Three more members of the highly rated 2017 Ohio State recruiting class had the black stripes removed from their practice helmets over the weekend, signifying that they’ve worthy of seeing real-game action.
The ceremonies featuring quarterback Tate Martell, guard Wyatt Davis and safety Brendon White brought the total to 11. The others are running back J.K. Dobbins, tackle Thayer Munford, defensive end Chase Young, defensive tackle Haskell Garrett, cornerbacks Shaun Wade and Jeffrey Okudah, safety Isaiah Pryor and linebacker Pete Werner. Notice that the list has no wide receivers — at least not yet.
Freshmen Jaylon Harris, Trevon Grimes and Ellijah Gardiner have been showing progress through preseason camp, according to those paying attention. But even though that’s an area of the offense that most folks thought could have used an infusion based on its inconsistent production last season, the rise of several players already on the roster has boosted the depth chart without putting pressure on freshmen to step up immediately.
Besides, as Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack will attest, it takes time for a young receiver to prove himself worthy. Each had his stripe removed as a freshman last year, and each at times drew praise for his potential from coach Urban Meyer, but each wound up playing sparingly.
Now, headed toward the Aug. 31 opener at Indiana, they are the ones infusing new blood into the receiver corps, along with fourth-year junior Johnnie Dixon, who has battled back from chronic knee pain. Time is part of the learning process for receivers.
“It’s huge, especially coming to Ohio State, it’s a huge hump you have to go through,” Mack said. “Learning the offense, learning the tempo.
“Just going from high school football to college football is a huge change. You’ve got to be mature about your business and be a pro. The greatest thing was just the time I went through just to learn and get through it.”
Of the three freshmen, Harris, from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, seemed to have the best chance of stepping up early. Grimes is only 10 months past from a knee injury suffered in his senior season for Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, although he reportedly is running free now, and Gardiner is a lean speedster from Kemp, Texas, who needs a little more bulk.
But again, getting on the field for a game — indeed, just having one’s black stripe removed — is about proving worthiness. It comes faster for some than others.
“You have to be tough to be able to handle the tempo; we do a lot of running,” receivers coach Zach Smith said. “And you have to be able to block, and you have to be able to get open.”
The latter seems obvious, but as he reminded, OSU has produced four NFL first-round draft picks from its defensive backs in the past two years, and this year’s group looks talented, too.
“We play the best DBs in the country every day, so if you struggle in practice, we can’t put you on the field” in a game, Smith said. “You’ve got to be able to get open in practice every day. And if you can do that here, you’re going to get open against anybody in the country.”