Football

Spring Gleaning: Is a Receiver Rotation Coming Back Around for Ohio State?

Now that spring football is over, it’s time to look back at exactly what we just saw. We’ll continue going over each position group for the next week or so with what was learned and what still needs to happen. Up next will be the Ohio State wide receivers.

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Quick Position Overview

Ohio State returns the best receiver duo in the nation in senior Chris Olave and junior Garrett Wilson. Behind them are six more composite Top 100 receivers than the rest of the Big Ten has combined. Junior Jameson Williams returns with his game-breaking speed. Sophomore Jaxon Smith-Njigba showed early last year what he was capable of doing. Classmate Julian Fleming started to come on later in the year as Olave’s backup. Three freshmen arrived in the winter in 5-star Emeka Egbuka and 4-stars Jayden Ballard and Marvin Harrison. Upperclassmen Kamryn Babb, Jaylen Harris, and Ellijah Gardiner are all back as well.

Expectations Going In

The young guys were expected to be put on display this spring. Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave didn’t need too much work, which was going to leave plenty of opportunities for the three second-year players and the three true freshmen. This was also going to be a time when Jameson Williams could continue to round into form and Kamryn Babb could build on the leadership that he was establishing during the winter. It was going to be the next necessary step toward providing a new quarterback with the weapons he needs to lead the Buckeyes to a national title.

Reality Coming Out

The young guys were put on display this spring. Jaxon Smith-Njigba was moved to the first line because the coaches wanted to see him with the ones. Jameson Williams moved back to the twos where he teamed with freshmen Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison. All three made strides. Sophomore Julian Fleming was held back a bit due to injury, which was unfortunate because this spring would have been a great opportunity for him. Still, Fleming appears to be one of seven Buckeye receivers who could be in a regular rotation. And that number may grow in the fall. The congestion in the receiver room was helped a bit by the move of Gee Scott to tight end.

Any Surprises?

While expectations were mostly met this spring, the play of Marvin Harrison may qualify as a surprise. Throughout the winter, good things were coming out of the Woody about him, but that’s not unusual. But in the glimpses the media received at practices, he always stood out. It’s hard for a Top 100 guy to be considered a surprise, but based on what we saw this spring, he was underrated by the recruiting services. Keep in mind, however, that this was just spring and we’ve seen freshmen like Austin Mack stand out early and then take time to be productive. Of course, there’s also guys like Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba who shined in spring and were immediately in the rotation.

Unanswered Question

What will we see from the injured guys this year? Jaylen Harris and Ellijah Gardiner both missed last season and it was a bit of a surprise to see them both attempting to get back at it again this spring. Kamryn Babb’s time at Ohio State has been rife with knee injuries so the hope is that he will be good to go this season. Babb played in every game last year but is still looking for his first catch. Given everything that he’s gone through, when that catch happens it’s going to big moment for both him and his family.

So Now What?

Well, while you were impressed by everything you saw in the spring game, don’t forget about sophomore Julian Fleming. As receivers coach Brian Hartline explained this spring, Fleming has been held back by a shoulder situation since high school. That was cleaned up in the winter but he’s still on the mend. He’ll be ready for the season and was even part of Justin Fields’ most recent pro day. Hartline couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise of Fleming and what he will be once he’s healthy. He spoke of his unique size and speed combination and just his overall ability to make plays. While everybody is understandably excited about everything they saw in the spring game, there’s also a guy you didn’t see who just happened to be the top receiver recruit in the 2020 class.

One Concern

How do you get all of these guys reps? Ohio State has had six-man rotations before but didn’t have the depth for it the last two seasons. Now they have the depth, but how often is Brian Hartline going to be willing to pull Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson off the field? With the transfer portal and the transfer waiver now upon us, sitting players is a very good way to lose them. But if you look at the Ohio State schedule, most of the Buckeyes’ regular season games won’t need heavy reliance on Olave or Wilson. Splitting reps is a lot easier when you’re up 21 points. But as Ryan Day has said, if guys are game-ready, then they need to play. It’s now up to the players to convince Hartline they belong.

Are We Sure?

Are we sure Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are getting enough attention?

Quotable

“Oh, I love it. I love the situation with a young quarterback because it just asks us and demands us to be more detailed than ever. I mean, not that these guys can’t bail us out at times, but to be exact with landmarks, to be very clean with body language, to not confuse people. Having a younger quarterback that is maybe not learning it all the first time, but they also don’t have a large body of work, so I think it’s awesome. It really provides a lot of clear direction on what’s expected. Are we doing it? Are we not? And then we don’t have the cloudiness all the time of maybe quarterbacks making us right. They obviously do, but anytime quarterbacks make you right, it kind of covers up the real problem, the real inefficiency.” — Receivers coach Brian Hartline on having young quarterbacks throwing to his receivers.

Depth Chart

X

5 Garrett Wilson | Junior | 6-0 188
Garrett Wilson is moving back to the position he played as a true freshman. Whoever wins the quarterback job will be in good hands with Wilson out wide.
18 Marvin Harrison, Jr. | Freshman | 6-4 202
There were few players talked about this spring as much as Marvin Harrison, Jr. He had a strong spring and then capped it with seven catches and a TD in the spring game.
8 Kamryn Babb | Redshirt Junior | 6-0 205
Kamryn Babb was healthy last year for the first time in his career but missed the second half of spring due to injury. He could end up at any of the three WR positions.
15 Jaylen Harris | Redshirt Senior | 6-5 213
Jaylen Harris missed last season due to injury and was held out this spring as well. He has five career catches and it remains to be seen if he’ll be cleared for play this year.

Z

2 Chris Olave | Senior | 6-1 189
Chris Olave put the first round off for a year and may be the best receiver in college football this year. Big numbers are expected from possibly the best OSU receiver of all-time.
6 Jameson Williams | Junior | 6-2 189
Jameson Williams could end up at Z or X and has experience at both. Wherever he lines up, he’ll provide a deep threat for an eventual Buckeye starting quarterback.
4 Julian Fleming | Sophomore | 6-2 205
Julian Fleming was a valuable reserve behind Chris Olave last year, but was limited this spring to fix a shoulder issue that has held bothered him since before he ever got to Ohio State.
10 Jayden Ballard | Freshman | 6-2 192
Jayden Ballard may be a bit forgotten this year because of the noise made by his classmates, but he is a tremendous athlete who is learning the necessary nuances of the position.
87 Ellijah Gardiner | Fifth-Year Junior | 6-3 195
Ellijah Gardiner is listed as a fifth-year junior by Ohio State. He was held out from doing anything this spring, which has been the case for much of his time at OSU. He has one career catch.

H

11 Jaxon Smith-Njigba | Sophomore | 6-0 197
Garrett Wilson wouldn’t be moving from the slot if there wasn’t somebody ready to replace him. Jaxon Smith-Njigba is in line for a big year following a very productive spring.
12 Emeka Egbuka | Freshman | 6-1 203
Emeka Egbuka is one of the best overall athletes on this team and quickly found a home in the slot. How much time he can take from Jaxon Smith-Njigba remains to be seen.
25 Xavier Johnson | Redshirt Junior | 6-2 220
Xavier Johnsin is a walk-on who came to Ohio State as a 3-star wide receiver from Cincinnati. He has also played RB and DB. He’s a valuable leader and special teamer.