With spring football now in the rearview mirror for Ohio State, it’s time to look back at what happened with each position group and where things currently stand for the Buckeyes. Up next will be the wide receivers.
Quick Position Overview
Ohio State returns 97.2% of its receiver catches from last season, including 1,000-yard receivers Marvin Harrison and Emeka Egbuka. Senior Julian Fleming scored six touchdowns in his first five games last year. Graduate senior Xavier Johnson was a utility weapon for the Buckeyes last year and will be again. Third-year sophomore Jayden Ballard returns, as do four redshirt freshmen who played sparingly last year. They will continue to be pushed by a four-man receiver class that was the best in the country.
Expectations Going In
It was expected that the returning rotation of Marvin Harrison, Emeka Egbuka, Julian Fleming, and Xavier Johnson would have a light load this spring so that the seven freshman-eligible players could get as much work as they could handle. Freshmen Carnell Tate and Noah Rogers had the most buzz among the true freshmen, so they definitely brought some excitement with them.
Reality Coming Out
Julian Fleming and Emeka Egbuka had lighter loads than expected, as both were held out and prohibited from any contact sessions. Xavier Johnson also eventually had a slight setback and missed the second half of spring. Marvin Harrison was not put into bubble wrap, but maybe he should have been. None of the injuries will impact availability for fall camp. Jayden Ballard took a step forward by broadening his overall game and showing consistent hands. Carnell Tate was routinely one of the best receivers throughout all 15 practices. Kojo Antwi, Kyion Grayes, and Kaleb Brown all had their moments, as did Noah Rogers and Bryson Rodgers. It was a productive camp for almost everybody.
Lofty expectations are usually too high to reach, so when a player actually meets those expectations, it can be a surprise. Carnell Tate came in with a level of hype that is too much for most, but it wasn’t too much for him this spring. He has rarely looked like a freshman, and is only going to continue getting better over the summer. Snaps aren’t always easy to find for a true freshman, but the best ones don’t give their position coaches any choice.
How will the four redshirt freshmen receivers respond to the play of true freshmen Carnell Tate, Noah Rogers, and Bryson Rodgers? Tate shot straight up the depth chart and ended up starting in the spring game. Sure, that was due to injury, but any of the redshirt freshman receivers could have started instead of Tate but they didn’t. He has clearly passed others by, and Rogers and Rodgers weren’t exactly slouches. The competition has been kicked up a couple of notches. What will the response be?
So Now What?
The Buckeyes now wait for incoming freshman Brandon Inniss to enroll this summer. Inniss is the highest-rated of the OSU receiver signees, which is saying something. Inniss projects into the slot, which is a loaded room at the moment, but could be losing a pair of veterans after this season.
Is this a top-heavy receiver room? We know that Marvin Harrison, Emeka Egbuka, and Julian Fleming are going to play a lot. Xavier Johnson has also earned the coaches’ trust. But has Jayden Ballard? Ballard had a fantastic spring, and showed more than just deep speed. He caught short passes and moved chains. But has he done enough to actually be part of the rotation? Has anybody else? Just because they’re impressing in the spring doesn’t mean they’re going to be fully trusted when the games are still in doubt. The Buckeyes have plenty of exciting possibilities, but it takes more than excitement to see the field.
Are We Sure?
Are we sure that even if this room does go six or seven deep that Brian Hartline is going to be comfortable removing Marvin Harrison from the field for any length of time longer than it takes to catch his breath?
“There’s always room to get better everywhere, whether that’s getting in and out of your breaks faster, ball skills. But I think one thing in particular that I’m kind of focused on was just making plays after the catch. They’re trying to turn five-yard catches into 20, or 20-yard catches into 60, things like that. So I think it’s one thing I’m conscious about just going into next year and practicing for that.” — Marvin Harrison on what he’s working on to improve his game.
|18 Marvin Harrison, Jr|
|17 Carnell Tate, Fr|
|14 Kojo Antwi, rFr|
|4 Julian Fleming, Sr|
|9 Jayden Ballard, rSoph|
|7 Kyion Grayes, rFr OR|
|80 Noah Rogers, Fr|
|12 Caleb Burton, rFr (Update: Transferred out)|
|2 Emeka Egbuka, Jr|
|10 Xavier Johnson, gSr|
|13 Kaleb Brown, rFr|
|86 Bryson Rodgers, Fr|