They are determined — even angry.
Ohio State’s wide receivers, and their position coach, know they underachieved in 2016 and that the pressure is on this year.
“They underperformed, like the whole offense did,” receivers coach Zach Smith said on Thursday after the Buckeyes’ first full-pad practice of training camp. “The offense was out of sync. I don’t think any position group played well at all, to be honest with you. That’s on us as a coaching staff.”
With Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown in the NFL, the Buckeyes are counting on holdovers to make a jump. K.J. Hill had the most catches among the returning wideouts with only 18 for 262 yards. The wide receivers on the current roster combined for only four touchdowns a year ago.
Video | Terry McLaurin on how he and the rest of the Ohio State receivers have strived to improve.
“When you know that you’re better than what you’ve been able to show, it’s frustrating,” junior Terry McLaurin said. “You’ve been putting in the work but haven’t gotten the results yet. You have to keep working and grinding. That’s part of sports.”
The first step is establishing a culture in which only excellence is acceptable. OSU coach Urban Meyer said on Monday that the wide receivers unit has done that. Smith heaped praised McLaurin and Parris Campbell as the group’s leaders.
“They bring along guys like Johnnie Dixon and K.J. Hill and Ben Victor and Austin Mack,” Smith said, “and all of a sudden they’re operating at a much higher level — on the field, off the field, academically, everything. It has been a complete enhancement, and it’s really a testament to those two kids, Parris and Terry.”
With the Buckeyes’ recommitment to play at a fast tempo, Smith said he needs a minimum of six dependable receivers, a pair at each of the Z, X and H positions.
As of now, he envisions McLaurin and Dixon at the Z, which puts a premium on defeating man-to-man coverage. Mack and Victor are at the X, which requires the ability to catch the deep ball and block on the perimeter. Campbell and Hill are the top two at the H, where Samuel excelled.
Asked whether he had a solid top-six now, Smith said, “Not yet. (But) I feel good I’m going to have that six. There are freshmen who could fight for one of those.”
Production from freshmen is a bonus. It’s essential from upperclassmen, who know that time is running out for them to fulfill their potential.
“Every ball that’s in the air, we want it, gotta have it,” McLaurin said. “I talk about it every day. I talked about it in spring — that attitude, that swagger. I think it’s back.”
McLaurin agreed that it borders on anger.
“I can definitely say that,” he said. “It starts from the leaders on down. When I get out there, coaches have to calm me down a little bit because I get so excited.
“I want this so bad and care about this team so much. I care about our guys and want everybody to have the success they want.”
So far, so good. But the true tests don’t start until the Aug. 31 opener against Indiana.
“It’s a daily grind,” Smith said. “That’s it. Right now it’s showing up on the field, and it’s got to keep showing up on the field.”