Through injury or other circumstance, the Ohio State wide receivers coach is missing starter Brian Robiskie and on Friday was without yellow jerseyed reserves Jacob Stoneburner, Taurian Washington and Devon Torrence as well as walk-on Chris Roarke.
Good thing for the Buckeyes that the wide receiver depth has come along quite well through the opening two weeks of the spring.
"I think the biggest thing is how much depth we are developing whereas last year it felt like we had no depth," said starter Brian Hartline.
Chief among those who have stepped up are three players who were in their freshman seasons a year ago in Dane Sanzenbacher, Washington and Torrence. The three combined for 19 catches in 2007 with Sanzenbacher leading the way with 12 catches and a touchdown.
"Obviously Dane played a little bit last year but he's taking his game to another level," Hazell said. "He's where he's supposed to be all the time in the passing game. He never makes any mistake."
As for Torrence and Washington, the two have been slowed of late because of a hamstring and knee injury, respectively. Still, Hazell said he has been very pleased with the progress of Torrence, who caught four passes in '07, and Washington, who had three and a touchdown in the opening game against Youngstown State.
"He's got real soft hands," Hazell said of Washington. "He catches it away from his body. He's got really deceptive speed with the ball in his hands so he can make some plays for us.
"The other guy that really has done a nice job that you didn't see out there today is Devon Torrence. He's working the slot for us this spring and he's done an exceptional job."
With Robiskie slowly working his way back into the lineup after a February knee scooping, Hartline is the lone constant at the front of the order. The North Canton, Ohio, native broke out after a year as OSU's No. 4 wideout in 2006 last season, catching 52 passes for 694 yards and six touchdowns. As the healthy starter at the spot, Hartline has stepped up into a major role with approval of his position coach.
"He's a leader," Hazell said. "He's a playmaker. He's tough. He's vocal. I love him."
Hazell added that Robiskie has been working as a coach as well even while he's worked back from the knee malady.
"We know that it's going to be our responsibility to get a lot of these younger guys involved I think now that we've stepped up as being the leaders in this group," said Robiskie, who led the team with 55 catches, 935 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Buckeye wideout group has been helped so far by an influx of talent perhaps from another spot. During Friday's practice, some of Ohio State's tailbacks, including Brandon Saine, were seen lining up as wideouts. At some point, Saine was in the slot position with the No. 1 group, and Hazell said that he would say that his starting players in Saturday's jersey scrimmage probably would include Saine in the slot with Sanzenbacher and Hartline out wide.
Though Saine's primary position will continue to be tailback, the former Ohio Mr. Football has been used in a number of spots to open up the offense thus far.
"We're trying to expand a little bit some of the things we're doing offensively in terms of personnel," he said. "We've found some things scheme- and personnel-wise so we think it's going to help us out down the road."
Ray Small will also see time in the jersey scrimmage, Hazell said, despite seeing spotty repetitions during Friday's practice. Hazell said that the Cleveland Glenville product who was third on the team in catches and yards in 2007 is injured but has been limited because of other reasons, leaving him about three-quarters of the way caught up with his position mates.
As for Stoneburner, the spring addition from Dublin Coffman has a small hamstring injury suffered recently, but Hazell said he's been impressed with the mental acuity of the prospect.