Freshman Wilson shows his skills on punt returns

Joey Kaufman
Ohio State freshman receiver Garrett Wilson has impressed special teams coach Matt Barnes with his punt returns during training camp. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

Ohio State special teams coach Matt Barnes on Sunday highlighted four candidates to return punts this season.

The final name raised some eyebrows.

Barnes said that highly touted freshman wide receiver Garrett Wilson had worked alongside other punt returners through the first three practices of training camp.

Wilson’s performance drew positive reviews. Barnes said he had looked “outstanding” and “really good.”

“He’s smooth,” Barnes said. “He’s got unbelievable ball skills. He’s got confidence that far exceeds his years. So I'm expecting good things.”

As one of the top-rated recruits in Ohio State’s 2019 recruiting class, Wilson enrolled early to participate in spring practices, where he made his initial impression as a pass catcher and looked on track to break into the receiver rotation this season.

During the Buckeyes’ spring game in April, he caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from former quarterback Matthew Baldwin in a corner of the end zone, showing off his leaping ability.

The last freshman to regularly return punts for the Buckeyes was running back Jalin Marshall in 2014. Marshall was a redshirt freshman.

Barnes said he had no concerns about putting a true freshman in the role.

“If the guy is ready to go, I don't care,” he said.

The others in the mix to return punts were receivers K.J. Hill and C.J. Saunders, as well as Jaelen Gill.

Hill and Saunders still figure to maintain the inside track. They were the primary punt returners last season and have worked out there in the early preseason practices.

How many captains?

The Buckeyes named seven team captains last season.

It was fewer than in 2017, when they selected nine, but more than in 2016, when they had six.

Former coach Urban Meyer never kept a set number, and neither will his successor, Ryan Day.

“Sometimes when it's really good leadership, you can find yourself with maybe four or five captains, sometimes maybe one or two,” Day said. “So we'll kind of do the same thing this year. We'll let the team vote, see how the votes come in.

“You like to have a couple on offense, a couple on defense. Ideally, you'd like to have a couple guys up front, a couple guys back end with the skill guys. That's the ideal situation.”

Day said the team planned to vote on captains after the first week of training camp.


Listen to the BuckeyeXtra Football podcast: