Just the other day, Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby praised the receivers he faces on a daily basis for being far better this spring than they were one spring ago.
Why might the All-America coverage ace have that opinion?
“He’s saying that because we kill him every day at practice,” senior wideout Corey Brown said.
At least one reporter laughed, but Brown was not giggling at his piece of smack talk.
Instead, Brown was dead serious – a good sign for the wide receiver group if it is, in fact, winning its fair share of battles against one of the elite cover corners in the country.
That's one sign that the receivers could be more consistent after what was season of ups and downs. The good news? Ohio State improved vastly from a rough 2011 season in which the team leaders each had 14 catches, as “Philly” Brown earned second-team All-Big Ten honors with a team-high 60 catches and Devin Smith led the conference with 20.6 yards per catch and three grabs of more than 60 yards.
On the other hand, OSU’s wideouts averaged just 10.5 catches per game as a unit, and the 14 touchdown catches in 12 games didn’t exactly scream the word “dynamic,” either.
And when it comes down to it, that’s the word that receivers coach Zach Smith wants his Buckeyes to be.
“We’re not the most dynamic group in the country, and we have the ability to be, the potential to be, which is probably the most awful thing you could say about that group,” the second-year coach said of a group still reaching its potential. “But there’s been growth, been development.”
As clear as Smith could make it, the development level wasn’t as high as the coaching staff would have liked it to have been in an ideal world in its first year in charge. Head coach Urban Meyer has made no bones about the fact the offense was a “clown show” when it first hit the field last spring, and the struggles at wide receiver were a key part of that.
Not only was the team coming off the disappointing 2011 campaign when it came to the aerial attack – the team high of 14 catches shared by Devin Smith, Brown and then-tight end Jake Stoneburner is exactly half of the seven first-round draft picks that have come from the OSU receiver room since 1995 – but the Buckeyes were getting used to the new spread offense and the demand level of the coaches.
“Here’s what happened,” said Zach Smith, who worked with Meyer at Florida before taking the OSU job. “We get here, and as the NCAA tells you, you can’t meet with the kids and go out on the field with the kids, so you just lay out a plan and say, ‘Hey, listen, if you want to be good, follow this plan.’
“They went out in the winter and they thought they were working toward getting better, when really they weren’t doing what they needed to do.”
Things came more into focus during the summer months, which is one reason why the Buckeyes were able to see Brown have a breakout year and Devin Smith become one of the top deep threats in the Big Ten.
But there are still plenty of stones that remained unturned. Brown surely wants to add to his total of three touchdown grabs in ’12, while Smith has battled the occasional dropped pass and his average of 2.5 catches per game could use improvement. As for the rest of the group, Evan Spencer (12 catches), Chris Fields (four) and Michael Thomas (three) would like to see boosts to their production.
Add it all up and the Buckeyes knew this offseason was about taking even bigger strides on the growth curve.
“After the workouts in the winter time, we made it really serious that the receivers and the quarterbacks would come out here and run routes, take it real serious because last year we didn’t think it was going to be that serious,” Fields said. “Now with the outcome of the (12-0) record and whatnot, we feel that the unit as a whole needs to get better. We took it serious in the winter, and it was beneficial.”
Zach Smith was happy to see his unit didn’t need to have its buttons pushed as it looks for a more productive 2013.
“They knew coming into this winter what they had to do,” Smith said. “There was not a lot of explaining the plan or motivating because they knew what they had to do. They put in a good winter, and now they have to finish out the last week and a half of spring, and then this summer has to be the best summer in the history of Ohio State football for my group.”