Receivers Working To Meet Meyer's Standards

Last season was not a great year to be a wide receiver at Ohio State. This past winter might not have been too pleasant, either, after new head coach Urban Meyer arrived and declared the position to be lacking playmaking ability, but the young Buckeye receivers are working to change his mind this spring.

Since taking over officially as head coach of the football team at Ohio State in January, Urban Meyer has not been shy about sharing his feelings about the receivers. He came away from his initial evaluation of the roster unsure he had anyone who can stretch the field or make big plays. He reiterated that concern on National Signing Day and again in subsequent press conferences before and after the start of spring practice.

The players and position coach Zach Smith are aware the spread offense innovator is not sold on what he has at his disposal, and they are out to change that this spring.

"Those things aren't said to the media and not said behind closed doors," Smith said. "This is not a program based on secrets. It's a very transparent program. Everyone knows what is expected of them, so to read it in the newspaper or see it on the news is not a shock."

Devin Smith and Evan Spencer confirmed as much from their end. They are well aware that Meyer has thrown down the gauntlet in preparation for the regular season.

"I know Coach Meyer expects a lot out of us, so at the same time he's saying that he knows we have talent and we just have to prove it every day," said Spencer, who is sidelined for the rest of spring with a broken bone in his right shoulder. "We did feel like we had to step up. At the same time, we know we're talented and know what we can do so it's just up to us to show what we can do."

Though only sophomores, Smith and Spencer are among the elder statesmen in the receivers room. Both saw significant playing time last year as true freshmen, but their opportunities were sporadic as the offense suffered through growing pains associated with starting a freshman at quarterback and putting together a game plan without former head coach Jim Tressel.

The numbers from 2011 confirm it was a rough campaign to be a pass catcher.

Smith led the team with 294 yards receiving and tied fellow receiver Corey "Philly" Brown and tight end Jake Stoneburner for the team lead in receptions with 14 grabs apiece.

They have their sights set on much better numbers this season and feel good about the progress made so far this spring.

"We were kind of struggling at first because we were so overwhelmed with what was going on but now that the install has been minimal it's a lot easier for us to settle down and just be us," Spencer said.

Before suffering his injury, Spencer was having a positive spring. He had ascended to a spot with the No. 1 offense playing outside with Smith as Brown manned the slot most of the time.

"Evan was having a great spring," Zach Smith said. "He's a typical coach's kid. He was relentless in the offseason. I'd walk into the film room from a coach's meeting and he would be sitting there just watching film and doing those things to learn a new offense and do great things. He was an asset for me on the field. He's still in the meeting room, still learning and doing what he needs to do to learn. Just physically he's not able to do anything."

With Spencer sidelined, Michael Thomas moved up to the No. 1 unit and turned some heads with his impressive combination of size and speed.

His position coach called Thomas, a true freshman who enrolled in January, a bit of a surprise and praised his passion for the game.

"He'll text me every night, ‘Coach, how was practice? How'd I do?' His commitment to being a great player is off the charts," Zach Smith said. "Is he a great player? Absolutely not, but hopefully he'll get there."

Opposite Thomas on the outside has been Devin Smith (no relation to the coach). Much is expected of Smith in his second year after he averaged a team-best 21.0 yards per catch last season. He possesses sprinter's speed – as evidenced by a pair of Ohio high school 100-meter dash championships – but is continuing to learn the nuances of playing his position on the football field.

"He needs to play as fast as he is," Zach Smith said. "He needs to run great routes and catch the ball consistently. He needs to improve as a whole receiver and player."

The player understands what is expected of him and is working hard to meet the standards his head coach and position coach have set for him.

"I think out of all the groups (Meyer) is hard on us just because he wants us to be good," Devin Smith said. "We're a key part of this offense. Everyone has to make plays and everyone is doing a good job of that."

Although the first and second units have consistently featured the same players – health permitting – when media have been allowed to watch practice, Smith said everyone remains in the running to start this fall. That includes junior Chris Fields and sophomore Tyrone "T.Y." Williams.

"They've done a decent job this spring of knowing what they're doing and making plays and blocking," Zach Smith said. "I couldn't tell you right now who's a one and who's a two. It's more just reps and to get them in cohesion with a unit. To say Chris Fields is a two would be inaccurate. To say Tyrone is a two would be inaccurate. We'll see where they are at the end of spring. We'll evaluate it and then head into two-a-days and have a better idea of who's going to be a one and who is a two."

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