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Football: Ohio State to utilize rotation of receivers after disappointing 2016 season

OSU then-redshirt sophomore wide receiver Terry McLaurin (83) waits for the play during the Buckeyes game against Nebraska on Nov. 5. The Buckeyes won 62-3. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Former Photo Editor

Ohio State’s wide receivers were disappointing last season. The unit compiled its fewest receiving yardage total in the Urban Meyer era, and the leading wideout on the team was an H-back — albeit it was Curtis Samuel, who was selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Entering this season, however, Meyer has an added sense of confidence in his unit, and believes it is prepared for the task ahead.

“This is as much depth as we’ve had,” Meyer said Monday.

The team released its depth chart Monday morning, and six receivers appeared in bold as starters, two at H-back and four at wide receivers. Meyer said none of them will be counted on to be “the guy” but that all six are expected to contribute this season.

“I can tell you six people that will play in a pure rotation basis,” Meyer said. “That’s how much confidence we have in them, and we have six. At the X, it’s going to be Bin Victor and Austin Mack. At the H, it’s Parris [Campbell] and K.J. Hill and at the Z, it’s Terry [McLaurin] and Johnnie Dixon.”

Trusting the six receivers to make plays will be crucial for quarterback J.T. Barrett. The fifth-year senior completed and attempted more passes last season than he had in any other season of his career, yet he finished with his second-fewest passing yards and touchdown passes.

Ohio State redshirt sophomore wideout K.J. Hill refreshes himself prior to practice at fall camp on Aug. 5. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Sports Editor.

But Barrett said the receivers are entering this season with a far more advanced understanding of the plays this season, which he said will be important in finding more success in the passing game.

“They’re top guys at receiver because they understand the concept of the play and where you at and how you fit into that concept,” Barrett said.

The three-time captain added though each of the receivers is slotted in at exact positions between the H, X and Z receivers, all of them are capable of playing all over the field.

With six receivers rotating through the offense, it is not only possible, but probable that no one will emerge as an elite threat among the wideouts. This was largely the case among the receiving corps a season ago.

For those involved in the rotation, they don’t view the lack of a consistent starting trio as a hinderance. Rather, they see it as an opportunity for everyone to all receive semi-regular playing time and compete to be the most productive wide receiver in the group.

“You just want to be part of the six,” McLaurin said. “Once you know that you’re part of that six, you want to vie for those touches. Only a certain amount of people can touch the ball on every game. You just want to be one of those guys that contributes.”

This six-man rotation will enter the year with lofty expectations. The disappointment of last season’s group puts more pressure on this season’s group of wideouts to play a larger role in the team’s offense and help Barrett put up the Heisman Trophy-caliber numbers he put up in his first season as a starter.

And the key to making Barrett the leader of a capable offense again is to channel the deep ball.

OSU sophomore wide receiver Parris Campbell (21) pumps himself up before their game on Nov. 19, 2016 at Spartan Stadium. The Buckeyes won 17-16. Credit: Mason Swires | Former Assistant Photo Editor

The deep ball has been asked about seemingly more than any other topic this offseason, especially with Kevin Wilson — the architect of Indiana’s offense which had been consistently ranked in the top three in the conference during his tenure — joining the staff as co-offensive coordinator.

McLaurin knows for the offense to be successful and for his unit to be able to live up to those expectations, the wide receivers will need to be able to step up and show they can catch deep passes, just as the championship team in 2014 was able to do.

“Coach Meyer told us that when he recruited us, ‘we need the deep ball,’” McLaurin said. “I feel like from any of the six receivers are capable of doing that. We’ve just got to come down with that ball and J.T.’s going to give us some 50-50 opportunities too.”

The team has yet to play its first game, and the same assurances came at the beginning of last season. But McLaurin is confident his fellow receivers will be ready to help improve that aspect of the team’s game.

“I feel like we’ve really plugged some holes that we had and some of the things that we were missing last year,” McLaurin said. “The deep ball, I feel like that’s going to be back and just that confidence in J.T. needs to be there. I feel like it’s still there, but you really don’t know till the first game. But I’m really confident where we are right now and we’re just putting those finishing touches on it.”

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