Buckeyes Boast Depth At Running Back, Receiver
By Matt Natali
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Despite ranking No. 47 in the country last season in total offense, Ohio State was tops in the Big Ten thanks to a prolific running attack and some talented receivers.
The Buckeyes were No. 1 in total offense in the conference, including scoring offense, passing efficiency and first downs. Head coach Urban Meyer also boasted his first running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.
While Ohio State must replace a couple key components from last year’s offense, the Buckeyes were deep in both areas last season and will be a threat to lead the conference again in 2014.
“We had a heck of an offense a year ago,” Meyer said at the annual spring kick-off luncheon last week. “We are working on trying to be a little more balanced. We had who we felt was the best running back in America and the nation’s best offensive line. But now we have to replace them.
“You can feel it in practice right now – those guys aren’t there. We are going through a little bit of growing pains right now.”
In the fifth installment of a six-part series, we take a look at the running backs and receivers for Ohio State during spring practice. We'll examine all the pertinent information surrounding the position during preparation for the 2014 season.
Cory “Philly” Brown saw time in 48 games and started 35 in his Ohio State career. He led or tied Ohio State in receiving each of his last three seasons and became only the second receiver in program history to have back-to-back seasons of 60 catches or more. As a senior, Brown had 63 catches for 771 yards and 10 touchdowns, earning honorable mention all-Big Ten recognition by the media. He finished his career with 1,750 receiving yards and 15 career touchdowns. Brown projects as a late-round selection in May’s NFL Draft.
Running back Carlos Hyde played in 41 games for the Buckeyes while tallying 20 starts in his four-year career. He became the first running back under Meyer to rush for 1,000 yards last season with 1,521 yards on 208 carries and 15 touchdowns despite missing the first three games of the season. For his season last year, he earned first-team all-Big Ten honors.
Hyde holds program records in career yards per carry average (6.1), in a single season (7.3) and in a single game (10.2 against Illinois in 2013). For his career, he totaled 3,198 yards and 37 rushing touchdowns while averaging 112.1 yards per game rushing in his starts.
He projects as a late first-round or early second-round pick in May’s NFL Draft.
Backs In Action
Sophomore Ezekiel Elliot has been the most impressive back in spring camp and is the early favorite to start next season. In seven games last year, Elliot had 262 yards on 30 carries and two touchdowns.
“Ezekiel Elliott played well for us a year ago in backup action and in a mop-up role when some of the games were out of hand,” Meyer said. “He is everything you want in a tailback. First of all, he’s a great Buckeye. He does everything the right way. Second, he is a 13.7 (second) high hurdle guy. He has that speed that when he gets out in the open he can be a game breaker. He showed some flashes last year.”
Fifth-year senior Rod Smith will be in the fold as well after rushing for 448 yards in his career with four scores. Redshirt sophomores Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball will add to the depth at the position.
True freshman Curtis Samuel, who enrolled early and is participating in spring drills, has opened the eyes of the Ohio State coaching staff. Samuel was a four-star prospect coming out of high school and was a U.S. Army All-American Bowl participant.
“A new name that is surfacing is Curtis Samuel out of Brooklyn, N.Y. He should be in high school getting ready for his prom. He has had two really good practices (in a row). He has the speed, toughness and athleticism that you look for,” Meyer said.
Wealth Of Receivers
The Buckeyes boast a bevy of receivers returning in 2014 that will help improve its No. 88 passing attack in the country from a season ago.
Seniors Devin Smith and Evan Spencer have 37 combined starts. Smith had 660 yards receiving last season on 44 catches and eight touchdowns while Spencer reeled in 22 catches for 216 yards and three touchdowns. Although, Spencer is sitting out of spring drills while he rehabs an injury.
Explosive sophomore Dontre Wilson got the bulk of his work last year in the backfield, rushing for 250 yards and a touchdown. But Ohio State shifted him out with the receivers this season after he also reeled in 22 catches for 210 yards and two more scores in 2013.
Other pass-catchers in the fray include redshirt sophomores Michael Thomas, Corey Smith and Jalin Marshall (out with a knee injury during spring drills).
“The leading receiver coming back is Devin Smith,” Meyer said. “He hit some home runs last year and now just needs some consistency.
“Mike Thomas is a guy we redshirted last year and he will be a contributor. Evan Spencer came on to be the best blocking receiver I have been around. He broke his ankle in the Orange Bowl and is just starting to run around again.
“Dontre Wilson, the little fast guy from Texas, is probably our best playmaker on offense in terms of running the ball, flipping him the ball and going downfield. He will occupy that position Percy Harvin made famous.”
Freshman Johnnie Dixon enrolled early and was a consensus four-star recruit coming out of high school. He played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January and has created a buzz for himself in spring camp.
Nation’s Best Tight Ends?
At the tight end positions, the Buckeyes will field senior Jeff Heuerman and junior Nick Vannett. Heuerman had 26 catches for 466 yards and four touchdowns in 2013 while Vannett added eight catches for 80 yards and a score in seven games, respectively.
Although Heuerman is out for spring drills with an injured foot, he will be ready for fall practice and Meyer has high praise for his tight ends.
“I will take our two tight ends over anybody in America,” Meyer said. “(Heuerman) should be good in six weeks and out of his cast. He had surgery on a foot sprain. We felt he should get it fixed up now so it doesn’t linger over the summer.
“He will be a captain of our team and a guy who leads our team.”
Redshirt freshman Marcus Baugh and senior J.T. Moore add some depth to the tight end positions.
New Faces In New Places
Samuel and Dixon will be joined by fellow freshmen Noah Brown (Sparta, N.J./Pope John XXIII), Parris Campbell (Akron, Ohio/St. Vincent-St. Mary) and Terry McLaurin (Indianapolis/Cathedral) in the fall, who were all four-star prospects coming out of high school.
Brown had 41 catches for 857 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior and was named the West player of the year.
Campbell was a Division III all-Ohio selection rushing for 1,584 yards and 22 touchdowns helping Akron SVSM to its second straight state championship.
McLaurin was named 2013 Indiana Mr. Football as a senior leading Cathedral to the 2013 Indiana 5A state championship with 58 catches for 953 yards and eight touchdowns while adding 744 yards rushing and six more scores. McLaurin and Cathedral won four state titles while he was there.
Bonus Coverage: Buckeyes Break From Spring Ball For A Good Cause
We’ll take a look at the Ohio State quarterbacks later this week to wrap-up the spring football preview series for Ohio State.