Ohio State coach Urban Meyer isn’t one to coddle players, and the receivers were subjected to more of his unflattering assessments than any other position group last year.
But the wideouts haven’t been in Meyer’s crosshairs nearly as much during preseason camp. Having a few more ringers has meant a few less zingers.
“He’s definitely giving us more compliments than he did last year, that’s for sure,” senior Chris Fields said.
The Buckeyes return six of their top seven pass-catchers from a year ago and fortified their ranks with some dazzling freshmen.
“Everybody is more comfortable knowing the playbook,” senior Corey “Philly” Brown said. “You can expect our offense to shoot up the charts if we keep doing what we’re doing and eliminate the silly mistakes. We can be one of the top offenses in the country.”
The Buckeyes grew into a fairly potent unit last season — they were first in the Big Ten in scoring (37.2 points per game) and third in total yardage (423.8) — but one area that held them back was a glaring lack of big-play ability outside of quarterback Braxton Miller.
Brown had a team-high 60 catches while playing mostly in the slot, but he averaged barely 11 yards per grab with the longest being 38 yards.
He did have two punt-return TDs, displaying some breakaway speed. And the Buckeyes are lining him up on the outside more to take advantage of that.
“Philly was the first to say no matter how many catches he had, the fact that he didn’t have 1,000 yards receiving, that’s a joke,” receivers coach Zach Smith said. “That’s what we’ve been talking about. He’s much better than that. He’s made a conscious effort to improve his body control, how quickly he changes direction. That natural physical ability is there, it just wasn’t consistent.”
Meyer implored the 5-foot-11, 187-pound Brown to be more than just a possession receiver, telling him he needed to learn to break tackles. And Brown has packed on a bit more muscle in the hopes of being tougher to bring down.
“When you go back and watch the film, that was something I didn’t do well,” he said. “I knew I had to get into the weight room. I talked to (strength coach) Mickey Marotti and asked what I had to do to get better.”
Being a slot receiver means Brown had to do most of his work in congested parts of the field, but he said: “That’s no excuse for it. This season will be different.”
If he can’t provide those coveted yards after the catch, the Buckeyes probably can find them elsewhere. But Smith said: “He’d better be that dude — I mean a really, really good one. He’s shown he’s going to be that guy. And I don’t just mean a second-team All-Big Ten pick. He has to be more than that.”
After losing hybrid back Jordan Hall for much of last season to various injuries, junior Devin Smith became the closest thing the Buckeyes had to a big-play threat, although he was maddeningly inconsistent.
He made one of the top catches in college football with a one-handed TD grab in the season-opener against Miami but also was the team’s unofficial leader in drops.
He expects to clean up those gaffes this year.
“I’m more relaxed because I understand the offense better just from studying it all summer,” he said. “Last year, I was worrying, ‘Oh, man, what do I have on this play, what is the defense doing?’ and that kind of threw me off my game a little bit. But now I just go out and play.”
Freshmen Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall have made a splash, pushing the veterans. When asked if it’s easier being the receivers coach this year, Smith chuckled and said: “I wouldn’t say easier, but I would say I’m more rewarded because you see more of what you’re trying to get done.
“I think it’s been a long process and was not something that could have happened overnight. But what you say is, ‘We’ve taken a step. We’re no longer dysfunctional. Let’s really go be the best receivers group in the country.’ That’s the next step we have to take — consistent domination as a group.”
Leading returning receivers
Player Catches Avg. TDs
Corey Brown 60 669 11.1 3
Devin Smith 30 618 20.6 6
Jake Stoneburner 16 269 16.8 4
Evan Spencer 12 136 11.3 0
Nick Vannett 9 123 13.7 0
Jeff Heuerman 8 94 11.8 1
Carlos Hyde 8 51 6.4 1
Note: All players except Stoneburner are back this year