Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer often uses two words – “functional” and “non-functional” – to evaluate his team and players. The Buckeyes’ wide receivers have been the owners of a “non-functional” designation since spring practice.
A single moment on the first day of practice helped send the receivers on the road to being a functional group, and it was sophomore Devin Smith’s route heard ’round fall camp that appears to have turned the tide.
Meyer’s dissatisfaction with his receivers was evident during the Buckeyes’ April 21 Spring Game, during which sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller and redshirt junior quarterback Kenny Guiton combined for 449 yards on 57 pass attempts. That pass-heavy strategy, Meyer said after the game, was intended as a test for what he called “one of the worst passing teams in America a year ago.”
OSU’s first-year coach might very well have maintained that opinion of his offense until the team’s Aug. 6 fall camp practice when Smith went streaking on a “nine route” down the field that forced Meyer to reconsider.
“Yeah, I remember the route – a little fade route,” Smith said after practice Tuesday. “You know, Braxton threw it right on the money and I just ran.”
Smith did more than simply run – with the successful execution of that route, Smith grabbed the attention of a two-time national champion coach and forced him to change his feelings.
“(Smith) ran a nine route,” Meyer said. “It was ridiculous.”
Smith said he couldn’t recall which defensive back he beat on that play, but that detail is likely an inconsequential footnote for wide receivers coach Zach Smith.
Zach Smith said Friday that executing plays had been a problem for the Buckeyes, but Devin Smith changed that by providing the receivers with an example to follow for the rest of the season.
Even 11 days later, Zach Smith was able to recall Devin Smith’s nine route clearly.
“Once you saw it, it was encouraging because you can teach off of that,” Zach Smith said. “Anytime (players) don’t get that, you can pull the old film up and say, ‘Look, this is you doing it right. Stop. Like, enough.'”
Zach Smith also said properly run routes have been a much more frequent occurrence in practice since Devin Smith set the standard back on Aug. 6.
Indeed, Devin Smith’s performance that day was no fluke, but rather an indication of the receivers’ commitment, Zach Smith said.
“It’s just a commitment to every route and really the philosophy of how we do things,” he said. “As a group, they have improved fundamentally and as far as committing to exactly what we teach.”
As of Monday, Meyer said that junior Corey “Philly” Brown is the team’s top receiver, though Meyer said Devin Smith and redshirt senior Jake Stoneburner have also impressed him.
Zach Smith and his wide receiving unit, along with the rest of the Buckeyes, are scheduled to begin the 2012 season Sept. 1 against Miami University (Ohio) with a noon kickoff.