Aug. 12, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A year ago they shared space in coach Urban Meyer's doghouse.
Now Ohio State's wide receivers are team leaders.
Inexperienced and unproven in 2012, they're veterans this time around.
It's a question of maturity, assistant coach Zach Smith said of the improvement in his charges.
"Just a year ago I told everyone that it was a young group that needed to grow up and kind of develop and get better. That's something they've done," he said after Saturday's practice. "Fast forward a year and they've had trials, tribulations, had hard times, had great successes, and so they have grown and learned from mistakes to the point where they're able to be a mature group."
They've come a long way.
Meyer didn't hide his feelings about the pass-catchers in the spring of 2012, his first time on the field with them after taking the job.
He said they didn't work hard enough. He said they weren't prepared. He said there were no big-play guys in the lot.
Smith conceded that the coaching staff was "almost in panic mode" at the receivers' inability to stretch the field, to even run routes or be a viable option in Meyer's spread attack.
Gradually, they came around.
Corey Brown had 60 catches, Devin Smith 30 and Evan Spencer 12 last year as a problem area became a strength. They proved they could make big plays, such as Smith's memorable one-handed grab early in the year and his 39-yard gain in the final minute that helped preserve Ohio State's perfect season against Purdue.
More of the same will be expected this year.
Instead of wondering who'll make a big catch, it seems quarterback Braxton Miller now has several possibilities.
"We've got a lot of guys on this team with speed," Devin Smith said. "That's what (coach Meyer) wants — guys who can stretch the field. We've certainly got that."
If 2012 was a trial by fire, the upcoming one is simpler, more comfortable for them all.
"It's so much smoother. Everybody's flowing faster," said Spencer, son of former Ohio State and NFL running back and assistant coach Tim Spencer. "We all know what our assignments are and we're reacting instead of trying to think. That's the biggest thing we've improved on since last year. It's really going to help us out this year."
In camp 12 months ago, the receivers were just trying to stay out of Meyer's glare. This year they're expecting big things.
"You can tell when we're out there, that even some guys last year who didn't quite know the playbook are now out there playing more comfortable and guys are playing a lot faster," Brown said. "This year you can expect our offense to just shoot up the charts if we keep doing what we're doing and try to eliminate the silly mistakes. We can be one of the top offenses in the country."
Chris Fields is a prime example of how things have turned around for the ends.
He was almost lost on the depth chart, seldom contributing or being asked to, before he snagged a pass almost off the turf for a touchdown with 3 seconds left in the Purdue game to help force overtime.
Now he's considered a sage who is helping the younger guys come around.
He's aware of Meyer's change of heart from a year ago, too.
"He's definitely giving us more compliments than last year, for sure," he said, laughing. "For sure. Yeah, he's very pleased."