Words Of ‘Encouragement’
Neither TreVeyon Henderson or Miyan Williams had the seasons they were expecting last year. As the Buckeyes’ talented tailback duo, the pair combined for over 1,700 yards rushing in 2021, averaging seven yards per carry. Last year, however, those numbers fell to under 1,400 yards thanks to injuries.
Henderson missed five games, and wasn’t always 100% in the eight games he did see. Williams played through aches and pains as well, seeing action in 11 games, but only carrying the ball more than 10 times twice over his final eight games.
This spring, Williams was back to full health, while Henderson was held back a a bit as OSU erred on the side of caution for their talented junior runner. Both will be full go for fall camp. Last year was a frustrating time for both of them for a number of reasons, and their drive this offseason has been blindingly apparent.
“Yeah, I think they’re motivated to get back to what they know they can be when they’re healthy and what we know they can be when they’re healthy,” OSU running backs coach Tony Alford said. “And they took a lot of shots, publicly and things like that. Yeah, they’re ready to go. We’ll just say that.”
Social media is a constant source of criticism, and that criticism found its way to both Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson whether they were playing or not.
Did that criticism ever annoy Alford?
“I’m annoyed about a lot of things,” he said with a slight smirk.
Reception And Departure
Ohio State lost a pair of wide receivers to the transfer portal this offseason. Redshirt freshmen Caleb Burton and Kaleb Brown both decided to find new homes. Brown ended up transferring to Iowa, while Burton ended up at Auburn.
(Interestingly, the last Buckeye receiver to transfer to the state of Alabama was Jameson Williams, and he ended up doing pretty well.)
With the way OSU receivers coach Brian Hartline has been able to recruit, losing anybody to a transfer would seem to be costly. And while that may be true for the program, Hartline still sees the overall benefit of the transfer portal.
“I think that anytime you’re able to provide more power to the player, it’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s their responsibility to use the power the right way, and in the right light. But I think anytime the players are with the power, it’s better off for the sport.”
To put it coldly, part of a college coach’s job is to recruit over the previous class. Sometimes that’s not possible, but the effort is always there. That effort has led to a very talented receiver room that has made playing time difficult for some players to find. The easy math says Hartline should expect a transfer or two just about every year, but that’s not where his focus is.
“No, I guess I didn’t really have any expectations,” he said. “I was just hopeful to continue to build and shape the room as best we can. I completely understand all the pressures that everyone has. And, frankly, what they feel is right, is up to them. But it is, it’s tough, man. I think at the end of the day, they feel like they have a four-to-five year window, and they’re just trying to give themselves the best chance.”
Four On The Floor?
Thanks to the amount of talent that Brian Hartline has brought in at receiver, it’s not unusual for people to wonder if maybe the Buckeyes shouldn’t play more four-receiver sets.
The Ohio State offense will almost always feature at least one tight end, if not two. But the idea of having four explosive receivers on the field at the same time is an enticing prospect to think about. The practicality of it, however, leaves some things to be desired.
“Pros would probably be the speed and athlete you have on the field. The cons would be usually the run game,” Hartline explained. “Protection wise, you’re a little susceptible, because you can’t steal or add the tight end. You’re a little more predictable, I think, in 10 personnel (1 running back, 0 tight ends) and what you can do, from a run game perspective. Hard play action is much more difficult. I mean, there’s a lot of pros and cons.”
The one thing that would certainly go away in a four-receiver set is the physical running game that Ohio State likes to employ. The tight ends are key to that physicality, and without them, the offense would be relying on receivers to pick up the slack.
The bottom line is that the offense is more versatile with a tight end in it. It allows the Buckeyes to be strong in whatever formation they choose.
“I would say, the versatility of our tight ends and how athletic they are, they provide more of a mismatch and a variability of the complexity of which we can run offensive plays, having them in the game,” Hartline said.
“So I feel like we have a bigger menu of what we can do with the tight end on the field, than you do with four wideouts. We are definitely a better team by having a tight end on the field than just being with four wideouts all the time. I’m not saying we can’t have packages. I can’t say we can’t have fun with it. But anytime our tight ends are on the field, it’s a bonus for the Buckeyes.”
The Corner Store
One of the most pleasant surprises on the Ohio State defense last year was true freshman cornerback Jyaire Brown. Brown didn’t play in the season opener against Notre Dame, but saw action in the next two games against Arkansas State and Toledo.
Then came game four against Wisconsin. Starters Denzel Burke and Cameron Brown were ruled out, so Brown got a starting nod. He performed well, and proved himself to be a valuable reserve the rest of the season. Now entering the 2023 season, Burke is the only returning Buckeye cornerback who saw more snaps than Brown did last year.
This spring, Brown was working at both corner and nickel. The Buckeyes are a bit deeper at both positions than they were a year ago, and Brown is one of the reasons why. He took his experience last year and applied it to the offseason.
“He’s gotten bigger. He’s gotten stronger,” said OSU cornerbacks coach Tim Walton. “His on the field play is strong, he has picked up more muscle.”
Brown’s overall growth is not just physical, but also mental. And he is not alone.
“Again, these guys, you should see their progression because it’s the second year in the system,” Walton said. “Those guys have now had a season. They had an offseason. They have a spring under their belt. Now it’s not new to them anymore. They got stronger, the body’s starting to develop. Understanding the game more. Understanding the nuances — splits, formations, and all those things. So, now we just have to keep developing it, keep carrying on, keep putting it in the right direction. But they’re all taking the right strides and steps to get where we want to go with that.”
And what will be the key to a player like Jyaire Brown getting on the field even more than he did last season?
“Just keep competing,” Walton said. “That’s the deal. It’s open-door policy. We compete every day, so everybody has to compete. Everybody has to continue growing.”