"Who is that guy?" some wondered. "He looks familiar," others said. "It could be Duron Carter," one said.
The middle one was the most right – he should look familiar.
After all, Ohio State fans became pretty familiar with Devin Smith a year ago when he jumped into the starting lineup as a sophomore. They cheered his three grabs of 60 yards or more and his 20.6 yards per catch, both Big Ten-leading numbers that showed his ability to make big plays in key situations.
On the other hand, they scratched their heads when Smith let some seemingly easy opportunities to boost his catch total go through his hands.
Smith is intimately familiar with his reputation both around the league and in the Ohio State fanbase, a realization that prompted him to ditch the No. 15 and go back to the No. 9 he sported while racking up 110 catches and 24 touchdowns at famed Ohio prep power Massillon Washington.
"I wanted it when I first came here, but the reason why I changed numbers is simple – just to start over," Smith said of the single-digit number Friday. "I want a new slate for myself. I think last year people knew that Devin Smith can make plays, but at the same time he's not consistent, and I want to be consistent, so I want to start over and show everybody how good I can be."
There isn't much Smith doesn't bring to the table when it comes to skills. At 6-1, 198 pounds, he has decent height and good size to match up against some of the more physical cornerbacks in the country.
Do you want speed? He won the Ohio Division I 100-meter championship as a senior at Massillon. Leaping ability? He's a state champ in the long jump, too. The ability to make the spectacular look routine? Look no further than his one-handed grab vs. Miami (Ohio) last year, which was named play of the year by some.
"I think I can make it to the next level," he said. "With the training staff and how hard they push us to be the best, I'm doing everything I can."
However, there is certainly more Smith can bring to the table, and that starts with consistency. For example, after making 17 catches in his first four games last year, Smith made just 13 in eight Big Ten games including goose eggs vs. Nebraska and Penn State. The only game in which he made more than two catches came vs. Wisconsin, when he had four.
When the season was over, Smith sat down and looked at both sides of the coin – his ability to make game-winning plays and his penchant for struggling to put up numbers in some contests. Looking back, the urge to get better was strong.
"I had a hard evaluation of myself," Smith said. "I was just watching film and really evaluating myself and know that I could do better, so now I'm working extremely hard on the things that I think I can be better at – watching the ball, staying focused when I catch it, making plays, running good routes and reading defenses correctly."
Receivers coach Zach Smith won't bet against his pupil making it to the next level simply based on his work ethic. Devin Smith isn't the kind of guy to sit around and do nothing, as his appearances on the Ohio State track and field team the past two offseasons will attest, and perfection is the standard in everything he does.
"You won't know it from the interview, you won't know it from talking to him, but no one is harder on Devin Smith than he is on himself," Zach Smith said. "He knows the potential. He knows what he could achieve, and the minute he takes a step away from that, I could not even say anything and he would be absolutely destroyed that he let that happen.
"I don't just let it go, but he knows what he could be, and he's pushing himself along with getting pushing by our unit and myself and coach (Urban) Meyer and everyone. He knows, and he's very demanding of himself to get there."
It's still a process. Meyer described Smith's spring last week as "a little bit up and down" and has mentioned that the receiver has plateaued a bit after a strong start, even while noting that the junior had made noticeable strides in working to become a consistent No. 1 receiver.
Smith's position coach agrees with that, but he's liking what he's seeing.
"He's had an up and down spring," Zach Smith said. "I think that's his next step. He's doing things now that I didn't see 12 months ago, but he needs to do them all the time, every rep. Every day he's going against one of the best corners in the country. OK, that's not an excuse. I get it, Bradley Roby is a good corner, but you're going to have to beat the best corners in the country and he knows that. That's his drive.
"And I think Roby and him have a good competition going because Roby knows he could be a great player, too. He's done well at times, he just needs to work on consistency. That's the next step. Things that he didn't do last year, he's done this spring, but not every day."