Garrett Wilson continues to adjust to new role in slot for Ohio State

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Garrett Wilson (5) is snagged by Maryland Terrapins defensive back Deonte Banks (33) during the first half of Saturday's NCAA football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on November 9, 2019. [Barbara J. Perenic/Dispatch]

Garrett Wilson made a position switch that involved shuffling just a few feet along the line of scrimmage. He went from outside receiver to slot receiver.

But it still involved a sizable learning curve for the Ohio State sophomore.

“It's a whole different position, all the intricacies of playing in the slot and stuff like that, but I feel like I'm getting used to it every day,” Wilson said.

The preseason practices being held before the Buckeyes open their season in three weeks against Nebraska offer a period of continued adjustment.

Wilson moved to slot receiver in an offseason that was dramatically altered due to the coronavirus pandemic, which limited repetitions for players. A majority of spring practices were canceled, as was preseason training camp in August.

“When we have limited time, it probably did have an effect,” wide receivers coach Brian Hartline said. “I think we've done a pretty good job, he's done a very good job, with not allowing it to show up too often.”

To learn his new role in the Buckeyes offense, Wilson spent much of his time studying film of defenses. He expected that a broader base of knowledge might allow him to more easily identify holes in an opponent’s secondary.

“There's definitely a lot more film to go with it, just understanding coverages,” Wilson said. “It's a lot less 1-on-1 routes and a lot more finding zones, stuff like that. Being able to read coverages and identify that before the play starts — you might say that’s a lot of the things that I have to work on to get better. So I’ve been working on it.”

It also helped to watch K.J. Hill last season. Hill was a consistent pass-catching threat for the Buckeyes and left as their career leader in receptions.

"That was huge for me to learn from him,” Wilson said. “He's as good of a slot as it gets.”

The Buckeyes hope Wilson can present himself as a capable replacement.

Lining up in the slot, he offers natural playmaking ability that was seen as a freshman when he caught 30 passes for 432 and five touchdowns.

“It provides a game-plan advantage for us," Hartline said.

Hartline raised a few examples. A linebacker might not be fast enough to cover Wilson. A nickel corner is likely to be smaller in size too, allowing him to be an effective run blocker.

But it will require Wilson to continue to learn the finer points of the position.

“Having a guy that's very dynamic in the inside is very important,” Hartline said, “but I think a guy that's really smart, his ability to identify space and work around linebackers and also be tough enough to block linebackers and be able to work in space, but also take the seam, is really important. I think the guy inside, more than maybe any other position, has to do more things.”

If it involves additional preparation, Wilson didn’t mind.

One of the NFL players he admires is Davante Adams from the Green Bay Packers, a receiver who is adept at lining up in the slot and outside.

The slot receiver has also been a popular target for the Buckeyes in previous seasons. Wilson knows he could put up big numbers there.

“I'm definitely excited to be in the slot, be a little bit more involved,” he said.