Wide Receivers Look To Continue Progress

The Ohio State football team's wide receivers had a much better 2012 season than it had a year earlier. Even so, position coach Zach Smith wants to see his group continue to take the steps necessary to become of the best units in the country.

Zach Smith had to feel better after the second spring of the Urban Meyer era at Ohio State than he did a year earlier. But the OSU wide receivers coach still does not have his players at the level he wants.

"I was very, very concerned a year ago because this offense is built around (the wide receiver position) and relies on it so heavily that where we were a year ago was almost panic mode," Smith said. "Where we are today, I wouldn't say panic mode, but there's almost no satisfaction with our performance.

"We can always get better. We still have a ways to go before we can truly run out in the Horseshoe and say we're the best wide receiver group in the country or the Big Ten. That's a ways off right now. SO we have a lot of work to do in the next four months. They have to get after it."

Despite that, Smith has every right to feel better about his group. The wide receivers rebounded from a 2011 season during which the unit caught a total of 14 passes to produce 10.5 receptions per game – not earth-shattering, of course, but a step in the right direction for the Buckeyes. Corey "Philly" Brown earned second-team All-Big Ten honors for his 60-catch season performance, and Devin Smith showed big-play ability in averaging 20.6 yards per grab.

While Smith said there is plenty of work to be done, he was happy to see several players have solid springs – namely Brown and Chris Fields. Both Smith and Meyer heaped praise during the spring on both seniors. For Brown, Smith said he was taking the next step in his development.

Brown was a second-team all-conference player who wants more.

"It was all about taking that next step to not just being a good player, not a second team all-conference because that's like finishing second in a race," Smith said. "That's great. They thought you were almost the best receiver in the country. So he took those steps in the offseason.

"He's hungry, and I think the first two years of his career didn't go the way he wanted. Last year was more of the year he felt he should have had all along but he didn't maximize it. He didn't capitalize on those opportunities. Now he's looking at his last season where he needs to capitalize on those plays to be the player he's capable of being."

Smith said Brown had a good season last year but needs to continue the positive momentum into his final collegiate campaign.

"He has that innate energy and charisma about him that can really ignite an offense, a group of players," Smith said. "He and I joke about it, but it's not really a joke, that he has the ability to instantly turn the level of energy up on the sideline. He'll look at me in practice and say, ‘Coach, watch this, I'm going to turn it up.' Then he'll make one play and just get up excited. All the sudden you have 50 dudes on offense just out of their minds with energy.

"That's something we need more consistently out of him. When you have that power and that capability, you have to use it for the good of the team. So he has it and he needs to use it to help us."

Fields (click here for a story on his spring progress) was named a starter by Meyer following the spring game, capping an impressive rise for the Painesville (Ohio) Harvey product. Smith said he first noticed a change for the positive from Fields around the midway part of the season. It was perhaps too late to make a huge difference on the field – despite his heroics in Ohio State's overtime win against Purdue – but it did lead to a good offseason and even better spring.

A more confident Fields was what the Buckeyes saw during the spring – confident and consistent, according to his position coach.

"I think the light came on, and when the season ended is when he clicked into action where he needed to go show everyone so the confidence and the trust could be developed so that this next year we can count on him as one of our guys," Smith said.

Brown and Fields are just two players who will battle for playing time and receptions this fall. Smith, Evan Spencer, Michael Thomas, incoming junior college transfer Corey Smith and Jordan Hall are others who will be in the mix at wide receiver and/or H-back.

Thomas again had flashes of brilliance during the spring, but still needs to show consistency. He caught a seven passes for 79 yards and a touchdown in the spring game but Smith said the native Californian still has work to do in order to break the starting lineup.

"Michael Thomas is still developing," Smith said. "He's still a young kid. He shows flashes of his ability and he shows flashes of improvement, but he's not where he needs to be yet. I say yet because I think it's on him and me and really the leaders on offense to get him where we need him and get him where he should be. By fall that needs to happen.

"He's a guy that we're going to count on, but leaving spring he was a guy that every now and then you'd say, ‘Wow. He made a great play' or ‘Wow, that's the guy we need you to be every play.' It's just about consistency and developing into an accountable guy that everyone can look at and say, ‘He'll get the job done.' "

Hall missed some of the spring because of injury but remains an intriguing option for the Buckeye offense if he can stay on the field.

"We're really excited about the versatility he brings both as a ball carrier and a receiver, and it's something that our offense likes to have – a versatile guy that we can hand the ball to, throw the ball to," Smith said.

There are plenty of players who could possibly see the field this fall, but Smith is still not comfortable with the depth at wide receiver.

"Some positions on our team have great depth, and mine is surely not one of them – just by sheer numbers, never mind performance," Smith said. "So, no, I'm not comfortable with our depth at all. We have a dire need for great receivers right now and receiver numbers in general. I don't feel great about it. I feel good about the development of the personnel we have, but I don't feel great about the quantity and the depth."

"But that's some we're going to deal with. That's what recruiting is for and that's what development is for. We'll feel better as the years pass, but right now, it's not a panic but it's close."

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