Ohio State special teams coordinator Parker Fleming and wide receivers coach Brian Hartline met with reporters on Thursday to discuss how spring camp has gone for their respective position groups. Also joining the media session were receivers Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Jameson Williams. Here are the highlights of everything that was said.
— It’s a huge honor to be an assistant coach at Ohio State. You never earn it or deserve it, you just appreciate it and try to enhance the program without changing things in a major way.
— His first special teams job was at Ohio State as an Urban Meyer intern. He was at Capital coaching quarterbacks in 2011 and he was looking for any opportunity to get to Ohio State and there was a special teams intern spot available. He had no idea what that entailed and he didn’t care. He wanted to be part of Ohio State.
— He gets to coach basically all of the players at Ohio State and that’s something he really likes about special teams.
— The strengths of the special teams is the depth of the roster and the skill players. Having guys that can run and hit and play fast. “Good football players are good on special teams.” Concerns? There is turnover, like Luke Farrell and Pete Werner and Tuf Borland and Drue Chrisman. But they’ve had a great spring with accountable guys.
— It’s huge having Matt Barnes to help him. “He’s extremely detailed and extremely well-thought out.” Fleming has been Barnes’ sounding board the last couple of years while Barnes ran the special teams. Now Barnes is the sounding board for Fleming.
— Jake Seibert is not a new player. He kicked last year. Jesse Mirco obviously is new. They are developing well.
— He is helping with the secondary when he’s not doing special teams. It’s good for him and for the team. He’s an offensive kind of guy in the DB room. He can split up DBs with Barnes.
— The kickoff rule has changed strategies on returning the kick and how much time they spend on it in practice. There are also other rule changes about wedges and blocking that make it more difficult. But they do need more home runs and they are working on making that happen.
— Urban Meyer built the culture at Ohio State. Meyer taught him early that special teams is more important than just net punting. Very rarely do you get to get in front of the team as a position coach, but as a special teams coordinator you do. A lot of time you are the first meeting and you can be responsible for motivating the entire team.
— Special teams is all of football combined. It combines offensive and defensive players and involves blocking and tackling. The rules are the same in terms of fits and they concepts and terminology is the same. The concepts you learn in the kicking game can be applied on offense or defense. You can use the same techniques as a gunner that you do as a safety blitz. Special teams is protecting and attacking protection, just like offense and defense.
— Special teams is dying in some aspects but it is definitely not dying in terms of his impact to the game. You take the current rules and turn them into advantages. The kickoff coverage for years at Ohio State has been a weapon, but that was taken away with the fair catch rule, but that’s okay because the 25-yard line isn’t a bad place to start for the opponent. The overall impact of special teams will never go down because the ball moves so far and the field position changes. And field position wins and loses games.
— There are a couple of new guys returning kicks and punts right now, but they also have established guys they can rely on. They didn’t emphasize the return game a bunch this spring.
— Jaxon Smith-Njigba may be the best blocker in the room. His desire and physicality is needed. He maybe had one dip in spring but has been on fire. You always want to have a constant rotation in the spring but he’s had a great camp and has taken a step.
— Julian Fleming isn’t the only guy who has been robbed of crucial development time but he’s had some medical issues dating back to high school that needed to be cleaned up. That has happened and he’s still dealing with the recovery. He’s as big and fast as Hartline has ever seen from a receiver. “I’m so excited for Julian. I think he’s a rockstar as an individual.” He needs to get ultra healthy first so he can maximize it later. He’s happy with Fleming and where he is mentally.
— Everyone is going to get a lot of opportunities, but you better capitalize because there are a lot of talented guys. They’ll get creative in getting the ball to players and finding ways to involve them. Having an elevated talent pool means you can try new things and really have fun with it. The guys still have a ways to go in development and if they don’t believe that they won’t reach it.
— He loves the quarterback situation right now because it asks the receivers to be more detailed than ever. Be exact with landmarks, be clean with body language. “I think it’s awesome.” It provides clear direction on what’s expected. You don’t have the “cloudiness all the time of quarterbacks making them right.” After you get through spring you don’t have any young quarterbacks anymore. “There’s no more rookie mentality anymore because we’ve got to go.”
— The black stripe removals isn’t really his call. It comes down to peers and other coaches bringing it up and academics and how they carry themselves off the field. The freshmen are always working extra. They don’t carry themselves like freshmen and they don’t act like freshmen. He is trying to throw as much as possible at them because they’ve shown they can handle it. They are all focused on the details. They have limited missed assignments. They check the boxes.
