With tomorrow’s LiFE Sports Spring Game looming, the Buckeye Bloggers Network is getting you ready by spotlighting all of the position groups. While we will focus on tight ends and wide receivers, our friends at The Buckeye Battle Cry, The Buckeye Blog, Buckeye House Call, Men of the Scarlet and Gray, and The Silver Bullet take care of the backs, linebackers, linemen, quarterbacks and running backs. We’d like to give a shout out to guys at Buckeye House Call for the sweet graphic you see on the right. You’ll note that it features Jake Stoneburner, Devin Smith and Philly Brown from our position group. The other websites participating in this round table will feature their own unique versions by position.
New OSU receivers coach Zach Smith has his hands full with the group most often cited as the weakest link in the Buckeye chain. Returning wide receivers caught only 53 balls all of last year. Stoneburner is by far the leading returner at tight end, but he caught only 14 passes in 2011. The good part is that half of those were touchdowns. The bad part is that there were still only 14 catches and way too few targets. He was also left on the bench in favor of a blocking tight end much of the time. New tight ends coach Tim Hinton, who also coaches the fullbacks, will acclimatize Stoneburner to a new role in Urban Meyer’s offense, and mold the rest of the depth chart into viable targets that can also block.
What will be different this year?
I expect more passing this season for multiple reasons. Braxton Miller has a year under his belt, as do some of the young receivers. I believe that Urban Meyer’s offense will finally produce more plays for the tight ends, taking advantage of Stoneburner’s athleticism at tight end. There shouldn’t be much difference personnel-wise at receiver, as DeVier Posey’s suspension most of last season pretty much shoved Devin Smith, Philly Brown, Evan Spencer and Chris Fields into active duty. Those four should still see the lion’s share of the passes to wide receiver. However, the tight end position lost a good one in Reid Fragel Rock, who gained a bunch of weight (on purpose, unlike me) and became an offensive tackle. I think we’ll see Jordan Hall split out more this year as well, as Meyer has singled him out all spring as a player wearing a lot of hats. Meyer’s offense is predicated on getting playmakers the ball in space. Despite the rhetoric in the media about how Ohio State lacks said playmakers at the wide receiver position, Urban somehow figured out a way to make do with the athletes he had at Utah and Bowling Green. I refuse to believe Ohio State’s athletes are inferior to the guys at those schools.
What are you excited to see at each position? What are you concerned about?
At tight end we’re all pretty amped to see how Jake Stoneburner will be used and if he truly is an Aaron Hernandez type of guy. He was used sparingly last season in a conservative offense and still managed to be Ohio State’s top threat down the field. Stoneburner should have a big year. I’m also interested in seeing what Jeff Heuerman can do. I have no concerns about the talent at tight end, but I doubt if anyone behind Stoneburner is even half as dynamic in the new offense. At wide receiver, I’m interested to see if Devin Smith and Evan Spencer can make the leap to the next level, and if Philly Brown can haul in passes with his hands instead of his facemask. For the spring game, I’m interested to see if all the talk about T.Y. Williams catching the ball continues. I am concerned that all the talk about the receivers not being up to par is accurate. Chris Spielman tweeted just Wednesday that the receivers must find consistency and that’s a refrain we’ve been hearing for far too long.
If there’s one other thing we’re pretty psyched about in the receiving department, it’s how Verlon Reed will come back from his awful knee injury last season. At the time he was hurt in the loss to Sparty—on an onside kick, no less—Reed was probably the most reliable Buckeye receiver. We hope the injury didn’t stunt his development, but it would be overly optimistic to think Reed will be at full fitness this season, because this type of injury generally takes 18 months to two years to fully recover from. He’s been limited in spring and will not play in the spring game. Spencer will also miss tomorrow’s game with a broken bone in his shoulder. He is expected to be fully recovered in a few weeks.
Who will stand out? Who is the rookie to watch?
Based on what we’ve heard this spring and what we’ve seen in the past, Stoneburner will be the guy to watch. We know he can get open, catch, and run, and if he’s used in the same way Meyer used Hernandez at Florida, this will be a very exciting season for Stoney. We’ve heard surprising things about Williams’ hands this spring. A target with his size (6-6, 229) is a red zone dream, provided he isn’t afflicted with the dropsies. I think Devin Smith will stand out at receiver. He made some incredible plays last year (Wisconsin game, anyone?) and with experience and coaching he should find consistency. Brown is a gifted athlete, as long as he isn’t trying to catch passes with his face. I feel that Brown’s issues in the past have been confidence related. Fields got some good reviews early in spring practice. Among new faces, Michael Thomas is the guy I’m interested in seeing perform. He’ll be wearing #83 if you’d like to keep an eye out for him. Thomas came over from Fork Union Military Academy with Cardale Jones. He has great size, at 6-4, 200 pounds, and better-than-average speed. Thomas is known for being a good route runner with soft hands. He also comes from good stock—his uncle is former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson.
Ohio State’s Wide Receivers (Spring Game Squad)
9 Verlon Reed (Gray) – injured
10 Corey “Philly” Brown (Gray)
15 Devin Smith (Gray)
16 Evan Spencer (Scarlet) – injured
18 T.Y. Williams (Scarlet)
29 Taylor Rice (Gray)
80 Chris Fields (Scarlet)
83 Michael Thomas (Scarlet)
84 Ryan Ross (Scarlet)
85 Frank Kangah (Scarlet)
87 Peter Gwilym (Gray)
11 Jake Stoneburner (Gray)
81 Nick Vannett (Scarlet)
82 Kyle Schuck (Gray)
86 Jeff Heuerman (Scarlet)
88 Derek Burkholder (Scarlet)
Be sure to check out the rest of the Buckeye Bloggers Network for complete coverage of the Ohio State Spring Game, and join us on Saturday for Livechat.
The Buckeye Battlecry – Offensive Line
The Buckeye Blog – Running Backs and Quarterbacks
Buckeye House Call – Defensive Backs
Men of the Scarlet and Gray – Defensive line
The Silver Bullet – Linebackers