Prior to coming to Ohio State, Urban Meyer’s teams had at least one thing in common: a healthy pass offense.
It is an area that Meyer is looking to improve on in his second season at OSU, and he is counting on the wide receivers to grow and develop this fall into a group that could be similar to what he had when he was the coach of the Florida Gators.
While Meyer was at Florida, the Gators only had one season where they averaged less than 213 yards per game through the air, a total that in his first season at Ohio State the Buckeyes fell far short of.
During their undefeated season, OSU failed to reach the 200 yard mark through the air in all but four games, including only throwing for 97 yards during a 21-14 overtime victory at Wisconsin Nov. 17.
Part of the problem with the Buckeyes’ passing game last year was the receiving corps, which only had two players who racked up more than 300 receiving yards. But with another year under their belts, along with an influx of young talent from Meyer’s second recruiting class, the OSU wide receivers are looking to make a big difference in the offense this season.
Wide receivers coach Zach Smith said the receivers were weak last year, but in the offseason they have grown to become threats in the offense.
“They’ve had trials, tribulations, had hard times, had great successes and so they have grown and learned from mistakes to the point where now they’re able to be a mature group and able to use those learning points in the past to make sure they don’t happen again and grow from them,” Smith said. “I’m pleased with the growth from them in the last year.”
Junior quarterback Braxton Miller hinted that he’s looking to spread the ball around more this year, with his top two receivers senior Corey “Philly” Brown and junior Devin Smith returning this season.
“We did less throwing last year, and there is going to be a lot of throwing this year,” Miller said.
Brown, who led the team with 669 yards and 60 catches in 2012, is expecting a big jump in the team’s offensive production.
“I think this year you can expect our offense to shoot up the charts if we keep doing what we are doing and try to eliminate the stupid mistakes, we could be one of the top offenses in the country,” Brown said.
A lot of talk from fall camp surrounds junior Evan Spencer and his development into a potential star receiver.
“What (Spencer has) shown flashes of at times, he’s really done consistently,” Zach Smith said. “He’s probably the one receiver that I’m most pleased with the step he’s took. That’s not to take away from Philly or Devin or guys that have taken steps. Evan has really taken a bigger step.”
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman made it clear Spencer is a starter and the rest of the receivers have also improved this fall.
“The first thing that I’ve said earlier in camp was that our veterans are improved,” Herman said. “They’re better. Evan Spencer’s had a great camp. Evan Spencer’s a starting wide receiver at The Ohio State University. Philly Brown is better, Devin Smith is better. We’re better.”
At OSU Media Day Aug. 11, Meyer said the top three receivers on the team were Devin Smith, Brown and Spencer, but that Spencer was having a great camp.
An issue Spencer said he had last year was with hitting his routes and winning balls in the air, but has become much more confident as a player heading into the 2013 season.
“Myself personally, I feel like I’m developing a little more as a route runner,” Spencer said Aug. 10. “That was my main thing this year that I was focusing on, making sure I am lowering out of my cuts, making sure every time the ball is up in the air I’m going up and getting it.”
Spencer said he has taken on more of a leadership role this offseason, trying to get some of the younger players to feel more comfortable in the offense.
“As an older guy, I take it upon myself to make sure that they know what they’re doing,” Spencer said. “I try to pride myself and make sure that they know what they’re doing all the time so they can go 100 percent.”
Known as a big play receiver last year when he averaged 20.6 yards per catch, Devin Smith is hoping to have a big year with Miller throwing him the ball.
“We talked all summer, trained all summer, we know where he’s going to place the ball, how I’m going to run my route and things like that,” Smith said about his relationship with Miller. “So it’s all about timing and we certainly got that down.”
Spencer likes what he sees out of his fellow receivers, and said the offense is starting to come together.
“Devin is running great routes with good speed and getting hands off, and Philly (is) explosive as always,” Spencer said. “It’s just good to see it’s all coming along.”
Zach Smith is looking for his guys to have a big year, and help Miller improve on the weak passing numbers from last season.
“Every guy that we’re counting on, every guy that we think is gonna be a contributing factor in our offense is capable and has shown the capability to be a dominate player,” Zach Smith said. “At least a good, functional player. We just need to see that consistently from every rep from every guy that we’re counting on.”