COLUMBUS, Ohio — "The Percy Harvin role."
It's a phrase that's been thrown around—almost recklessly—ever since Urban Meyer arrived at Ohio State in 2012. Otherwise known as the "H-back" or "Pivot" position in Meyer's spread offense, it's a spot that was made famous by Harvin during Meyer's time in Gainesville, where the wide receiver/running back played a prominent role in Florida's national championships in 2006 and 2008.
Originally, it was supposed to be Corey "Philly" Brown, but the now-Carolina Panther proved to be much more of a receiver than he was a viable ball-carrier on a consistent basis. Dontre Wilson brought the Harvin hype with him when he signed with the Buckeyes in 2013, but injuries and inconsistency have hampered the DeSoto, Texas, native in the first two years of his college career.
Jalin Marshall showed flashes of such versatility late last year but is now spending the spring practicing as a pure wide receiver. That move, however, was made possible by the emergence of another player who will try his hand at being the next Harvin, as Curtis Samuel has been the star of Ohio State's spring.
A 4-star prospect by way of Brooklyn, New York's Erasmus Hall, Samuel arrived in Columbus a year ago unsure of what position he'd play. The state of New York's top-ranked player primarily played running back during his prep days in the Empire State, but at 5'11" and 185 pounds, most recruiting sites projected him to play wide receiver at the next level.
Meyer had different ideas, sticking Samuel behind Ezekiel Elliott at running back in his first spring on campus a year ago. Gaining 10 pounds by the start of the season, Samuel remained the Buckeyes' second-string running back throughout their run to the national title, rushing for 383 yards and scoring six touchdowns in his debut campaign.
Samuel's start to his college career showed plenty of promise, but with Elliott emerging as the front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy heading into 2015, it was tough to tell where his touches would come from as a sophomore. That was until Ohio State opened the doors on its first practice of the spring, where Samuel could be seen being featured prominently as a wide receiver.
"He’s a guy that we’ve ID’d as a top-five playmaker right now in our program," Meyer said of Samuel. "The days of Curtis Samuel playing 10 plays [a game] are over."
That's just about what Samuel would have done had he remained purely a running back, spelling Elliott with most of his carries coming in blowouts. With his playmaking abilities, that would have been a waste of a year of eligibility, which is one of the biggest reasons why his move to the Pivot was made.
"He's a really good one," Meyer said. "With Zeke coming back healthy [from offseason wrist surgery], to see him stand on the sideline and watch Zeke play a bunch is not right."
It also doesn't hurt that of all of the players Meyer has tried in the Harvin role, Samuel might be the best fit.
Listed at 5'11" and 200 pounds on the Ohio State spring roster, Samuel is the same height and five pounds heavier than Harvin was in his final season at Florida in 2008. While he may not be as fast as Harvin—few in college football history have been—he does possess the same ability to change direction in the open field and versatility as both a pass-catcher and ball-carrier.
That's the key part when it comes to playing Meyer's version of the H-back, which lines up in the slot and can either run a route for a potential pass or motion into the backfield for a carry. While they each showed flashes, neither Wilson nor Marshall was able to do both on a consistent basis, but Samuel just might be the man for the job.
“Curtis is really talented,” Buckeyes wide receivers coach Zach Smith said. “He can play a lot of different spots. There are very few that he couldn’t."
While he still sees the occasional snap at running back, the majority of his time has been spent at receiver this spring in an effort to prepare him to play the hybrid role this fall. The plan is that by the time Ohio State opens up the season at Virginia Tech on Sept. 7, Samuel will be able to line up at either running back or wide receiver with the ability to motion to whichever spot he doesn't, creating mismatches for opposing defenses.
Exploiting such matchups has been a staple of Meyer's spread offense throughout his coaching career.
"The four or five wide receivers are constantly in motion, trying to create confusion for the defense and find that perfect mismatch in talent or opening in the defense that they then can exploit," American Football Monthly's Terry Jacoby wrote in 2006—Harvin's freshman season.
Among Samuel, Elliott, Marshall and Wilson, Meyer may have his largest collection of players capable of creating such offensive opportunities. That's before even factoring in the potential emergences of other players who have been enjoying big springs according to the OSU coaching staff, such as Noah Brown and Parris Campbell.
And while Ohio State will have options, all it takes is one player with multiple skill sets such as Samuel to provide the versatility—and speed—Meyer so desperately covets. He may not be as highly touted as Elliott heading into the season, but if Samuel makes the most of his new role, Meyer may have finally found his new Percy Harvin.
"We have to find ways to get him the ball in his hands," Meyer said. "Obviously Zeke Elliott's way high on the list, but Curtis Samuel is not far behind."
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.