When Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus, the receiving corps was a low point for Ohio State.
Now the third-year OSU coach has a Buckeye national title on his resume, and a chunk of the credit can be pointed toward a much-improved group of pass catchers. Now going into 2015, the Buckeyes are more than set at running back with soon-to-be junior Ezekiel Elliott, and overstocked at quarterback.
On the outside — and at tight end — OSU will be looking to replace pass-catching production to the tune of 66 receptions and 18 receiving touchdowns from 2014.
But even with the departures of Devin Smith, Evan Spencer and Jeff Heuerman — three key components to OSU’s success last season — the Buckeyes can count receiver and tight end as strong points once again heading into spring practice.
Yes, Smith led the team with 931 yards and 12 touchdowns through the air, but he wasn’t the best receiver on the team.
And yes, Heuerman was listed as the starter, but redshirt-junior tight end Nick Vannett had two more receptions and three more touchdowns than his position mate this season.
Replacing the production of players like Smith might seem daunting, but it was redshirt-sophomore Michael Thomas who led all OSU receivers in receptions, and he showcased a skill set that set him apart as the most complete pass catcher on the roster.
Along with Thomas, the Buckeyes return redshirt-freshman H-back Jalin Marshall, sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson and redshirt-junior wide receiver Corey Smith.
Marshall was second on the team with 38 receptions and finished with six touchdown catches, while Wilson found his way into the end zone three times despite splitting reps with Marshall and missing five games because of a foot injury.
At tight end, Vannett arguably played a bigger role than Heuerman, and showcased reliability and playmaking ability throughout the season. Will he be a focal point of the offense? Not typically, but he — like Heuerman — is an NFL-ready talent and the Buckeye signal callers will be glad to have him as a safety blanket on the field.
Returning supporting cast
Because OSU is OSU, there’s always a roster full of star-studded recruits. And the 2015 Buckeyes will be no different, with highly rated players getting set for a new season after playing little last year.
Redshirt-freshman tight end Marcus Baugh has all the talent necessary, as long as he can keep out of trouble off the field — which has proved difficult since he arrived in Columbus.
Along with Baugh, freshman H-back Noah Brown earned playing time down the stretch, and with a bigger frame, he brings a different dimension to the offense than Marshall or Wilson. And, on the topic of H-backs, the idea of senior quarterback Braxton Miller making a position switch can’t be ruled out just yet.
As for the actual receivers, Thomas and Corey Smith will likely get a huge chunk of the playing time, but before a season-ending injury, freshman Johnnie Dixon had earned high praise from the coaching staff, and he even managed 20 yards on just four touches in his only appearance this year.
And for one last returnee, it’s hard to forget redshirt-junior wide receiver Jeff Greene’s 6-foot-5-inch, 220-pound frame. If he can’t go up and catch a pass over the average cornerback, then his transfer to OSU from Georgia Tech might have been a mistake.
Redshirts and new recruits
Dixon included, it’s hard to say what kind of impact 2014’s redshirts will have next year.
The coaching staff has praised wide receivers Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin, but neither impressed enough to earn playing time right away. In addition, James Clark redshirted his freshman season in 2013, and never made anything close to an impact last season, but the talent is certainly there.
As for the new recruiting class, the Buckeyes only have two receivers currently committed, according to ESPN, with Aramis Alexander rated as a four-star recruit and Alex Stump a three-star.
Overall, look for Thomas and Marshall to lead the way next season, with Vannett, Wilson and Dixon causing matchup nightmares throughout the 2015 schedule for Buckeye opponents.
The Buckeyes are set to open next season on Sept. 7 against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.