Three Story Lines: Wide Receivers

osuHelmetIn Urban Meyer’s spread offense, Ohio State typically trots out at least 3 wide receivers nearly every play. Ideally, the wide receivers in his scheme are not just bodies sent out wide to occupy space and defenders. They are all playmakers and capable of taking any swing or bubble-pass 80 yards to the house. Meyer has repeatedly said he needs more out of the receivers. They’ve come a long way since he was hired in late 2011 and famously called this unit a “clown show”. They are far from a “clown show” now, but still have to improve mightily in order to help QB Braxton Miller get the ball out of his hands.

Three storylines to follow:

1.) Will Devin Smith step up and be the go-to receiver during his last season in Columbus?
Without a doubt, Devin Smith has the talent to be Ohio State’s next great wide receiver. He’s going into his third year starting in Urban Meyer’s system. He’s been with position coach Zach Smith for the same amount of time. No one will argue that Smith doesn’t have the speed or hands to compete at an elite level. Leading up to his senior season, he’s lacked the consistency and the intermediate route running.

Most pundits and casual observers alike, see Smith catching long touchdown passes from QB Braxton Miller. But they never see him run any 10 yard dig routes or 15 yard comebacks. There’s no doubt, he’ll have to continue to work on that part of his game. With his elite speed, developing an intermediate route tree will make him even more dangerous.

In 2014, Smith will easily eclipse 100 career receptions (he’s currently at 88) and should also top 2,000 career yards receiving (currently at 1572). He’s also steadily shown improvement in his first 3 years in Columbus. His freshman season he had 14 receptions for 294 yards and 4 touchdowns. Arguably his biggest catch as a Buckeye came in 2011 when he caught the game-winner in the Wisconsin game under the Ohio Stadium lights with less than 30 seconds to go.

In 2012, he more than doubled his receptions to 30 and added 618 yards and 6 touchdowns. His average yards per catch was also up over 20 yards. Last season, Smith tallied 44 receptions for 660 yards and 8 touchdowns. History says he’ll get better across the board. I guess we’ll have to wait and find out.

2.) Can Dontre Wilson replace Corey “Philly” Brown and fill the vaunted Percy Harvin role in Urban Meyer’s offense?

Few players in the country can match Dontre Wilson’s overall speed and quickness. He reminds a lot of people of former Oregon do it all running back/receiver De’Anthony Thomas. Thomas was electrifying every time he touched the ball. Last season, Wilson showed some flashes in the Buckeyes spread attack. He caught 22 passes for 210 yards and also ran the ball 31 times for 250 yards.

He’s going to be asked to do much of the same this season, only a lot more. Philly Brown was Ohio State’s best receiver last year. Wilson will try to replace him and then some. Wilson has also put on 15 pounds of muscle or so in the off season. That will serve him when Urban Meyer asks him to run the ball between the tackles. Having the extra weight on his frame will be key if he is going to withstand the punishment Big Ten defense will put on him.

Wilson will also play a role in special teams. He’ll be the main kick returner this season. He may also get involved in punt returns as well. There’s no doubt, everyone is tired of the constant comparisons of the hybrid position to former Florida great Percy Harvin. Hopefully, Wilson will break out in a big way this season and then everyone can call it the Dontre Wilson role. That would be nice and I fully expect that to happen if Dontre stays healthy.

3.) Will Johnnie Dixon see much playing time as a true freshman?

Johnnie Dixon was a heralded recruit from Urban Meyer’s old stomping grounds, Florida. Ohio State beat out the Florida schools and the SEC for his services. Dixon graduated early and was able to enroll at Ohio State during the spring semester and take part in spring practice. The coaches and fellow players have marveled at his work ethic and how seriously he takes the game.

Generally, freshman do not come into college understanding how hard you have to work to see the field and ultimately become a great player. It appears Dixon already understands this and it will serve him well as he moves in his first season in Columbus. I don’t expect Dixon to redshirt. I think he’ll see some playing time on offense, especially early in the season. Guys this talented can’t be standing on the sideline.

Catch some highlights of Johnnie Dixon:

In conclusion, it will be fun to watch and see how this group develops as a whole. With an experienced QB and an inexperienced offensive line, the Buckeyes will need the wide receivers to be a strength. You can bet, there will be a ton of short bubble screens slants in the game plans early. This group has to make plays. If they do, I love what this Ohio State offense could become.

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