Over the course of his three-year career at Ohio State, Braxton Miller has had huge success as the football team’s starting quarterback.
But for every one of the 395 passes he has completed, there had to be someone on the receiving end.
Although the Buckeyes are expected to be in a state of transition next season in most positions on the field, the receivers return as one of the more experienced groups of the team.
Despite losing the team’s top wide receiver in Corey “Philly” Brown in 2013, the outlook for the receiving corps next season is bright.
“I am very excited about our group,” wide receivers coach Zach Smith said Thursday. “We are getting there slowly. Right now there is a lot of competition and the culture is growing and they are really buying into what we are trying to build in the room.”
OSU returns four of its top five players from 2013 in receiving yards, including senior wide receivers Devin Smith and Evan Spencer.
But despite the experience returning to the Buckeyes, Zach Smith said nobody is safe into a starting position.
“There is no spot guaranteed. There is no one that is a starter because there is a number of guys that are developing into a great X, Z, H whatever,” Zach Smith said. “We will see who it is, it’s just a matter of time and who comes every single day and who brings the effort and competes.”
New faces that are fighting for playing time in the upcoming season for OSU are redshirt-junior Corey Smith, redshirt-sophomore Michael Thomas and redshirt-freshman Jalin Marshall — who is set to miss the remainder of spring after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Spencer has also missed time during spring practice as he rehabs from a leg injury suffered in the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl Jan. 3.
Sophomore running back Dontre Wilson and freshman H-back Curtis Samuel also provide options for Miller, as both are set to play the hybrid role in coach Urban Meyer’s offense.
Zach Smith said a player he is really looking forward to watching develop, though, is freshman wide receiver Johnnie Dixon, a four-star recruit from West Palm Beach, Fla.
“(Dixon) has been impressive. He is a lot like Dontre. He is a grown man for an 18-year-old. He comes in and handles his business,” Zach Smith said. “He handles his business outside of this facility, he handles his business in the classroom so I am excited about where he is going to be. Now, he is a typical freshman, he is still learning and still trying to figure everything out. He has the commitment to be great and he is doing everything we are asking him to do right now. That is usually a formula for success.”
Devin Smith agreed with his position coach, adding that he wouldn’t be shocked if Marshall had a breakout year.
“I think a lot of things that he has done so far, before he got hurt were some things that he didn’t do last year,” Devin Smith said. “And he has impressed coach Meyer a bit before he got hurt. I think he is one guy that could make some noise if he can keep it up.”
One disadvantage the newer Buckeyes will have coming out of spring is the fact that they won’t get a chance to play with Miller.
Before spring practice began, Miller underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder, likely ruling him out for most — if not all — of spring.
Zach Smith said the older players won’t miss Miller too much though since they have already had three years with the quarterback.
“A lot of these guys, like Devin and Evan Spencer, have been with Braxton for three years and it’s not a bad thing to develop the same rapport and chemistry with a guy that may be the backup because you don’t know when that guy is not the backup,” Zach Smith said. “At any time, he could be the guy in the game and you hope they have a report like we had with Kenny (Guiton) last year.”
Although the players have had time with each other in the past, Devin Smith said Miller has not been as involved with the receivers so far this offseason.
“He is not as much engaged with us as he is with the quarterbacks, helping with the young guys,” Devin Smith said. “He talks to us every now and then in the locker room and helping us with coverages. He is not as involved with us as he is the quarterbacks, but he does help.”
Devin Smith is the team’s top returning receiver, leading the returning players in receiving yards, receptions and receiving touchdowns from last season.
But Zach Smith said he isn’t looking for him to be the “go-to” receiver for Miller next season. In fact he isn’t looking to anybody to take up that role.
“My goal is to have every guy be a ‘go-to’ guy,” Zach Smith said. “There’s different ways to try and take a guy out of a game. Roll a coverage a certain way, and someone else may be that guy that we need to go to. It can never be an offense based on one or two guys. (We’ve) got to have four, five, six guys that can consistently perform to our standards, and that’s what we are trying to do.”
The wide receivers will look to fill the shoes of Brown and make names for themselves Aug. 30 at noon, when OSU is scheduled to take on Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.