Editor’s note: The Ohio State football team will conclude its spring practices at noon Saturday in the annual spring game in Ohio Stadium.
The spring game is a game in name only, of course. For the most part it is a modified scrimmage, the last of the Buckeyes’ 15 permissible practices in the spring.
But first-year OSU coach Ryan Day and his assistants will be looking to see how their new team responds in a competitive setting — albeit against teammates — and in front of a large crowd.
Ohio State drew more than 100,000 fans for a spring game a few years ago, and more than 80,000 last year despite stadium renovations. The capacity for this year’s game will be about 76,000.
With that backdrop, in the days leading up to the spring game, The Dispatch will assess where the Buckeyes stand at key positions.
Today: Receivers and tight ends
Position coaches: Brian Hartline (second season, wide receivers), Kevin Wilson (third season, tight ends).
Key losses: WR Parris Campbell (first-team All-Big Ten), WR Terry McLaurin (honorable mention All-Big Ten), WR Johnnie Dixon.
Key returnees: WR K.J. Hill, WR Binjimen Victor, WR Austin Mack, TE Luke Farrell, WR Chris Olave.
New to view: Freshman Garrett Wilson was a prized recruit from Lake Travis High in Austin, Texas, and the highest-rated wide receiver signed by Ohio State since 2000, according to 247Sports’ database. Wilson, considered a well-rounded pass catcher, has made a strong impression in spring practice and was the first early enrollee to see his black stripe removed. Coach Ryan Day acknowledged Wilson when asked Wednesday which younger players had captured his attention. With the departures of three of the top four pass catchers, Wilson has a chance to see the field early.
Unit ranking (on a 1-to-5 basis, 5 being the best): 3: Nearly half of the passes that Dwayne Haskins completed last season went to Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon. The trio is gone, leaving a somewhat untested group. K.J. Hill is back for his senior season after catching 70 passes, second-most on the team in 2018, but no other returnee caught more than 26 passes last fall. Enough talent remains on the roster, but there is little track record to fall back on.
Stat that worked: Ohio State's receivers caught a combined 396 passes for 5,100 yards and 51 touchdowns last season, shattering school records across all three categories. Previously, they had never totaled more than 287 catches, 3,707 yards or 42 touchdowns in a season, previous records set earlier in Urban Meyer’s seven-year coaching tenure.
Stat that must change: If there’s an area to nitpick from Ohio State’s prolific passing game of 2018, it’s how little the Buckeyes used their tight ends, targeting them only 6.9 percent of the time, according to data from SB Nation. It’s possible that 2019 will be a different story. Day said last week that the tight ends were one of the strengths of the offense. They could see an enhanced role this fall, especially with a more inexperienced group of receivers. Tight ends Luke Farrell and Rashod Berry are both back as upperclassmen, giving the Buckeyes some options.
Notable: Hartline was promoted to the full-time role as Ohio State’s wide receivers coach in December after he held the role on an interim basis last season. He had taken over for Zach Smith, who was fired in July prior to preseason training camp in the aftermath of domestic violence allegations that became public. Wilson also retained his role as tight ends coach under Day.
Monday: Offensive line
Tuesday: Defensive line
Wednesday: Linebackers, specialists
Thursday: Quarterbacks, receivers
Friday: Running backs, defensive backs