It didn’t take long for Ohio State’s new crop of wideouts to catch the eyes of Ryan Day and Brian Hartline.
After just one spring practice, the Buckeye head coach was already raving about what he’s seen from early enrollees Carnell Tate, Noah Rogers and Bryson Rodgers. With returning starters Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming sidelined, this spring figures to be an important period for Ohio State’s second-year wide receivers, who saw little to no action during the 2022 season. But Day said the first-year receivers are already giving their older teammates a run for their money.
Oh, and five-star talent Brandon Inniss – the most highly-touted prospect in Ohio State’s 2023 class – hasn’t even arrived on campus yet.
“The truth is they're gonna get really pushed by this freshman group. The three guys that came in have already made an impact,” Day said. “We've been very impressed with them. And then Brandon coming in this summer. So this is gonna be a really good opportunity with Emeka out, Julian out, we're going to be smart with (Xavier Johnson) and Marvin (Harrison Jr.), those guys have played a lot of football. So what an unbelievable opportunity for all those guys to step in and play. And so this is a very, very big spring for them.”
Ohio State’s 2022 wide receiver class included four four-star recruits: Kaleb Brown, Koji Antwi, Kyion Grayes and Caleb Burton. But Brown and Antwi led the group with all of 27 snaps played as true freshmen. Grayes received just 13 snaps last season and Burton – who suffered an injury in Ohio State’s first spring practice last week – didn’t see the field at all.
Given their lack of experience thus far, Ohio State offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Brian Hartline said “there’s a lot” the second-year wideouts have to prove.
“I mean, we didn't get a lot of reps at receiver during Saturdays, so there's a lot of things they got to prove and show. I don't think any box has been checked,” Hartline said. “So anything it takes to be a receiver at the highest level, to be one of the top returning receivers every year, to be in one of the best rooms in the country, they've got a lot of things they still need to show. So there's really no box that's been checked.”
As for Day’s comment, Hartline agreed that he’s already seen the true freshmen pushing the second-year group. But he doesn’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. In fact, Hartline likened it to the impact Harrison and Egbuka made on the position room upon arriving at Ohio State in 2021.
“I think the freshmen as a whole have a seriousness about them, they have a purpose about them. They know their plays, they find ways to put good things on film.”– Brian Hartline
“No different than when Mek and Marv and these guys came in behind Jaxon (Smith-Njigba) and Julian and that whole class. It's no different,” Hartline said. “(Jayden Ballard) coming in and running against Garrett (Wilson) and making him run because J.B., that's one thing he does really well. So like the way that Mek would go after Garrett pushes them too. So we've had that consistency. I love seeing it so early on.”
Hartline said that competition will only help the second-year receivers grow, and hopes every incoming class in his position room challenges the returning players straight away.
“Everyone needs it. The reason why they're here is because they were looking for that,” Hartline said. “They're chasing the ones in front of them, and they are looking forward to the competition behind them. That's never gonna change. And then hopefully we're having the same conversation about the guys next year about this class. So that won't change.”
So what stands out about Rogers, Tate and Rodgers? Hartline said they’ve brought a workmanlike approach to the locker room and have already displayed a clear dedication to the playbook. In particular, Hartline highlighted Rogers, a 6-foot-2 North Carolina native who occupied the 53rd overall slot in the 2023 247Sports composite rankings.
“I think the freshmen as a whole have a seriousness about them, they have a purpose about them. They know their plays, they find ways to put good things on film,” Hartline said. “They have a high standard, so we got to work on not getting down on ourselves at times, because they do have a high expectation, which is good. But there's got to be a fine balance. But the whole group has done a great job, and Noah especially. He's done a great job.”
Rogers’ physical attributes, high school statistics and recruiting bona fides already made him a top-notch prospect, but Hartline said his character and attitude only add to his potential as a future star playmaker for the Buckeyes and beyond.
“Noah is a great individual. I mean, I don't know if there's one person that asked about my family more through recruiting than Noah Rogers,” Hartline said. “I mean, he's compassionate. He has a high (give a shit) factor. He just really has the ceiling that's not calculable. He can be that good. It all comes down to what kind of work he puts in. But again, he shows every bit he wants to put the work in. So, great young man.”
No matter what the first- or second-year Ohio State wideouts do this offseason, carving out any regular role on the offense will be tough-sledding. The Buckeyes’ entire year-end starting lineup at the position is back in 2023, and it didn’t leave a whole lot of opportunities for those lower on the depth chart a season ago.
But in one of the most competitive and talented position rooms in the country, Ohio State’s young pass catchers must take advantage of the chance to stand out and make strides while multiple starters are hurt this spring.
As of now, it sounds like Rogers and the Buckeye freshmen are doing exactly that.
“I'm glad that (Egbuka and Fleming) can get everything fixed up. Because I'm enjoying having these young guys get opportunities, and they're doing a hell of a job,” Hartline said. “The last-two-year guys are taking strides, the freshmen came in very determined and have been on top of their responsibilities and knowing their plays. And so I'm really excited for all of spring because of that.”