Buckeyes seek deep threat in passing game
Published 1:10 pm Saturday, August 5, 2017
COLUMBUS (AP) — There are no marquee names among the Ohio State wide receivers. At least not yet.
The Buckeyes are hoping one of the half dozen or so experienced receivers can become a household name — or at least emerge as the reliable deep-ball threat the team has been missing.
The candidates for go-to guy include Parris Campbell, who was expected to be a star last year and just didn’t get there, and fellow junior Terry McLaurin, who seems poised to step from his role as special-teams stalwart to reliable pass-catcher. McLaurin has just two career TD catches, while Campbell is still looking for his first.
Then there’s Johnnie Dixon, who is fully healthy for the first time in his three years at Ohio State. Sophomores K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack showed flashes of potential last season and looked like seasoned veterans in the wide open spring game.
Coach Urban Meyer has said true freshmen Trevon Grimes, Jaylen Harris and Elijah Gardiner also could see playing time.
“I feel like the attitude is back,” McLaurin said. “You see out there if you watch practice, every ball that’s in the air, we want it, we’ve got to have it. I talk about it every day. I talked about it in the spring — that attitude, that swagger. I think it’s back.”
Receivers coach Zach Smith said he needs six wideouts who are game-ready. But the Buckeyes will settle for one who can consistently get open downfield and catch long throws from J.T. Barrett. Smith said receivers “underperformed” last year, but that was just part of the problem.
“It’s not looking for a deep-ball guy,” he insisted. “It’s looking for the offense to complete deep balls and execute them. We’ve had guys get open, we’ve had guys not get open. The quarterback doesn’t make a great throw, the O-line doesn’t protect. It’s been an offensive issue. Call it the perfect storm.”
Meyer and new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson have made it clear that completing long passes is a priority. And they like the development and maturity of this group of receivers.
“It’s one of the best groups we’ve ever had, culturally,” Meyer said. “There are zero issues. It’s just show up and go to work, be at your body weight and give your very best. They are unproven, but those kind of players usually turn out to have very good careers.”
Campbell is expected to operate out of the hybrid H-back position that Curtis Samuel owned last season. Expectations are high, even though the junior has just 13 catches for 121 yards in his career, all last year.
“I’ve developed as a player, I’ve developed as a leader, and my attitude, my effort, everything I put into this program is starting to surface,” Campbell said.
Smith said this is Campbell’s time.
“He’s always been a role player, always been a really good player, but he’s never had to be the guy,” Smith said. “We had Michael Thomas, we had Curtis Samuel, now it’s Parris’s turn to be the guy on offense.”
Besides returning tight end Marcus Baugh, who caught 24 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns, Hill is the most productive returning receiver, catching 18 passes for 262 yards and a touchdown last season.
The fleet Dixon may be the most intriguing of the bunch. Plagued by knee problems since he got to Columbus, the junior has been limited to just 14 games in three seasons and says he almost quit after last season. But he didn’t miss a spring practice for the first time in his Ohio State career, and caught a team-leading six passes for 108 yards in the spring game.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve had in a while,” Dixon said. “I haven’t been healthy really since early high school years, so being healthy is big. I enjoy it. It’s fun being out there every day.”