CHICAGO — Curtis Samuel, Noah Brown and Dontre Wilson were Ohio State’s leading receivers in 2016. All three of which are no longer playing for the Buckeyes. Two of those players — Brown and Wilson — didn’t live up to expectations their final season with coach Urban Meyer.
The shortcomings of the receivers, among other factors, became reasons for the lack of potency in Ohio State’s usual offensive onslaught seen from a Meyer-coached football team.
Just three days before the start of fall camp Thursday, the position remains a competition centerpiece.
“The wide receiver position is wide open,” Meyer said Monday during his opening press conference at Big Ten Media Days. “We were not where we needed to be (last season). And we have some talent. More than that, we have as high character a group as we’ve ever had in that room as far as work ethic, doing things right.”
In short, the 2016 passing attack became a worthy cause for concern which quickly turned into an inescapable disaster that finished its final act with a demoralizing defeat in the Fiesta Bowl. Despite being named the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year, Barrett had his worst completion percentage of his career (61.5 percent) and threw for 279 yards less than he did in 2014, when he won the award for CFPA National Freshman of the Year, despite completing 20 more passes in 2016.
Brown and Wilson are not key losses, let’s just make that clear. Although each had his moment in the lights, the two combined for 754 receiving yards. However, one could also look at Brown’s seven touchdowns and Wilson’s five last season to justify value. Regardless, Ohio State has more unproven receivers joining the fold.
Redshirt junior Parris Campbell is the expected starting H-back and Meyer hinted Monday that Campbell could line up in the backfield on certain plays, similar to Samuel. Outside of Campbell, who caught 13 passes last season, redshirt sophomore K.J. Hill, redshirt junior Johnnie Dixon, redshirt junior Terry McLaurin and sophomores Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack accounted for 54 catches for 602 yards and four touchdowns in 2016.
McLaurin and Dixon were the stars of the spring’s annual Scarlet and Gray scrimmage with Campbell getting his fill as well, as both Dixon and McLaurin recorded a pair of touchdowns and more than 70 receiving yards each while Campbell finished with 46 receiving yards. Based on Meyer’s comments Monday, the receiving corps will likely be dominated by those three.
“Parris is a starter. I’d say Terry’s a starter,” Meyer said. “The guy that — I can’t believe I’m saying this this early is that Johnnie Dixon is off the charts right now.”
For Barrett to have the type of success he wants in his final season that he enjoyed three seasons ago as a redshirt freshman, at least two receivers must create separation and become reliable targets.
The additions of co-offensive coordinators Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day to the booth is an encouraging sign for Barrett and the passing attack. Meyer even said the three freshman receivers — Trevon Grimes, Jaylen Harris and Ellijah Gardiner — are in competition for time at the position this season, especially with each standing at 6-foot-4 or taller.
Grimes, who tore his ACL during his final high school season, is back to full-go at practice, Meyer said.
So, here the Buckeyes are again. They continue to search for answers at wide receiver, hoping something sticks. That first one to hold might be Campbell.
“I think he can (be what we need at H-back),” Meyer said. “He hasn’t done it yet, but he has everything, including the guts, toughness, character, work ethic. He’s top five hardest working guys on the team.”