COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s been five years since Urban Meyer deemed his first wide receiver corps at Ohio State a “clown show,” a term that now elicits a smirk from the Buckeyes coach.
Perhaps it’s easier for Meyer to smile, knowing what ultimately came of that circus.
Corey “Philly” Brown went on to catch 123 balls for 1,440 yards and 13 touchdowns over the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He is entering his fourth season in the NFL after signing a free-agent contract with the Buffalo Bills last week.
Devin Smith would total at least 600 receiving yards in each of his next three seasons at OSU. In 2014, he led the nation in yards per catch (28.2) during Ohio State’s run to the College Football Playoff championship before being picked by the New York Jets in the second round of 2015 NFL Draft.
Michael Thomas led the Buckeyes in receptions in 2014 and 2015. Last year, he tallied 92 catches for 1,137 yards and 9 touchdowns in his rookie season with the New Orleans Saints.
All that’s to say that a preseason outlook for a particular position group is nothing more than a starting point. So as Ohio State begins spring practice with a group of wideouts that may seem as uninspiring as the one that Meyer called out in 2012, there’s reason t0 believe these Buckeye pass-catchers can improve.
If the Ohio State offense is going to reach its potential in 2017, they’re going to have to get better.
“It wasn’t there last year,” Meyer said. “We have not had the production.”
That might be an understatement. Although Meyer stopped short of pulling the “clown show” card again, you’d be hard-pressed to find a position group that underachieved as much as the Buckeyes receivers did in 2016.
Of Ohio State’s true wideouts, only one — Noah Brown — caught more than 20 passes, and he’s off to the NFL. The most experienced returning receivers — Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin — combined to catch 24 passes for 235 yards and two scores while inspiring little in terms of game-breaking ability.
It’s not a coincidence, either, that Ohio State’s passing attack ranked just 81st nationally in 2016.
The good news, however, is that the receiving corps should look a lot different in 2017. Not only are former freshmen Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack and K.J. Hill each a year older, Ohio State added three wideouts in its 2017 class.
And if the production of the returning receivers doesn’t improve, there should be plenty of playing time available for newcomers Trevon Grimes, Jaylen Harris and Elijah Gardiner.
“There’s good, talented guys,” Meyer said of his receivers room. “Right now, we’re very fluid. That means we’re getting three-year windows from some guys. Young guys have to step up and go.”
The Buckeyes are only two practices into their spring, but Meyer’s been encouraged.
“I’d put it as a great first day,” he said after last week’s initial practice, before cautioning, “there are a lot of great first days out there.”
Every step forward, however, is a step in the right direction.
Their coach may not consider them a “clown show” — at least not publicly — but there isn’t a position group with more to prove in 2017 than Ohio State’s wide receivers.