Roles Differing In Spring For Odd Couple

The injury bug at Ohio State has extended deep into the wide receiver corps, starting at the top with Brian Robiskie. While OSU's leading returning receiver recovers, Brian Hartline has played the star while giving his buddy a hard time about his injury. Both are doing what they can to help a fairly position group mature as well.

Everyone says that Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie – "The Brians," if you will – are Ohio State's odd couple, a duo sharing a name, a position and not much else.

That metaphor has continued into the spring, as Hartline has been healthy and able to go at full strength during practices and scrimmages while Robiskie, recovering from offseason knee surgery, has been working his way back into drills but held out of scrimmages like Saturday's jersey scrimmage.

That's given Hartline – he who is blessed with not just speed and good hands but the gift of gab – a chance to not only improve as OSU's alpha dog at wideout this spring but to needle his good friend.

"(I tell him) he's too big-time for the team and everything," Hartline said with a laugh. "Obviously I'm being sarcastic. I just stay on his back, try to get him practicing, but he's taking care of himself."

With Robiskie out, the spring has been Hartline's time to shine. The junior might have been the most valuable player of the jersey scrimmage Saturday, showing off polish, speed and hands on the way to compiling two touchdown catches and 110 yards receiving on five catches, unofficially.

He made the first big play of the event, beating a blown coverage against the first unit to haul in a 53-yard bomb from Todd Boeckman while returning All-Big Ten first-teamer Malcolm Jenkins could only run 10 yards behind in a fruitless effort to catch up.

But his real starring moment might have come later in the scrimmage on a first down play from the 25-yard line. With the first-team defense blitzing, Boeckman stood in under pressure and fired toward the right corner of the end zone. On the other end, Hartline got a step behind Kurt Coleman on a post corner route and made a diving catch for the score.

"He wanted to win the game," head coach Jim Tressel said afterward. "He wants to win every play he's in. He was a guy that when his group wasn't in the game, he was screaming and yelling instructions at the younger receivers."

It was no mistake that Hartline was the top wideout considering that once junior Ray Small went down with an ankle injury early in the day, the North Canton, Ohio, native was the only receiver on the field with extensive experience. The man who often makes his living working in the slot showed equal aplomb working out wide and getting separation, something wideouts coach Darrell Hazell has been the goal this spring.

"We've been trying to work on vertical speed a little bit, continue to work on creating good separation underneath against linebackers and safeties," Hazell said. "I think that's where we can really create some mismatches."

Hazell has been unable to work on similar points of emphasis with Robiskie. The wideouts coach said he had hoped to work with the Chagrin Falls, Ohio, native on horizontal speed, working across the field and creating separation on shallow routes.

But not being 100 percent on the field has not left Robiskie moping. As the knee has healed in spring, he's increased his role in drills while staying a visible presence among a young wide receivers group.

"He's so into it mentally, which is hard for a lot of those guys that are not practicing to be into it," Hazell said. "He's been coaching out there."

With Ohio State's corps of scholarship receivers including sophomores in Dane Sanzenbacher, Devon Torrence, Taurian Washington and Grant Schwartz, as well as true frosh Jake Stoneburner, Robiskie said he knows the importance of doing whatever he can to bring the group along.

"We're kind of in the position now where guys are kind of looking at us more for advice, and we're trying to be there to help them out," he said.

Even though Robiskie has been at the mercy of Hartline when it comes to ribbing about playing time, the two formed quite the imposing pair last season. Robiskie led the team with 55 catches for 935 yards and 11 scores while showing the ability to make catches down the field, while Hartline's 52 catches totaled 694 yards and six touchdowns.

Though they continue to be labeled as the odd couple, there's no doubting they're a solid duo that works well together on and off the field.

"We play off each other," Hartline said. "What he says, I believe him. What I say, he believes me. It's really a good combination."

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