Ohio State football: How much playing time will C.J. Saunders earn for Buckeyes?
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How much can we realistically expect C.J. Saunders to play? He seemed to have a high impact on this team last year and could be an X-Factor for the Buckeyes
— Charles Kangas (@KANGASMAN_FS) March 25, 2018
Figuring out the exact number of snaps the walk-on wide receiver might play or projecting a number of receptions can be tricky for a variety of reasons, but it’s a tribute to the work ethic and athleticism of C.J. Saunders that those are questions that are worth asking at all. Even with Ohio State’s Zone 6 unit loaded up with veteran talent and a handful of touted recruits who will push for action, Saunders absolutely looks like somebody who could help the offense as it tries to expand the passing attack.
And certainly Saunders is somebody who is respected by the Buckeyes, or he wouldn’t be given opportunities like the one he had last week to get up in front of his teammates on the practice field.
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) March 23, 2018
So, how does that translate into seeing the field more for the Buckeyes? For starters, Urban Meyer made it clear that Saunders needed to bulk up if he was going to help as a blocker on the perimeter, and he has done that by adding nearly 10 pounds so far during offseason conditioning. From there, it’s a matter of continuing to show that he offers value for the wideouts that nobody else does, and his shifty moves, reliable hands and sharp routes would appear to make him a unique element as a weapon in the slot. And while that should help him get on the field more than he did while turning heads with 17 catches, 221 yards and a touchdown off the bench, there is still more to it than that.
The blocking part is always going to be important to Meyer’s offense, and Saunders has taken that to heart. But he also must contend with a deep group of veterans for playing time ahead of him, thanks to the returns of Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, K.J. Hill and Terry McLaurin. Throw in Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor and the fact that there is only one football on the field at a time and it can become even more difficult to get a high volume of targets or reps.
By now, Saunders seemingly has shown enough to the Buckeyes to have earned their confidence and a role in the offense. In fact, even late last season, he was getting on the field for meaningful snaps and came up with a 13-yard catch in Ohio State’s thrilling comeback win over Penn State. But if the faith, trust, respect and ability are all there, really there’s no reason for Saunders not to be part of the plans moving forward — even if the exact capacity is hard to pin down this spring.
Considering how often Zach Smith’s rotation at receiver has been questioned publicly in the past, it’s kind of interesting that it now looks as if it will expand beyond six players. Saunders is building a strong case for it, though, and one way or the other he should be involved for Ohio State this fall.
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