Talent seldom is the issue at Ohio State, where physical specimens line the hallways of the football facility like carved marble come to life.
In that sense, the Buckeyes have nothing to worry about at receiver. Despite losing three captains in Terry McLaurin, Parris Campbell and Johnnie Dixon, Ohio State returns more than enough gifted athletes who can catch the ball and turn seven yards into 70.
There is senior Binjimen Victor, who at 6 feet 4 and 200 pounds looks more athletic in baggy sweat clothes than 99 percent of the general workout population does in their yoga, cycling and running gear. Victor walked across the indoor practice field on Wednesday with such cool swagger you would have thought he just signed a $10 million NFL contract. (Note to NCAA investigators: The previous sentence was for literary purposes only; everyone knows that only the university — not the athletes — makes that kind of money.)
There is fifth-year senior K.J. Hill, who has the best hands on the team, according to OSU wide receivers coach Brian Hartline.
“That ball is near him, it’s eatin’ up,” Hartline said.
There is senior Austin Mack, returning from injury. His acrobatic catch against Michigan two years ago greased the skids for Dwayne Haskins to win the starting-quarterback job last season.
There also are fifth-year senior C.J. Saunders, junior Jaylen Harris, sophomore Chris Olave, redshirt freshman Jaelen Gill … and more players not mentioned who could start immediately at a lot of Mid-American Conference schools. And that doesn’t even include true freshman Garrett Wilson, who was a five-star recruit, or the tight ends.
No wonder Hartline smiles when discussing the depth in his position group. It’s like looking into a box of assorted doughnuts. Pick any of them. You can’t go wrong.
And yet …
“Every guy in the room can do it — once,” Hartline said Wednesday as a media horde numbering in the thousands — or so it seems these days — pressed in to learn more about the Ohio State receivers.
“But which guys do it every time? Or only every now and then? Where do you fall?” continued the former OSU and NFL wide receiver turned coach. “To me, you keep chasing that “every time.”
Do the Buckeyes have that kind of consistency? Hartline hopes so. Thinks so. But there is no way this early into 2019 to know so, which is why his eyes moistened when McLaurin, Dixon and Campbell all graduated.
“It’s different (not having them),” he said. “That’s why when they left, I cried, literally.”
Ohio State should be heartened in that the same concerns existed last spring, when McLaurin, Campbell and Dixon all had consistency gaps that raised questions of reliability. All three answered beyond expectations, with Campbell (90 catches, 12 TDs), Dixon (42 and eight) and McLaurin (35 and 11) leading the way in an offense that set Big Ten passing records, including most passing yards (4,831) and completions (373) in a season.
Haskins triggered the passing attack before declaring early for the draft, which increases the uncertainty this spring. True, it is optimistic uncertainty — quarterback transfer Justin Fields is being advertised as a more mobile Haskins with a slightly less powerful arm — but until talent is put to the test under more trying circumstances than spring drills, the Ohio State passing game remains veiled in potential.
“I always talk to the guys that … greatness is only measured one way, and it’s by consistency,” Hartline said. “Everyone makes the same shot as Michael Jordan makes; they just don’t make it as consistently. At crunch times.”
Crunch time isn’t for another five months. Plenty of time to Be Like Mike.
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