When Dontre Wilson flipped his commitment from Oregon to Ohio State in February of 2013, the comparisons to Percy Harvin were instantaneous.
That's the life of an all-purpose back who decides to play for Urban Meyer. Regardless of talent or ability, there will always be an enormous and inescapable Harvin-shaped shadow overhead.
For Wilson, that shadow looms large as the 2014 season approaches.
With the loss of its leading rusher (Carlos Hyde) and leading receiver (Corey Brown), Ohio State needs a playmaker to step up. Now that spring practice is in the books, Meyer has narrowed in on Wilson, who was named the starting H-back (known as the "Percy Harvin position") for the Buckeyes this year.
What will Wilson's new role look like? How will it differ from last year?
Before those questions can be answered, here's a brief overview of both players.
If You Can't Do Something Fast, You Can't Do Anything at All
One of Harvin's greatest strengths was one of the easiest to identify when he took the field: speed.
Harvin operated at a different speed during his time at Florida. The game looked effortless because he was simply faster than everyone, and he paired that with an incredible agility, skill and general awareness that made him a nightmare to defend.
Wilson has the speed and ability to thrive, but a lack of familiarity with Meyer's playbook prevented him from producing like Harvin did during his freshman season.
|Comparing Freshmen Seasons|
|Percy Harvin||Dontre Wilson|
|Best Game||167 total yds, 2 TD vs. Ark||107 total yds, 0 TD at Cal|
|Via official school websites|
Of course, the Gators didn't have a running back like Hyde on their roster during Harvin's first season, so Meyer relied more heavily on him as a playmaker.
That still doesn't excuse Wilson's shortcomings, however. Midway through the 2013 season, Meyer referred to Wilson as a "novelty," which ultimately led to him playing the role of a decoy in Ohio State's offense.
That won't be the case in 2014 for two reasons: Wilson has made huge strides this offseason, and Ohio State desperately needs him to contribute in a much bigger capacity.
The Key Plays
With Harvin sharing a backfield with quarterback Tim Tebow, a simple motion/counter play was devastatingly effective.
Harvin would motion into the backfield from the slot, oftentimes opposite Tebow and another running back, to keep the defense off-balance.
Ohio State implemented similar principles for Wilson last year, but the main goal was rarely to get the ball in his hands. Braxton Miller and Hyde got an overwhelming majority of those touches—as mentioned earlier, Wilson's primary objective was to distract the defense.
When Wilson went in motion, he'd essentially take primary defenders away from the real action designed for Miller in the passing game or for Hyde on the ground.
As shown in the graphic above, even the threat of Wilson getting the ball took two defenders (at the top of the screen) out of the play, and the third defender (at the bottom) was a step behind his man.
The ball fake to Wilson created a number of mismatches down the field. On this play, Miller found Evan Spencer down the seem at the 1-yard line with a perfectly placed pass.
But with Wilson now expected to be a focal point of Ohio State's offense, his presence won't just be a smokescreen. The Buckeyes can open up the playbook and find creative ways such as this to get him the ball.
That play, which was one of Wilson's three touchdowns last season, will be used a lot in 2014. Whether he lines up in the backfield or motions across the field pre-snap, the Buckeyes will be making a concerted effort to get him the ball on the perimeter.
From there, his speed will take over.
Harvin had a lot of success with the interior counter play because he was a more durable all-purpose back. Wilson isn't as sturdy, and because of that, Ohio State will look to get him in space on the edges.
Like Harvin's freshman season, Meyer will need to lean on Wilson as a playmaker. According to Daniel Rogers of The Lantern, the Buckeyes' blazer is ready to shed his decoy role for something bigger:
I just didn’t feel like I was that involved. Basically most of the plays I was pretty much just faking and fly sweeping and the defense would bite and we would throw it downfield. So yeah, I felt like a decoy. But now, things have changed, so now I’m getting my chance and I’m making the best of it.
If that's true, Wilson will have the opportunity to turn his Harvin-like comparisons into Harvin-like production.
All recruiting information via 247 Sports.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.