July 4, 2012

Receivers must take game to next level in 2012

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

With Ohio State's fall camp a month away from kicking off, we at Buckeye Grove have decided to take a look at the roster that Urban Meyer will be working with in his first year as Ohio State's head coach. Today, we'll take a look at the current state of the Buckeyes' wide receiver position. You can see yesterday's preview of the Ohio State quarterbacks by clicking here.

After reviewing a 2011 season that resulted in the Buckeyes' first losing year since 1988, new head coach Urban Meyer found one number more disturbing than any other in his new team's stats sheets: 14. That's the number of catches that it took to lead the Buckeyes in receptions a season ago.

And while Meyer- known for his high-powered spread offense- finds that number unacceptable, he also didn't find it surprising. Especially after working with the receiving corps throughout his first spring camp as the head coach in Columbus.

"They probably were the most unprepared group I'd ever dealt with as far as practice," Meyer said after releasing his two-deep depth chart at the conclusion of spring practice.

But while Meyer has seemed less than pleased with his team's passing attack, categorizing it as "not very good," that didn't stop it from being the star of the spring game. Although the Ohio State coaching staff self-admittedly focused on the passing game during its spring exhibition, it provided a platform for at least one Buckeye to emerge as a potential go-to receiver.

True freshman Michael Thomas was the undeniable star of the game, catching 12 balls for a total of 131 yards. Thomas' stellar performance may have come as a surprise to many Buckeye fans, but it certainly didn't catch Meyer off guard.

"He's our most dedicated receiver," said Meyer after the game. "I'm not surprised he had that type of game."

The 6-foot-2, 193-pound Thomas joins Ohio State's leading receivers from a year ago in Corey Brown and Devin Smith. Brown and Smith each tallied 14 receptions a season ago, with Brown gaining 204 yards and one touchdown, and Smith adding 294 yards and four touchdowns.

Now a junior, Brown is expected to continue to stretch the field as the Buckeyes' most lethal deep threat. He may also see time at the receiver/running back hybrid position that Jordan Hall was expected to play before suffering a foot injury last week.

Although it might not be saying much, Smith- now a sophomore- was perhaps the Buckeyes' most consistent receiver a season ago, leading the team in both receptions and receiving yards, while ranking second in touchdown receptions. The highlight of Smith's freshman campaign came during the Buckeyes' 33-29 come from behind win over Wisconsin, when Smith caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from Braxton Miller with 20 seconds remaining in the game.

Smith is well aware that the expectations placed on him are much higher than they were a season ago.

"He said 14 passes in his offense is called one game," Smith said of Meyer's assessment of last year's performance.

Another player who figures to make an impact in the Buckeye passing game this season is sophomore Evan Spencer, who was actually listed alongside Brown and Smith as one of three starters on Meyer's post-spring depth chart. Spencer showed some promise with a highlight reel-worthy catch during the Buckeyes' opener against Akron last season, but finished the season with just three catches for 78 yards and one touchdown.

Backing up Brown in the slot is fourth-year junior Chris Fields, who tallied eight catches for 114 yards in 2011. With plenty of multiple receiver looks expected from Meyer's offense, Fields should see ample playing time, but needs to become more consistent when it comes to catching the ball and cutdown on his holding penalties if he wants to become a regular contributor.

The remainder of the Ohio State depth chart is rounded out by a pair of question marks in sophomores Tyrone Williams and Verlon Reed.

At 6-foot-6, 229-pounds, Williams has all of the physical tools to be a top playmaker in Meyer's offense, but is yet to have shown the consistency catching the ball that you'd expect from a starting wide receiver. Reed, on the other hand, found himself in the Buckeyes' starting line-up at the beginning of the 2011 season, but is still recovering from the torn ACL that he suffered during Ohio State's Oct. 1 loss to Michigan State. Reed accumulated nine catches for 132 yards before enduring the season-ending injury.

Other scholarship receivers on this year's roster include a pair of three-star recruits in Frank Epitropoulos (Upper Arlington, Ohio) and Ricquan Southward (Lakeland, Fla.). The rest of the Ohio State receiving unit consists of walk-ons Peter Gwilym, Frank Kangah, and Ryan Ross.


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