Right now, Darrell Hazell likes what he sees from his position group.
The Ohio State wide receivers coach is overseeing a group of players who figure to be as fast as any group of Buckeyes in recent history, the majority of whom were highly regarded coming out of high school.
But where this group is long on potential, it is somewhat untested. Gone are the top two most experienced receivers from last year’s team, and now a new group of faces step up in their places.
It’s a young group, but it could be an explosive one.
“I would say we’re very young,” Hazell said. “We’ve got a long way to go before next year but I like how they’re working and I like their athletic ability. I think when you have those things you have a chance to be pretty good.”
Making the situation more difficult is the fact that the leader of the position group in Hazell’s eyes has been sidelined for more than a week now with what the player himself said might be a high-ankle sprain. Dane Sanzenbacher enters his junior season having hauled in 21 passes a season ago, tying Brian Hartline for second-most on the team.
For now, he remains a question mark as to whether or not he will take part in the team’s April 25 spring game. This fall, he will be counted on to anchor a group of three wideouts that also includes senior Ray Small and sophomore DeVier Posey.
If OSU’s season-opening game against Navy was tomorrow, Hazell said Sanzenbacher would be his starting slot receiver with Small outside and Posey as the weakside receiver. Small finished last season with 18 catches for 149 yards, while Posey had 11 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman.
Behind that trio are two more players young on experience. Sophomore Lamaar Thomas is working solely at wide receiver after playing a combination wideout/tailback role a year ago, and after him is junior Taurian Washington.
Of the entire group, Hazell said Thomas has had the most impressive spring.
“Lamaar has had a really great first 10 days,” he said. “I’m really pleased with his progress. We’ve needed that and I think he’s going to have a lot of promise come the fall.”
A Maryland state champion on both the 55 and 100 meters in high school, Thomas’ speed is also being used again in the return game this year. With a full year to get more accustomed to the playbook, it appears his game is starting to mesh with his speed.
“He looks so much more comfortable playing the position right now,” Hazell said. “Last year when he came out of high school he was a running back-slash-receiver and just didn’t look very comfortable, didn’t play very fast. He’s a very fast guy that didn’t play fast. Now he’s starting to play fast.”
Across the board, Hazell said he is pleased with the development his players have shown. That group also includes James Jackson, a spring enrollee who was converted from defensive back to wide receiver during the past week. He will remain at the position.
With Sanzenbacher sidelined, Hazell said he has been looking to see who will provide leadership in his group. Small has the most experience but has had off-the-field troubles that have held him back. However, during the team’s Friday practice Hazell said he saw Small talking to Jackson and instructing him.
“I think everybody is rooting for him to do it the right way,” Hazell said of Small. “It’s a win-win situation. If he does it’s going to help us and help him. Hopefully he can keep doing it the right way.”
This year, Small said he knows he has to get his own life in order before he can start telling his teammates what to do.
“I was doing things my way,” Small said. “As you get older, you learn. I can do it. I can lead the receivers. I can lead by my conversation. I can lead by my example. I can do it all.”
Washington also finds himself fighting for playing time after being stuck behind a number of players on the depth chart. He is working as the backup to Posey, Hazell said.
The group will gain two new members this fall when Duron Carter and Chris Fields enter the picture. Whether or not they can make an impact on the field this season will be determined by how quickly they can pick up on the game, Hazell said.