Joe Podelco / Multimedia editor
The Buckeye quarterback battle has dominated talk at the water cooler, but the biggest concern heading into spring might have been the lack of depth at wide receiver.
With DeVier Posey suspended for the first five games of the season and the graduation of Dane Sanzenbacher, the Buckeyes lost virtually all meaningful experience at the position.
The Buckeyes have a collection of young players who hope to fill the void, but their performances in the early parts of the spring were far from encouraging.
“We got young guys at receiver and I thought they really came along this spring,” coach Jim Tressel said after the Spring Game on Saturday. “I think after about three practices we were thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, we might be in three (tight ends), a fullback and a tailback.'”
But Posey took it upon himself to bring the younger guys along.
“I think for me the biggest thing to get those guys to understand as far as leading by example is practicing hard every single day,” Posey said. “I want them to see how passionate I play, how the game is supposed to be played and how fast the game is supposed to be played so that they can learn from that.”
Posey said the receivers needed some help getting accustomed to college football and the rigors of being a student-athlete.
“They had some rough days,” Posey said. “They had some days they didn’t want to play football anymore, and they had some days where they looked like All-Americans and I felt like that was key to get those guys on a straight line and keep them consistent.”
Posey’s example seemed to make a big difference.
During the first two jersey scrimmages, Posey was the only receiver to reach the end zone, but Saturday’s Spring Game saw four new receivers cross the goal line.
At 6-foot-5, 228 pounds, redshirt freshman T.Y. Williams is an imposing physical target. He’s had issues catching the ball in his brief time at Ohio State, but he led the team in receiving yards Saturday with three receptions for 83 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Taylor Graham.
Sophomore Corey “Philly” Brown is the only receiver with legitimate game experience. Brown had eight receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown last year and is the leading candidate to replace Posey as the top wide receiver. He hauled in a 15-yard touchdown pass from Braxton Miller on Saturday.
Tressel seemed prophetic after calling redshirt freshman Verlon Reed the “dark horse” before the Spring Game. Reed caught Saturday’s first touchdown pass, a 17-yard strike from Kenny Guiton. A quarterback in high school, Reed has caught the attention of his teammates with his play.
“I think he’s stepped up,” offensive lineman Mike Brewster said. “I think he’s started to make a name for himself on the team.”
Ryan Ross also caught a touchdown from Joe Bauserman.
“I felt like a proud dad today watching three of them score touchdowns and making big plays,” Posey said. “To me, that shows their growth and that shows their maturity.”
Posey said the success for the young receivers in the spring game will help their progression through the summer and fall camps.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” Posey said of the receivers’ touchdowns. “I think that was Corey’s second time scoring at Ohio Stadium and it was Tyrone and Verlon’s first time. They’re happy, man, and I’m really excited for those guys.”
But the young group still has a ways to go. Most of the receivers’ success came when the first-team defense watched from the sidelines.
“(The receivers) need to have tremendous progress between now and September,” Tressel said. “But I think for all of our guys, receivers especially, with the youth of them, this spring was well-served.”
Recruits Devin Smith and Evan Spencer will both join the receiver battle this summer and hope to help the offense deal with Posey’s absence.
Posey, quarterback Terrelle Pryor, offensive lineman Mike Adams, running back Dan Herron and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas are suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling memorabilia and receiving improper benefits. Tressel will join them for failing to report their violations. OSU has until July 5 to respond to the NCAA’s questions and will meet with the Committee on Infractions on Aug. 12.