Urban Meyer wasn’t bashful about sharing his opinions about Ohio State’s wide receiver’s readiness – or lack thereof – to compete at an acceptable level.
Whether it was the head coach’s spring comment referring to the Buckeyes’ passing game as a “clown show” or bluntly saying the wide receivers are the rawest position he’s coached in his career, it is clear that identifying offensive playmakers will be an ongoing priority for Meyer during fall camp.
With less than a month remaining until Ohio State kicks off its season, offensive coordinator Tom Herman agreed that the Buckeyes still have quite a ways to go before being an acceptable unit.
“We were a two on a scale of 1-to-10 coming out of the spring in terms of throwing in catching and we’re up to a four,” Herman said after Tuesday evening’s practice. “We still aren’t really good, but we are still a lot better than we were at the end of the spring, which is a testament to our guys and how much work they put into the off-season.”
While the progression of sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller will certainly determine how proficient the Buckeyes offense will be while adopting Meyer’s new spread philosophy, the head coach is looking for a group of playmakers to step up and make consistent plays.
Meyer said he was confident the Buckeyes have the athletes capable of running his offense to its full potential once the players grasp the playbook, but he has continued to emphasize the importance of playing with speed.
Providing an example of what he’s looking for, Meyer said redshirt freshman Evan Spencer ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds during the summer, but the real challenge is getting players to play the game as quickly as they can run in a straight line.
Sophomore wide receiver Devin Smith seems to be making strides toward being a player Meyer can count on to play fast, as the head coach isolated the receiver as one of the top performers in the team’s first full practice.
“My gosh, do we need a guy like that to step up to do something,” Meyer said.
Learning a new offensive scheme while playing quickly could prove to be quite the task, especially because Ohio State’s wide receivers room is filled with more novices than seasoned veterans.
The offensive coaches are relying on guys like Smith, Spencer, Corey “Philly” Brown, T.Y. Williams, and Michael Thomas to make consistent plays. The problem is simple – none of the aforementioned players have any prolonged playing experience exceeding one season.
Like Meyer, Herman is encouraged by the pure physical ability the Buckeyes sport at the position. However, the team won’t be in good hands come the beginning of the season if a player doesn’t step up and consistently make the plays needed to move the football.
“Potential,” Herman said of the receivers. “We all know in this game that just means you haven’t done it yet. At least we have some glimmers of hope at that position, which is encouraging.
“Now it is up to those guys… to really pull out that potential and turn that into performance on the field. When you see glimmers of that it gives you a little bit of hope at night that hopefully in the next twenty four days that potential will turn into performance.”
Meyer has always emphasized the importance of the “hybrid” position, most often known for the role running back/wide receiver Percy Harvin played at Florida from 2006-08. Also known as the “H” spot, the position was figured to be filled by Hall, but the senior running back is out for preseason camp – and maybe longer – as he recovers from foot surgery.
“As we start we don’t have that hybrid No. 3,” Meyer said. “I call it the No. 3, he’s the guy that – one, two, three receivers to the right from the left hash. They can do it all. We don’t have that guy right now.”
Brown was figured to be a guy who could play that role given his immense speed, but Herman said he’s limited in his ability to run in between the tackles, which could leave the Buckeyes continuing to look for answers at that position.
Herman said the offensive staff faces the challenge of understanding the limitations of the current roster while playing to their strengths. Given all the receivers on the roster are limited in experience, Herman is still in the process of feeling that out.
“Everywhere you go, I think the mark of quality offenses is you don’t try to fit square pegs in round holes and you deal with what you have and then you recruit to a philosophy,” Herman said.
“I think the biggest challenge we have as an offensive staff is evaluating what we have honestly, sometimes brutal honesty, in saying ‘this what we have, this is who we are and this is what we can be’ without straying from our core tenants of being a spread, no-huddle, up-tempo offense.”
As the Buckeyes progress through camp, Brown understands the importance of making plays. Criticized himself for not always being able to go up and catch passes in traffic, Brown said the wide receivers room is determined to erase memories of last season that featured the 14 receptions being the team-leading total.
“We’re trying to learn this offense and put last season behind us,” Brown said. “We all had a great off-season, now it is time to go out and make plays. We know what we have to do to be successful and we’re working hard every day to do those things.”
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