Dontre Wilson arrived at Ohio State as a highly rated running back, but Carlos Hyde stood in the way of his playing time at the position.
Wilson finished his freshman year with 31 carries for 250 yards and a touchdown, but perhaps made an even more significant impact by catching 22 passes for 210 yards and two more scores. After proving his worth, Wilson still wasn’t in line to start ahead of then-sophomore Ezekiel Elliott at running back last season, so the coaching staff found a way to get him playing time.
“Dontre was in that situation with Carlos Hyde and then Zeke came in,” OSU wide receivers coach Zach Smith said Tuesday. “We weren’t gonna keep him off the field, so we moved him to receiver.”
The DeSoto, Texas, native responded by racking up 300 receiving yards and three touchdowns through the air, and he still managed to tally 18 carries for another 100 yards on the ground. But Wilson’s final contributions of the season came when he broke his foot on a key touchdown catch against Michigan State.
That injury still has Wilson sidelined this spring, but Smith said the rising junior has been working on his ball skills even though he can’t run just yet.
Even before Wilson’s injury, he was splitting time at H-back with now-redshirt-sophomore Jalin Marshall, who finished second on the team with 38 catches last year. Marshall added 983 all purpose yards in the process, finishing behind only Elliott and Wilson.
Like Wilson, Marshall wasn’t a slot receiver in high school. Instead, he made the switch after playing quarterback at Middletown High School. But another spring has brought another slight change for Marshall as well, as Smith said he’s practicing as an outside receiver.
With Wilson out and Marshall working on the outside, sophomore running back Curtis Samuel has transitioned to the receivers’ room for spring, much like Wilson did a year ago.
“He had a full year at running back to really work those skills, so we took him this spring and said we’re gonna give him a full spring at wide receiver so we can try to develop that skill set,” Smith said of Samuel. “Hopefully he becomes more multi-talented and we can use him in more ways.”
Smith said switching positions is like going to a “different world,” and added that the Buckeyes simply want to get the best players on the field. He noted that OSU has had success moving players to new positions in the past, but said the key is to do it with time to learn.
“Guys don’t understand the position coming from a different one,” Smith said. “Jalin Marshall went through it when he came from quarterback to receiver. Dontre went through it, Curtis is going through it. That’s why we’re trying to saturate him now, as opposed to fall camp and saying, ‘Shoot, we need to get him on the field, let’s put him at receiver a little bit.’”
At least for the spring, Samuel is making the switch after finishing third on the team with 383 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground last season. He added another 11 receptions and 95 receiving yards in limited playing time behind Elliott in the backfield.
Now after nine practices as an H-back, Smith said Samuel won’t necessarily stay in his room but will be contributing in whatever way he can come the regular season.
“In an ideal world, he’s gonna play both, the ability to go into the backfield when Zeke’s not in, or play in the slot when Zeke is in,” Smith said. “And so we’re developing that skill set. Does he stay there? I don’t think so, but I guess nobody has a crystal ball, so we’ll see.”
Buckeye fans will get their first chance to see Samuel at H-back when OSU plays its annual Spring Game on April 18 at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes are scheduled to open their regular season on Sept. 7 against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.