Three revered senior captains are gone from the Ohio State wide receivers unit.
Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon provided production as well as leadership last year. The trio combined for 167 catches for 2,433 yards and 31 touchdowns.
It would be almost a given that a unit so productive would have to take a step back after losing such talent. It is not a given for the Buckeyes. In fact, their receivers are practically adamant that they will match or exceed the standard set last year.
That belief is not far-fetched. The Buckeyes return three seniors who were in the rotation last year in K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack.
Chris Olave looked like a star in the making when he replaced the injured Mack late last year as a freshman. He added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason. Toss in promising young receivers such as five-star freshman Garrett Wilson and veterans such as senior C.J. Saunders, and their optimism is understandable.
“It's definitely true,” Hill said. “I feel like last year they left a checkpoint and now we've got to reach another checkpoint with the people in the room because we saw it — me, Austin, Ben (Victor), C.J., Chris — we saw it, we did it, we felt it and now we know we can take it to another level just by doing extra.”
Hill and Saunders, a former walk-on, are two of the Buckeyes’ seven captains, so leadership should be in good hands. Hill needs 48 catches to break David Boston’s school record of 191 career receptions.
“He's a stud,” second-year wide receivers coach Brian Hartline said. “He understands zones. He's got some of the surest hands on the team and we really lean on him — and him being a captain, you can kind of see the guys have similar respect for him.”
For most of his career, Victor has been viewed as the Buckeyes receiver with the most potential. His game-changing catch and run for a touchdown against Penn State last year showed a glimpse of that. Consistency has been his issue, but he and Hartline said he has improved in that area.
“I think he stepped up his offseason,” Hartline said. “I think it's translated into the camp. I think he's in a position right now where, if you'd ask him, he just needs to put it together on Saturdays.”
Though Mack has missed time in camp because of injury, others have emerged. Hartline gushed about the growth of younger receivers Jaelen Gill, Jaylen Harris and Elijah Gardiner.
“I think it's amazing to see the maturation from the beginning of camp toward the end, both from a leadership standpoint and young guy-growing standpoint,” Hartline said.
The receivers, of course, will be catching passes from a new quarterback. Dwayne Haskins Jr. was as gifted a passer as Ohio State has ever seen. But the receivers say they have plenty of faith in Justin Fields.
“He came in, put his head down trying to work hard, trying to gain the respect and trust of the team,” Olave said. “He did that. Coming into camp. he was in that competition, and he made a statement and showed why he's one of the best players in the nation. We truly believe that, and I can't wait to play with him.”
Added Victor, “They’re two different quarterbacks, but I feel Justin can make those throws. It’s going to be a fun year.”