Wide Receiver Roulette

Ohio State wants its best players on the field this fall even if that means playing in new spots.

When the Buckeyes take the field for their annual spring game April 18, expect to see some familiar Ohio State playmakers in new spots as wide receivers coach Zach Smith is experimenting with his pupils during spring practice.

Is that Noah Brown split wide? Are they trying Jalin Marshall on the outside too? Curtis Samuel is in the slot?

Yes, yes and yes.

With Devin Smith and Evan Spencer having exhausted their eligibility and Michael Thomas dealing with a sports hernia, Ohio State is getting creative with how they use the receivers they have available this spring.

Marshall ended the 2014 campaign as the starting H-back, spending his time in the slot, while Brown worked his way into that role as well thanks to his blocking acumen. Last year, Samuel was the backup running back. The idea this spring is to get every weapon that Smith has ready to be deployed at any position.

“Noah’s working all the spots,” Smith said. “He’s right now at X because Mike’s out. Not saying he can’t be an X, he certainly can and he’s done a great job this spring. He played the slot all last year, he played the slot a little bit as he started showing that he can get on the field.

“I told him going in to spring, ‘The mentality right now is to get you ready to start at all three spots.’ He’s kind of like Jalin, have that flexibility so that when we need to get the best three on the field, whoever that is, I can plug him where I need to and they’ll be really good at it.”

Marshall finished last season second on the team to Thomas with 38 receptions and third in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns with 499 and six, respectively. As a redshirt freshman he also had 25 carries for 145 yards.

All of that production came as the Buckeyes H-back, playing in the slot and motioning in and out of the backfield. Now, the staff is allowing the 5-11, 205-pound receiver to get some work against the Buckeyes best corners.

“I moved Jalin outside, just for the spring,” Smith said. “The way our defense plays so much press man on the outside, I wanted Jalin to go in and get that work on the outside. I wanted him to get press-man work because that’s something you don’t get a lot of in the slot. I think to take his game to the next level that’s a critical piece. I don’t think he’s going to play out there, though he has the flexibility to play out there, but he’s getting a good 15-practice block of press man against guys like Eli (Apple), guys like Gareon (Conley), getting that great work that he would have otherwise missed out on.”

The idea is the same with Marshall as it is with Brown, get both players ready to play any of the receiver positions so that Smith has the flexibility to get the best three players on the field no matter the position. The same goes for Samuel as he works in at the H-back position.

Head coach Urban Meyer has identified all three of those players as potential playmakers this fall. “Last year we had 10 (playmakers), we pushed it a little more than that,” the head coach said. “Mike Thomas is certainly in there, Jalin Marshall is in there. Obviously Zeke Elliott is way high up the list, but Curtis Samuel is not far behind so we have to find ways to get the ball in his hands. Noah Brown had a very, very good day too.”

Clearly, those are players that need to see the field this fall and the Buckeyes staff doesn’t care if it means getting guys reps at new spots.

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