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Football: Ohio State wide receivers remain a priority for the offense into summer

OSU redshirt junior wide receiver Parris Campbell (21) jukes a Scarlet player during the 2017 Spring Game at Ohio Stadium on April 15, 2017. Credit: Mason Swires | Assistant Photo Editor

When the wide receivers met with their position coach, Zach Smith, and the rest of the offensive coaching staff in the offseason between the Fiesta Bowl and the start of spring camp, they knew things had to change.

Following Saturday’s spring game where the top five wideouts reeled in 24 catches for 327 yards and four touchdowns, it appears that the unit has been resurrected for the time being.

But it remains a priority for the offense moving into summer workouts and fall camp.

“I saw some guys, some receivers really step up and make some nice plays,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said Saturday postgame.

Redshirt junior Parris Campbell grabbed five receptions for 46 yards in one quarter of play, redshirt sophomore K.J. Hill had six receptions for 62 yards, redshirt junior Terry McLaurin scored twice with 80 yards on four catches, and redshirt junior Johnnie Dixon led the team with six catches for 108 yards and two scores.

OSU’s passing struggles last season were most evident when the lights were brightest, throwing for an average of 112 yards in the final three games. Redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett ranked 55th in passing efficiency in 2016, while the team was 81st in passing yards per game with 213.9. Barrett said after the spring game that with a group of experienced receivers this coming season, the mindset has changed.

“Now, I think we’re at the point where we have older guys in that room now just understanding what we’re trying to do offensively,” he said. “I think a lot of times … you’re just like, ‘I have my route, I see my coverage and then that’s it.’ But now really understanding what we’re trying to do on offense with certain plays and who’s going to get open and be able to help those guys — help each other in that room — not just saying (it’s) just me getting the ball.”

OSU’s new offensive coordinators, Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day, unleashed the passing game in Saturday’s annual Scarlet-Gray spring game. The quarterbacks threw for 654 yards with seven touchdowns to one interception.

While that’s the start the two wanted, the receiving unit had a similarly strong showing in the 2016 annual team scrimmage that didn’t carry over to the real stage and often floundered even more in crucial moments. Now that the receiving corps has its base to build on, the rest of the offseason up until Aug. 31 in Bloomington, Indiana, will be dedicated to continuing to return to the electrifying offense OSU had in 2014, when the Buckeyes averaged nearly 250 yards per game through the air.

Barrett said now that the receivers have displayed their potential, it’s time for he and the receivers to polish the details.

“I remember, for example, me and Noah (Brown) last year, we worked on back-shoulder fades all the time,” he said. “And then it came up in the game several times whether it be Oklahoma or it came up against Wisconsin (in) overtime. So those are the little things that you work on. Red-zone timing, because that’s when you really have time for that, but also too, that’s the little details that you need, especially in the red-zone area.”

Dixon finally had his breakout game after missing nearly the entirety of the past three seasons, so his confidence in the wide receivers being showstoppers in 2017 might seem a bit skewed. However, Meyer will be looking closely at the unit to make that leap before August.

“I think the unit, Zone 6, we can make a big impact,” Dixon said. “Right now, we just know we have to enhance everything because we felt like this spring, we’ve done so good. What we do, we just have to enhance it and keep going and get better.”

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