Hazell Happy About His Receivers' Growth

Ohio State wideouts coach and assistant head coach Darrell Hazell has developed a reputation as a coach on the rise, and the performance of his receivers did nothing to limit those thoughts in 2007. Hazell discussed the progression of his group that saw two players in Brain Robiskie and Brian Hartline emerge as dependable targets.

One of the biggest questions surrounding the Ohio State football team entering the 2007 season was whether or not the Buckeyes could suitably replace first-round NFL draft picks in Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez.

The answer come the end of the season was incomplete. The Buckeye receivers were able to get open enough to make Todd Boeckman into a possible Heisman Trophy contender two-thirds of the way into the campaign. But yet again, for the second year in a row, the Buckeye receivers didn't exactly light the world on fire with their performances in the BCS National Championship Game.

But by and large, the Ohio State receivers under position coach Darrell Hazell had a solid year, especially at the top. Top receiver Brian Robiskie and No. 2 guy Brian Hartline filled in admirably for Ginn and Gonzalez.

Gonzalez and Ginn combined for 110 catches for 1,515 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2006, while Hartline and Robiskie totaled 107 grabs, 1,629 yards and 17 scores, almost equal numbers.

Robiskie stepped into his role as the No. 1 receiver with very few problems, showcasing a combination of size, speed and hands that made him Boeckman's top target.

After 29 catches in 2006 as the third wideout, Robiskie's numbers increased across the board as a junior in '07. He finished with 55 catches for 935 yards and 11 scores, and his 17.0 yards per catch were tops of any Big Ten wideout who finished in the top 10 in the league in receiving. While his ability to make a grab in traffic stayed consistently high, Robiskie showcased a top gear that allowed him to make a number of deep catches, none bigger than his 68-yard touchdown grab against Washington.

"He got some great field experience as a No. 3 guy (last year), and I think that helped him with the easy transition," Hazell said. "He's a special player. He plays up the field extremely well with people leaning on him. He uses his body to shield defenders off. He's got tremendous concentration to the football with people around him."

Hartline had 52 catches for 694 yards and six scores a year after showcasing excellent hands as the Buckeyes' No. 4 option. In 2006, Hartline showed a reckless willingness to go anywhere on the field and make plays, finishing with 17 catches for 256 yards and two touchdowns, both against Northwestern. However, Hazell said he was impressed with the way the North Canton, Ohio, native stepped into the equation as a starting wideout.

"I didn't honestly know what to expect in terms of actual play, being able to make plays," Hazell said. "I knew he is as competitive a guy that I've ever coached in 22 years. He wants to win at everything, it doesn't matter what it is."

Where the Buckeyes might have slipped in '07 came in the depth category. In 2006, Robiskie finished with 29 grabs as the No. 3 guy and Hartline had 17 as the fourth option. Those numbers dripped to 20 and 12, respectively, for third wideout Ray Small and fourth guy Dane Sanzenbacher.

Small dealt with injuries each of his first two years while trying to establish himself as a legitimate deep threat. He had eight grabs for 68 yards and a touchdown in '06 before an unfortunate Troy Smith swing pass allowed Minnesota's Dominic Jones to tattoo the then-freshman. The blow short-circuited the rest of Small's first year, and a turned ankle during fall camp slowed the start of Small's 2007 season that ended with 20 catches for 267 yards and two touchdowns.

"Ray's done a good job," Hazell said. "It's taken him a little bit longer than those other two guys to come along, but if you watch him the last four games of the (regular season), you could really see him get more confident in himself. I think he's going to be a guy that you can count on in the future."

As for how the junior-to-be from Cleveland Glenville can improve, Hazell said "I think he's just got to keep studying the game and understanding the movements of defenses before they happen."

The rest of the wide receiver group played little importance as the leaves changed and the winds got colder in Ohio Stadium. Sanzenbacher, a freshman from Toledo Central Catholic, was OSU's fourth target but made only five catches in eight Big Ten games. He finished the campaign with 12 catches for 89 yards and a touchdown.

That score came on Ohio State's first drive of the season on Sept. 1 against Youngstown State, and Hazell said Sanzenbacher, who started the year as OSU's third wideout with Small on the shelf, never complained about not reaching that height again as the season progressed.

"I think he understands," Hazell said. "He's never come in and he's never complained, he's just continued to do the things that allowed him to be on the field early."

Another player who caught his only touchdown against the Penguins was Taurian Washington. The Michigan native had a 37-yard touchdown snag against Youngstown State and finished the year with just three catches.

"Taurian is doing a nice job," Hazell said. "I expect huge things out of him in the future. He's going to be a great receiver."

Showing potential was another freshman in Canton native Devon Torrence. The part-time baseball player had four grabs on the year, but one against Akron resulted in a fumble.

Two players who didn't make the cut during their junior year were Albert Dukes and Devon Lyons. The former had been plagued by inconsistency and the latter with injuries during their opening years at OSU, and hopes that experience in the system would key a renaissance for either fell flat. Neither Dukes nor Lyons caught a pass during the season.

"It's always hard because they're two great kids," Hazell said. "You help them through it. You'd love to play them, and if there's a situation that arose that you could play them … Unfortunately you're not always able to do those things."

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