Different Wideouts, Same Goals

Having lost two wide receivers to the first round of the NFL Draft, the Buckeyes are counting on two fourth-year juniors to step up and become team leaders. Devon Lyons and Albert Dukes are both hoping that this season is finally their time to shine.

At the team's annual photo day last Thursday, the two teammates appeared to be a lesson in opposites. At one end of the spectrum was Albert Dukes, looking reserved as always, rarely displaying much emotion throughout the course of being interviewed.

Then there was Devon Lyons, dancing around on the field for photographers while holding a football and teammates chanted "Mr. Heisman! Mr. Heisman!"

One quiet, the other boisterous. Together, they are two roommates hoping to give the Buckeyes some much-needed depth at the wide receiver position this season.

"We always talk about this year, if we stay focused we can help our team a whole lot," Dukes said. "We can do a lot of great things for this team."

Two highly touted members of Ohio State's 2004 recruiting class, it is fair to say neither has been able to live up to high early expectations. Dukes, a four-star prospect hailing from the same high school as former OSU wideout Santonio Holmes, was expected to make a big impact early in his career after being pegged as a first-team all-state player at Glades Central (Fla.) Belle Glade.

Lyons, on the other hand, joined the Buckeyes as a three-star safety prospect and has been hampered by position changes and injuries ever since. Now with nearly a full year under his belt at the wide receiver position, he joins Dukes as the other fourth-year junior wideout hoping to finally make an impact on the field this season.

In two seasons, Dukes has four catches for 39 yards. Lyons, on the other hand, has two career catches for 15 yards.

Having players with numbers like that vying for significant playing time this season might not seem like a good thing, but all the talent in the world might not have enabled Dukes and Lyons to see much more playing time. Both have at least partially been victims of a numbers game at their position.

As they have sat the bench, the likes of Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez – all first-round draft picks – have put up impressive numbers.

With Ginn and Gonzalez opting to leave for the NFL following their junior seasons, now is the time for Dukes and Lyons to step up.

"We've had some pretty good receivers around here the last couple of years, so that's all part of it," OSU wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell said. "But again, it's all about being consistent and being productive."

Both showed flashes of potential during the 2006 spring game. Lyons arguably had the more impressive day, however, finishing with three catches for a game-high 72 yards. Dukes contributed three catches for 20 yards.

Hazell said the production Lyons demonstrated in the spring game is an example of the consistent production they need out of him.

However, he singled out the spring as a time when he particularly saw Dukes progress as a player.

"His confidence level rose up last spring and it needs to continue to rise," Hazell said. "I think the more balls he can catch around people, the more confident he's going to become. He needs to keep playing like that and see if he can help us out this year."

Along those lines, Lyons said he is gaining a better understanding of what is exactly required of him as he prepares to assume more of a leadership role this season.

"For me, personally, I'd say it's about getting more focused," he said. "I'd say injuries have hampered me a little bit, but it's more or less getting more serious about what I'm doing, taking more pride into it and just becoming more consistent in everything I do, letting my teammates know that I'm more of a leader and ready to step up and play."

Stepping up in the offseason is one thing, however. Both players said they know their window of opportunity to be remembered as anything but highly touted players who did not pan out is rapidly closing.

What happens next is, perhaps for the first time, firmly in their respective hands.

"Time flies when you're here and you don't want that time to just fly by and you don't leave a name for yourself," Dukes said. "I feel like now is the time."

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