— Julian Fleming has a goal and outside noise doesn’t help him get better. All of his goals are attainable regardless of how many players are in the room or what is said or written about him. Things don’t always go the way you want, so you have to be able to control the mental narrative. You need to focus on what is important. For that, it’s his health. Then you go from there. He has matured from an athlete to a receiver. “You’ll hear no qualms from me at this point.”
— Ryan Day does a great job of developing the offense around the personnel that can handle it. The receivers’ job is to work hard enough to not need to come off the field because the offense needs a better blocker. The best players play and they are trying to keep as many receivers on the field as possible.
— What made him able to be ready as a freshman? Growing up in Texas he was able to play football year-round. It helped. More places around the country are starting to do that as well.
— His focus is on being a leader for the room. The season didn’t end the way they wanted. It wakes him up every morning knowing that he can still get better, so that’s his challenge each day.
— Ohio State recruits the top dudes every year and Ryan Day is the best in the country at coaching QBs, so he’s confident that whoever is starting at quarterback will be good enough to take them where they want to go.
— It was great to be involved with Justin Fields’ pro day and show what you can do a year early in front of scouts. It was also nice to get some nerves out of the way for whenever he has his own pro day.
— He was surprised that Chris Olave came back but he was happy. “We expect to have one of the best rooms in the country.”
— He and Chris Olave both have different things they bring to the team. Olave is faster until they actually race (Olave was in the back of the room at the time of this interview.)
— Wilson is at X right now and will be this year. It’s a little bit harder to get off of press but it’s good for his development to be able to build his skill set. He wants to be somebody you can put anywhere on the field.
— Why did he move outside? “We’ve just got some dogs in the Zone 6 room…” This was a way to get as many receivers into the plan as possible.
— When it comes to competition all he can do is focus on himself and whatever happens happens. He just tries to make plays.
— Being able to compete every day against this defense helps them get better. It was hard last year not having a spring, so the development wasn’t there. It’s big for him to have spring ball this year.
— Being able to play in games last year has set him up for a bigger year this year. It helped him to see what college football is like. Just going out and competing helped a lot.
— Everybody can catch the ball and run routes, but if he adds blocking to his game it means more snaps for him.
— All three quarterbacks can play and sling the ball. Asked for their differences, he said it’s a hard question and all three are talented.
— This summer he’s going to get bigger, faster, stronger. Then the next step for him is making more plays, getting open, catching the ball, blocking. Whatever is asked.
— Last year was a good season overall. He made some plays and had fun. He got better as the season went on. He’s a lot better this offseason. He’s been perfecting little things.
— Marvin Harrison is a ballhawk. Emeka Egbuka is a playmaker. He was vouching for them to have their black stripes removed. He was one of the guys saying “We need their stripe.” Other guys did that for him and it’s a big thing to vouch for your teammates.
— He is working on running better routes and catching the ball cleaner. He’s working on his speed running routes and using different speeds at the right time.
— Julian Fleming is a really great ballplayer. “He gets it done.” He’s really fast. Speed is a good thing to have. He makes plays.
— He doesn’t feel left out in this offense. He doesn’t worry about being giving him credit because he knows it will come. He feels like the TD against Clemson has set him up for even more.
— Chris Olave is an excellent big brother to everybody in the room. He looks out for everybody. If you mess up on something, he’ll get you right. It was great having him come back.
— He came back because he felt like he needed to work on some things. He wanted to get stronger and be a complete receiver and be NFL-ready from day one.
— It was fun working out at Justin Fields’ pro day. It was good to see him because it had been a while.
— The QBs are all good in their own way. “I believe Coach Day is going to make the best decision.” The WRs try to make it easy on them by getting open and communicating with them as much as possible.
— There were a lot of reasons why he came back other than just getting stronger, but that was one of the flaws in his game. He felt he could get better as a person as well.
— He learned from Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon about how to work and know there was only one football to go around, so it was about the brotherhood and blocking and being the best unit they could be.
— He told some of his WR teammates he was coming back and they were all cool with it.
— He also wanted to get his degree. Both of his brothers have degrees so he wanted to do that. Plus he likes it at Ohio State.
— After the national championship game he had a terrible feeling in his stomach. “I just didn’t want to leave college like that.” There is unfinished business.
— “Marvin Harrison is the real deal.” Emeka Egbuka is a playmaker. Jayden Ballard is raw but is going to be good. They don’t really say much which is what you want from the freshmen. They are also working on special teams.