The Buckeyes lost Brian Robiskie to graduation and Brian Hartline to the NFL after his junior season, and with them went their most prolific pass catchers from the past two seasons. Now stepping into the void are a number of faces – some old, some young – aiming to improve on the team's passing production.
But to hear the team's leading returning receiver from a year ago tell it, it's not as if the cupboard is bare in Columbus.
"We lost two great receivers in Hartline and Robiskie, but I think people are underestimating us as a whole," junior Dane Sanzenbacher said. "If you talk to anybody else on the team, they'll tell you that we've got a lot of playmakers. I've got a lot of high expectations for this group."
That sentiment might best sum up a group of players that was missing its most-prolific wideout for the first week of camp in Ray Small – he of 46 career catches for 484 yards and three scores. The fact is that this season will see the Buckeyes line up with a number of players short on experience but long on potential.
After combining for 107 of the 146 passes caught by wide receivers during the 2007 season, Hartline and Robiskie accumulated 63 of the 117 receptions caught by wideouts last season – nearly an identical proportion of catches.
The problem was an offense that sputtered at times throughout the season while going through a change of quarterback. It left some fans hungry to see new faces out wide in the hopes that they would bring greater productivity.
Inside the OSU locker room, however, Sanzenbacher said he knows what type of players this year's wide receivers have to replace.
"I think they were appreciated," he said. "I think you can look at that anywhere on the team. Last year there were all kinds of other things that people or the media would talk about such as our quarterback situation and everything else. I think they might have gotten overlooked, but as a team I think they were appreciated."
Four wideouts who caught passes last season return this year. Behind Sanzenbacher (21 catches, tied with Hartline for second-best on the team) and Small (18 catches) are sophomore DeVier Posey (11 catches) and classmate Lamaar Thomas (four catches).
The loss of Robiskie and Hartline has been lessened by the lessons they left behind, junior Taurian Washington said.
"As a unit, we're just getting better and making each other better because the harder each of us works, the better each one of us gets," said Washington, one of the players targeted to make an impact this season. "It wasn't too tough coming in after the Brians left as younger guys because they taught us a lot when they were there. When it was our turn to step up, it wasn't that hard."
Wide receiver coach Darrell Hazell's longstanding credo is that his "A" players must grade out as "A" players. As fall camp got underway, the two players closest to fitting into that category were Sanzenbacher and sophomore DeVier Posey, he said.
To get to that level, Posey has to become a more consistent player. He was among the team leaders in dropped passes and missed assignments during spring drills.
"I feel like there's a lot of opportunities and a lot of balls for us to go get," Posey said. "It's an exciting time for everyone on the team just for the fact that we had a lot of seniors and there's a lot of opportunities for young guys and older guys that you might not know about, for you to get to know their names."
What kind of impact adding Small to the equation will have remains to be seen. He joined the roster August 14th after not breaking camp with the team, but head coach Jim Tressel said he would probably not immediately rejoin the wide receiver rotation. His absence meant more opportunities for some of the younger members of the roster.
Hazell said his goal is to have five players ready to go and be rotated by the time the season begins. It is a challenge the coach, who is in his sixth season with the Buckeyes, enjoys facing.
"I love this part of the job," he said. "You've got young guys that you have to develop. There's not a lot of experience out there. You're talking about Dane who has probably the most experience out there and DeVier with very little experience. He's a ways away as well.
"I'm excited about it. I think there's a lot of potential in the room, but there's a lot of work that needs to be done in the room."
Work that, if done properly, could result in big things for this group of wide receivers.
"A lot of guys are sleeping on us, but I think after they see our receiving corps their minds will change," Washington said. "They call us ‘Receiver U,' so that will be the biggest thing because we're going to do pretty well this year."