It’s no secret that Ohio State didn’t finish the year with the air attack that they preferred. Some blame can be put on Braxton Miller as a first-year quarterback in a new system, and some blame has to be on the receivers—whether it was not creating enough separation or just running wrong routes.
Either way, as a whole, improvement through the air is a must in order for Ohio State to flourish and reach its full potential in 2013. With every wide receiver who earned playing time last season returning, who will lead the Buckeyes in that department this upcoming season?
The most popular pick, and rightfully so, would seem to be Corey Brown, who led the team in receiving yards last year with 669. Brown mostly played on the outside because the Buckeyes lacked a true playmaker in the slot position. Most expect him to line up in the slot in 2013 where more touches should be made.
“Philly” Brown excels when the ball is in his hands, and he has to make guys miss. Not to say he wasn’t a dangerous player last year, but this coming year, we will see Philly in a position that better fits him naturally, and it should pay dividends for this group of receivers. Brown reeled in 60 catches last year; I would estimate that number to be at least 75 in 2013.
Who will lead the Buckeyes in receiving yards in 2013?
Moving on, we come to possibly the most talented receiver on the roster, Devin Smith. Early last season, Smith stole the show with a big-time play in every game it seemed. However, it was the inconsistency that hurt as the year went on.
Smith has all the tools you need in a No. 1 receiver—size, speed, jumping ability. The only thing missing is absolute concentration on every play. Sure, we’ve seen him make the scoreboard-changing plays, now we need to see the chain-moving plays each and every drive.
Smith led Buckeye receivers in touchdowns last year, and he’ll be sure to put up a ton more if he can sharpen his game above the shoulders.
Outside of Devin Smith and Corey Brown, there’s a lot of uncertainness. Corey Smith was recruited by Urban Meyer last February to come in and start from day one. A junior college kid with one of the best work ethics of any player in the country, Brown has the ideal skills to be successful at the college level.
In an interview with Scout.com’s Bill Greene, Corey Smith said,
I'm not going to be redshirting at all, and if that needed to happen it would mean Ohio State took the wrong guy because they expect me to be ready to go. Coach (Tom) Herman tells me I have a great chance to start and it's wide open for me. They expect me to come in and grind, and that's one of Coach Meyer's big sayings.
Certainly Ohio State has big plans for Corey Smith, and he could be the guy whom this offense was missing in 2012.
Chris Fields, Evan Spencer and Michael Thomas should all fight for playing time, as well, as the season rolls along. Fields will be a senior and was able to right the ship down the stretch last season—earning more playing time in key situations. We all remember his touchdown catch during the Purdue game. Being a senior, this should be Fields’ best season as a Buckeye.
The next two kids aren’t quite household names, but they have the chance to be as good as anyone on the roster.
Spencer was in the mix for playing time the whole year last season, but was never able to get over the hump and be a full time starter. The physical tools are there as a blocker and a pass-catcher, which makes you think that maybe the lack of playing time was the inability to pick up the playbook.
With a year under Coach Meyer already, Spencer should be up to par on how the offense is ran. He should surprise people this year.
Now, we come to Michael Thomas. Most remember him because of the show he put on in the 2012 spring game. Heck, some were even penciling him in as a starter. When fall camp rolled around, Thomas was nowhere to be seen with the first team. Weeks went by through the year, and still, no sight of Michael Thomas.
About three quarters of the year had passed before we saw Thomas take the field in meaningful snaps, and even then, he was used primarily as a blocker. There’s no denying Thomas’ competitive fire and raw ability to create separation, but what his game needs is some sharpening around the edges.
If Thomas is able to fine-tune the little things about his game, he’ll be the dark horse candidate for best receiver on this Ohio State offense.