After being a starter for each of the past two seasons and one of Ohio State’s leading receivers as a freshman, one would think that Devin Smith’s starting spot would be secure for his senior season.
But heading into 2014, wide receivers coach Zach Smith has made it clear that nobody’s name in his position group should be written in ink in the starting lineup just yet. Not even Devin’s.
In 2013, the Ohio State receivers took a much needed leap from the previous year, although a lot of that admittedly had to do with the improved play of Corey Brown, whose eligibility has since expired. The Buckeyes will return the two wideouts who most often flanked Brown a season ago in Smith and Evan Spencer, but Coach Smith isn’t ready to make any promises before the start of spring practice.
“You don’t want to take away from what guys like Devin Smith and Evan Spencer did for us this past year or the year before, but at the end of the day we got better and were a better unit, but we’re still not where we need to be,” Coach Smith said. “There’s not a, ‘Behind Devin’ or ‘In front of Devin.’ I’ve got a group of guys that are fighting for spots -- Devin included. There’s not a starter in my room.”
For the second consecutive season, inconsistency proved to be an issue for the younger Smith, who again flashed big play potential and ranked second behind Brown in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches for the Buckeyes in 2013. But the final five games of Ohio State’s season saw the Massillon, Ohio native only record six total catches -- a problematically low number for a starting receiver in Urban Meyer’s spread offense.
“Devin needs to consistently make plays,” Coach Smith said. “He also needs to take that step from being a really good receiver to he needs to go try to push to become a great one. Because he has the ability. He hasn’t done it yet.”
But the wide-open competition for the Buckeye wideouts isn’t necessarily an indictment of Smith, as much as it is a sign that depth has and is being developed.
Last season, Ohio State opted for a more limited approach with its receivers as no fewer than four players at the position redshirted, with Mike Thomas, Corey Smith, Jalin Marshall and James Clark all sitting out the season for a number of reasons. Add in Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Greene, who is now eligible to play, and the Buckeyes suddenly have what could be perceived as a plethora of potential pass-catchers, before you even factor in recently signed recruits Johnnie Dixon and Noah Brown.
The star of the bunch could be Corey Smith, a junior college transfer byway of Akron, Ohio who has two years of eligibility remaining at Ohio State. Although the 6-1, 191-pounder may have sat out his first year in Columbus, team sources have raved about his ability, a sentiment that’s been backed up by the words of his position coach.
“Corey had as good of a fall as you can have without playing,” Coach Smith said. “He came in and was not anywhere close to being ready to play and by the end of the year he probably could’ve been playing, but at that point it was too late. You’re not going to waste a year on a kid with only two years left. I’m really excited about him in the fall as long as he continues on the path he’s on.”
Thomas also apparently took advantage of his redshirt season, which oddly came after the 6-3, 202-pounder played as a true freshman in 2012. A potential big time target for quarterback Braxton Miller, the Los Angeles, Calif. native even took to Twitter to voice his displeasure with the production of the OSU wideouts in the days following an Orange Bowl loss to Clemson, although Smith believes that Thomas was including himself in that criticism.
“Mike knows that at the end of the day he could have beat out anybody and offered more production, but he didn’t. Those guys beat him out,” Coach Smith said. “I know the kid really well and it was more frustration with himself and us as a unit.”
With no shortage of depth and a new array of weapons, Smith anticipates less talk and more walk from his position group in the coming year. But who exactly it will be providing that production for the Buckeyes remains to be seen.
“I told my guys just Monday after a workout I’m not confident that there’s any differentiation between any other wideout,” Smith said. “The way that the younger guys developed by the end of the year, I think it’s going to be a dogfight to see who’s gonna start and who’s gonna get the ball.”
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