On the outside or in the slot, Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith wants sophomore Noah Brown ready to play.
“I told him going into spring, ‘The mentality right now is to get you ready to start at all three spots,’” Smith said during a Tuesday press conference.
Brown arrived in Columbus ahead of last season as a 240-pound H-back and earned playing time in 11 games. But he finished the year with just one catch for nine yards and one carry for a loss of four yards.
But after playing as an H-back throughout the Buckeyes’ national championship campaign, Smith said Brown has transformed physically, and his performance has taken off this spring.
“Noah Brown’s probably had as good a spring as I could have wanted,” Smith said. “He’s dropped 25 pounds, he’s on a different level than he was in the fall, so I’m really, really pleased with where he’s at.”
Just as Brown has transitioned into a standout performer during practice, the first nine sessions of spring football have been a period of change for the entire OSU wide receiver corps.
The Buckeyes return their leading receiver — redshirt-junior Michael Thomas — but lose their top deep threat in Devin Smith and a jack of all trades in Evan Spencer. On top of the departures, Thomas is sidelined after undergoing a sports hernia surgery, and junior H-back Dontre Wilson, redshirt-freshman wide receiver Johnnie Dixon and redshirt-sophomore wide receiver James Clark are all recovering from injuries.
Even though the injuries are holding some of OSU’s top receivers off the field, Smith said some young players have a chance to step up.
“I feel good about the reps that the other guys are getting,” he said. “It’s giving other guys an opportunity to improve that maybe you wouldn’t have gotten as many opportunities as they would have.”
But unlike Brown, Smith said not every young OSU receiver has proven they are ready to step on the field during the regular season.
“Young guys like (redshirt-freshmen) Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin, they’re still working,” Smith said. “Every day they’re going out and blowing out. They’re grinding to get better, and they’re not there yet.”
While those players are still working toward an opportunity to contribute, Smith added that players like Brown and redshirt-sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall are getting a chance to practice on the outside and in the slot. He said that gives OSU a chance to put its top threats on the field at once.
“Kinda like Jalin, (Brown) has that flexibility so that when we need to get the best three on the field, whoever that is, I can plug them where we need to and they’ll be really good at it,” Smith said.
The Buckeyes are scheduled to conclude spring practice with the annual Spring Game on April 18 before taking on Virginia Tech on Sept. 7 in Blacksburg, Va., to open the 2015 season.