It was essentially do-or-die time for Taurian Washington.
After entering Ohio State as a wide receiver long on potential, the former four-star prospect found himself in danger of becoming a victim of numbers at his position. With one senior and a classmate ahead of him on the depth chart and a number of younger players fighting for playing time, the junior-to-be would have to produce a strong spring to keep himself in the fight for playing time.
Now, after a strong spring that culminated with four catches for a game-high 92 yards and a touchdown during the spring game, it appears Washington has done that. The task now is for Washington to carry over that success to the field this fall.
As a true freshman, Washington caught three passes for 40 yards while seeing action in five games. His first career catch went 37 yards for a touchdown in the season opener against I-AA foe Youngstown State.
But as a sophomore, Washington did not fare much better from a playing time standpoint. His 28 minutes of action in nine games during the 2008 season marked a one-minute improvement from his 2007 campaign, a fact largely aided by OSU’s reliance on its running attack and the presence of established veterans Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline in the starting lineup.
Entering the spring, head coach Jim Tressel mentioned Washington in the same breath as sophomores DeVier Posey and Lamaar Thomas as players who he hoped to see make a quantum leap during spring practices.
Washington’s goal was simply to make a leap, quantum or not.
“Really, my goal is to be out there,” Washington said during spring practice. “I’m not really a selfish guy. If I’m in the rotation and we’re all rotating, that’s fine with me.”
The knock on Washington throughout his OSU career has been inconsistent play – a fact Tressel alluded to when asked specifically about the wide receiver following the spring game.
“Taurian has had some real good days,” Tressel said. “This was one of them. Taurian needs to be more consistent, but he can make some plays for us.”
That much was demonstrated during one two-play stretch during practice. One play after letting a medium-deep pass slide through his hands and watching as it was intercepted, he hauled in a 50-plus-yards touchdown pass.
Situations like that, as well as the depth chart in front of him, have helped to keep Washington back, he said.
“I think it was the people that were in front of me and decision making,” he said. “I really had a couple (missed assignments) going through practices and things like that, but I’m getting way better at that. Those were the two biggest things.”
During spring practice, wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell said Washington was basically working as his fourth receiver behind senior Ray Small, junior Dane Sanzenbacher and sophomore DeVier Posey. Of the three, Sanzenbacher has played the most minutes as a Buckeye but the trio averaged 105.7 minutes of playing time for the 2008 season.
Those three appear to be the front-runners for the top three wide receiver spots, but the Buckeyes could be in line to use four wideouts at a time this year as they morph into a more wide-open offense with Terrelle Pryor running the show at quarterback.
“T. Wash – Taurian, we call him T. Wash – he’s a great receiver, as are all the receivers,” Pryor said. “We’re about six or seven receivers deep who can catch the ball. That’s what I like to do: get them the ball and let them go to work. Taurian can separate from the defenders really well.”
On game day, however, Washington said he does not have any problems staying focused. Although the first game at Ohio Stadium was an eye-opener, he said, Washington now feels comfortable in Columbus.
The hope is that his comfort level will now carry over into a bigger role this fall.
“I try to pressure myself not to make a lot of mistakes,” Washington said. “When you pressure yourself too much, you make mistakes. I just try to stay focused and be calm, just be me and do what I have to do.”