. So we're going to try to build his tools and his package.”

View 55 Comments