Playing receiver at Ohio State is no easy thing, especially for a former high school running back like Kaleb Brown.
Brown was a freshman for the Buckeyes this past year, and it was his first year focused entirely on playing receiver. He played in five games, catching one pass for five yards. Every bit of his time on campus has been a learning experience for Brown, who was actually one of the top receivers in the 2022 recruiting class despite his backfield background.
“That’s why I say this is a huge learning experience for me,” Brown told Buckeye Huddle. “Just that transition, that’s probably one of the toughest things that I’ve had to face. Making that transition and then training my body to be like a receiver, rather than a running back. Yeah, it’s been a process for me. It’s been working. It’s been going well. I’m just putting in extra work to just make that transition.”
Brown didn’t enroll early last year, but still made a mark pretty quickly, losing his black stripe after just 12 practices in the fall. For a comparison, that’s about the same number of practices it took Garrett Wilson and three more than it took Marvin Harrison, Jr.
Brown was so impressive in practice this season that his quarterbacks had no idea about his past as a running back.
“Obviously, we’ve had a lot of running back injuries,” freshman quarterback Devin Brown explained, “and I was talking with Kaleb and he’s like, ‘Yeah, I mean, I could play running back.’ I said, ‘what do you mean?’ He was like, ‘I didn’t play receiver until my senior of high school.’ I was like ‘what?’ I would never have thought that with his hands and route running. He’s just so smooth, and he’s very natural. He’s really raw, but once he gets more coaching, he’ll be great.”
When sophomore quarterback Kyle McCord found out, it made some sense, but was also pretty surprising given how composed and advanced Brown’s play has been.
“Devin told me that he used to be a running back and I kind of see that once he catches the ball. He’s extremely good in the open field, making guys miss, and breaking tackles,” McCord said. “Jumping into college and switching positions a little bit, he’s been unbelievable. He works really hard. You can tell he cares about it. And one thing I like about him is he goes 100% every single play. He doesn’t take a play off. Obviously, with how talented he is, the sky is the limit. He makes some crazy catches in practice every single day. He puts his head down and works. He’s going to be a really good player.”
Kaleb Brown is not the first Buckeye to transition from running back to receiver. NFLers like Parris Campbell and Curtis Samuel have done it before him. And as a true freshman this past season, every day brought a new lesson. Playing time was hard to come by, but it carried with it some familiarity as well.
“It’s a lot of pressure, plus just making sure you’re doing everything right,” Brown said of his time on the field this past season. “But it’s pretty much just like any other football, honestly. I just started off with special teams and getting a feel for the field and just being out there around a big crowd and everything like that. But like I said, it’s the same as any other football, but it’s more pressure.”
The Big Slow Down
They say pressure can create diamonds, but that’s only if the pressure is unrelenting. For Brown, things got easier to handle as the season went on. There were fewer questions, not nearly as many doubts, and the results bolstered his confidence week by week.
Things have slowed down, which is the next step in speeding up the process.
“Next year will probably be much easier,” he said. “I mean, like, in practice, it’s a bit easier. You know what I mean? But like in the game, of course, you don’t want to screw up. But I would just say this year was definitely a learning experience. Just being able to learn the offense and everything. But everything has slowed down for me tremendously.”
Despite the learning process, there was hardly a week that went by where Kaleb Brown wasn’t making plays in practice. He displayed explosion after the catch, an ability to go up and get contested passes that most former running backs never really get a handle on, and he showed he could stretch the field in any direction that was needed.
And yet while he was making plays in practice, he never allowed his lack of playing time to frustrate him.
“I definitely have work to do,” he admitted. “I just know it will all come when it’s time. I’ve still got a lot to soak up from the older guys ahead of me, and that’s been going well for me. So just having some patience and knowing that I got some time and knowing that I gotta process switching over from a position I played my whole life. I just love this process at the end of the day, so I just calm myself down if I’m not getting exactly what I want when I want it.”
Expectations and patience don’t always mesh, but a full year of experience will have Brown’s expectations easier to meet in 2023.
And what might those expectations be?
“Definitely to step up on the depth chart and get playing time, of course. That’s really about it,” he said. “Just taking advantage of the opportunities that I’m given.”