Receivers Helping OSU Offensive Improvement

The Ohio State football team is off to a 9-0 start to the 2012 season and that is thanks in part to an improved offense. Part of that improvement can be attributed to the play of the wide receivers, who have become a bigger part of the attack.

It would be fair to say that the wide receivers were a maligned group when Urban Meyer took over the Ohio State football program in January.

Seemingly every Meyer press conference from the winter into preseason camp had the head coach discussing the efforts of the wideouts and how much they needed to improve if the Buckeyes were to have a successful 2012 season.

It was understandable why it was such a focus. During Ohio State's 2011 campaign, wide receivers combined for 65 receptions for 979 yards. Devin Smith and Corey "Philly" Brown had 14 catches apiece to lead the group, which had its struggles as the Buckeyes finished 12th in the Big Ten in pass offense with a paltry 127 yards through the air per game.

This season, the group has fared better. Seven wide receivers have combined for 97 catches for 1,380 yards through the first nine games of the season. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Buckeyes are having a much better year with a 9-0 record. The passing offense is also improved, averaging 183.9 yards – ninth best in the league. Those numbers aren't stellar, but they're improved from a year ago.

"We've come a long ways, especially from spring to now," Smith said.

Smith has been the big-play threat in the passing game, catching a team-high six touchdowns. He ranks second in receiving with 23 receptions for 447 yards. The top target for sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller has been Brown, who has connected with Miller 44 times for 447 yards and one TD.

Smith said Meyer made sure the wide receivers stayed focused in the offseason.

"During the summer, we really worked hard," the sophomore said. "Coach Meyer was on our case every single day, making sure we were running routes with Braxton and getting with the quarterbacks and working on catching the ball and running routes. It's really helped."

Also helping the unit has been the gradual improvement of tight end-turned-wideout Jake Stoneburner. The senior was viewed by many as a potential breakout player in the Meyer-Tom Herman spread offense, but he did not start the season with a flourish. It was not until Meyer and a sit-down with Stoneburner midseason that things started to click.

"We had a come to you-know-what meeting because he wasn't playing well," Meyer said. "He was playing OK. … He wasn't playing very hard in East Lansing (at Michigan State). He played OK, but OK is not good enough for a guy like that."

Stoneburner said it was more of a "heart-to-heart" conversation.

"I wasn't playing as well as I should have been, or as well as he thought I should have been," Stoneburner said. "I agreed with him. We talked and sat and thought about why and what I needed to change and what part of the game I needed to step up.

"It was kind of an eye-opener, what he thought."

And that was?

"It was not that I wasn't playing aggressive, but I wasn't being aggressive," Stoneburner said. "For me being 245 pounds, sometimes I was thinking too much when I was blocking or running routes. I wasn't playing with my speed and my weight against little guys. I was being a little bit tentative, almost afraid to make a mistake."

Recently, Stoneburner has become a bigger part of the offensive attack. After going without a reception against UAB, Michigan State and Nebraska, Stoneburner has caught six passes for 144 yards in the last three weeks – including a 72-yard touchdown haul last week at Penn State.

Also helping the wideouts' efforts this season is that it is not just one or two players making an impact. Seven receivers have caught passes this season, with four catching touchdowns. Evan Spencer has caught five passes for 48 yards in the last two games, and Chris Fields made one of the biggest plays of the season with his crucial fourth-quarter TD reception in the overtime win against Purdue.

"It's just been an improvement and a commitment from some of those guys that weren't playing to where now I think everyone – the players, the unit, myself and Coach Meyer – feel more confident with them in the game," wide receiver coach Zach Smith said.

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