Andy Gottesman / Lantern photographer
Jim Tressel made no mistake about it during a March 30 spring football press conference.
“We all know (the wide receiver position) is thin,” Tressel said. “It’s a talented group, but those guys need to get some tremendous experience as we go.”
After Saturday’s football scrimmage, it appears more experience is needed.
The quarterbacks unofficially completed only 7-of-22 passes, but the lackluster performance in the passing game goes beyond the men throwing the ball.
No fewer than four dropped passes made the poor performance look even worse and accentuated the Buckeyes’ lack of depth and experience at the wide receiver position.
With the graduation of last year’s team MVP, Dane Sanzenbacher, and the absence of suspended senior DeVier Posey for the first five games of the upcoming season, OSU will be without a tandem that produced a total of 1,796 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
Posey and Sanzenbacher’s production accounted for more than 60 percent of the total receiving yards and exactly 60 percent of the receiving touchdowns.
The Buckeyes have plenty of guys who hope to step in, but no one has emerged as a go-to receiver with Posey on the bench.
Sophomore Corey “Philly” Brown served as OSU’s third receiver for much of last season, but thus far, has not shown the production typical of a go-to guy, despite his natural abilities.
“He’s probably one of the fastest guys on the team and one of the most elusive, so we’re definitely going to be able to use that to our advantage,” redshirt junior tight end Jake Stoneburner said. “Yeah, he’s got some work to do, but he’s still young and got a long way to go before the season starts.”
Sophomore Chris Fields appears to be the next guy on the depth chart, serving as the third wide receiver when both Posey and Brown are in, but after Fields, there are a number of guys jockeying for playing time.
Redshirt freshmen James Louis, T.Y. Williams and Verlon Reed are all in the mix to get significant minutes this season.
But the OSU coaches aren’t going to rely only on the wide receivers to pick up the slack in the passing game. Running backs and tight ends have taken a much more prominent role in catching the ball this spring.
All the running backs have taken snaps as a slot receiver, and with the open-field capabilities of players such as junior Jordan Hall and redshirt sophomore Jaamal Berry, the slot position provides more opportunities for playmakers to get the ball with space.
“I think it creates a couple mismatches for linebackers so I think that will really help us out when the season comes,” Hall said. “We definitely have to take a bigger role.”
Stoneburner feels the same way. Although he’s a tight end, the 6-foot-5, 245-pound player out of Dublin Coffman was recruited as a wide receiver and has pass-catching ability. Stoneburner recorded 21 receptions for 222 yards last season.
“Being able to be out in space, catch the ball and see what I can do with it. That’s what I did all in high school, and that’s what I wanted to do when I got here,” Stoneburner said. “For them being able to ask me to do that and work in space and work the middle of the field and catch the ball, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And I feel like I can excel at that.”
Stoneburner, like the running backs, has taken snaps split out from the offensive line and received more opportunity in the open field.
“I think he could play receiver if he really wanted to,” Hall said of Stoneburner. “He’s fast for how big he is.”