COLUMBUS, Ohio — At Ohio State, there’s no hiding from problems.
If something is wrong, it’s discussed and dissected until it’s fixed. Just as the defensive back depth problem became an issue in 2013, the team’s inability to dominate the vertical passing game has come to a head this spring.
“We’ve got to make big plays,” wide receivers coach Zach Smith said. “We have to hit the deep ball, we have to throw the deep ball, we have to protect the deep ball. When that happens, you’ve seen it here before, it opens everything up. When it doesn’t happen, it’s hard to move the ball. We as an offense have to do that. We’ve put an emphasis on it, and it’s been pretty good this spring.”
Ohio State rode the big plays of Devin Smith and the dependability of Michael Thomas to a College Football Playoff title in 2014. In the two years since, no receiver has stepped up to fill those voids. By the looks of it, the Buckeyes could rely on a committee this year to bridge the gap.
Several names keep coming up this spring, including Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon and Binjimen Victor. None has produced big in the regular season to date, but each has flashed the potential that hints at big things ahead.
Campbell is finally at H-back, a spot more suited to his versatility. Dixon appears healthy after three years of knee problems. But the other two players might be the best candidates to resurrect Ohio State’s deep passing game.
McLaurin, in particular, has shined this spring. He’s one of the fastest players on the team and could be poised to break out. Smith said McLaurin has taken advantage of the opportunities he’s had.
“Terry’s a guy that just shows up every day and makes plays,” Smith said. “He does. He’s silent. He’s the kind of guy that all of sudden you’ll walk off the practice field and go, ‘Wow, he made four big plays today.’ He really is just showing up more.”
Smith said Victor has been a bit banged up this spring, which has slowed him. He hasn’t missed practices, but he’s not 100 percent. Even so, his ceiling is probably the highest in the group.
“It’s more like what can’t he do, in my mind,” McLaurin said. “His future is very bright, and I’m excited for him to take that next step.”
It might be a case of hoping one of that quartet steps up when needed at various points this season.
“We’re not going to have another Devin or Mike,” Smith said. “I don’t know. We’ll find out. As far as who’s going to make a great play on a deep ball, I think Terry has done a great job this spring doing it. Parris has done a great job doing it. Johnnie at times has done a great job. Bin Victor has a chance to. We’ll see who’s the most dynamic deep threat come fall. Right now I like the development, and I like where we’re heading.”
When it comes down to it, all three receivers on the field at any time need to be ready to deliver when Ohio State needs a big play.
“Everybody has to be prepared if that deep ball comes to you – H, X or Z,” McLaurin said.