Inexperienced quarterback? Buckeye receivers aren't worried
In Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, Ohio State has perhaps the top wide receiving duo in the country.
Behind them is a young group of four- and five-star receivers just waiting for their chances to blossom.
There’s just one rather large question that has to be answered: Who will throw them the ball?
The past three years, Buckeyes receivers have been blessed to be on the opposite end of passes by Dwayne Haskins Jr. and Justin Fields. Haskins was a first-round NFL draft pick after his only season as an OSU starter in 2018. Fields almost certainly will be a top-10 pick in two weeks.
This year, Buckeyes receivers will be the targets for a quarterback who hasn’t thrown a collegiate pass. Redshirt freshmen C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller are competing with early enrollee freshman Kyle McCord for the starting job. Coach Ryan Day has not tipped his hand about who’s leading the competition.
If having such an inexperienced quarterback is a concern, Buckeyes receivers and their position coach are doing a terrific job of hiding it.
“I love it,” receivers coach Brian Hartline said in a Zoom interview Thursday. “I love this situation with a young quarterback because it just asks us and demands us to be more detailed than ever.”
With Haskins or Fields, receivers might have been able to get away with imprecise routes or small mistakes. Now they know they must do everything they can to make the quarterback’s job as easy as possible.
“It really provides clear direction on what’s expected," Hartline said. "Are we doing it (right)? Are we not? We don't have the cloudiness all the time of maybe quarterbacks making us (look) right.
“They obviously do, but any time a quarterback makes you (appear to be) right, it kind of covers up the real problem, the real inefficiency. Production doesn't mean it was good. Production means it was good enough, and we're trying to aim for excellence. There’s a little more ownership now knowing we’ve got to take care of our duty and help the young quarterbacks.”
Olave’s decision to return for his senior season was a pleasant surprise for the Buckeyes and a reflection of his faith that whoever plays quarterback will be successful.
“Kyle is really good,” Olave said. “Jack is really good, and C.J. is really good. I believe coach Day is going to make the best decision. He's one of the best coaches in the country.
“Whoever's the quarterback, we'll feel good about it.”
In seven games last season, Olave caught 50 passes for 729 yards and seven touchdowns. Garrett Wilson caught 43 for 723 yards and six scores in eight games as a sophomore last year.
Wilson played last season in the slot, where he was a matchup nightmare for nickel cornerbacks or linebackers. This year, the junior has been moved to the outside “X” or split end spot.
“It’s a little bit harder to get off press (coverage) from the outside when you’re singled up, so I think it’s really good for my development,” Wilson said. “I want to be someone that can play anywhere on the field.”
Like Olave, Wilson believes Fields’ successor, whoever it is, will be up to the job.
“Every year, we recruit the top dudes,” he said. “This has been going on for forever. Coach Day is one of the best at his job in the country.
“I'm very confident in everyone, and everyone on the team is confident, that whoever is slinging the ball back there is going to be ready to go Week 1 and be able to take us wherever we're going to go.”
Fields relied heavily on Wilson and Olave last year. Freshman Jaxon Smith-Njigba had the next-highest number of catches among wide receivers with 10.
The expectation is for more balance this year. Smith-Njigba has the talent to become a star, as do Jameson Williams and Julian Fleming, the top-ranked receiver in the 2020 recruiting class. Fleming has been slowed by a shoulder injury.
Early enrollee freshmen Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka have already had their black helmet stripes removed, signifying their status as full-fledged Buckeyes. Day gushed about Harrison earlier in spring practice.
“We do have a lot of talented guys,” Hartline said. “We'll get creative. We're going to find ways to have a lot of fun out there and get the ball spread all kinds of different ways. And when the ball’s in the running back’s hands, we’ve got to do a phenomenal job blocking from the perimeter and creating space in the run game.
“Coming in with an elevated talent pool, we can try some new things and can do different things and have a little more fun with it and really take everything to another level. We've reached a certain level. How about the next level?”