Ohio State Buckeyes: ‘Good energy’ focus for receivers this spring

Receiver is not usually a question mark for Ohio State football these days.

The room has been a source of strength since Day arrived in Columbus in 2017 and Brian Hartline took over coaching the receivers a year later.

With Emeka Egbuka the only returning starter, 2024 figures to be a test of Day’s passer-and-pass-catcher friendly system along with Hartline’s ability not only to develop players but do it fast.

Working in their favor: The duo already has a stellar track record.

On top of that, Hartline the recruiter has given Hartline the coach much to work with.

Fourth-year junior Jayden Ballard is the only player beside Egbuka who is more than a sophomore in eligibility, but Hartline has seven players who were four- or five-star recruits.

That starts with Carnell Tate, a sophomore who caught 18 passes for 264 yards last season, but includes Koji Antwi, Bryson Rodgers, Kyion Grayes, Brandon Innis and Jeremiah Smith.

Innis was the top-rated of Ohio State’s 2023 receiver recruits, but he did not arrive until last summer so he had some catching up to do.

He did make the most of his one catch, though, scoring from 58 yards out in a blowout win over Purdue.

Smith, the No. 1 player nationwide in the class of 2024, also could jump to the top of the depth chart after he enrolled in January.

“We need Jayden Ballard to step up in a big way,” Day said. “He’s got to be a contributor now going into the season for us. Certainly, Jeremiah has flashed, so it’s been good to see some of those younger guys get out there, but we’re gonna have to build depth in that room. You know ‘Meka is the leader in there, and he’s obviously done a great job. He’s healthy again, which is great, so it’s going to be a good group, but we need to continue to push that depth.”

Tate turned heads last spring, but there weren’t a lot of snaps to spare behind Marvin Harrison Jr., Egbuka and seniors Julian Fleming and Xavier Johnson Jr.

That made finding playing time for Inniss difficult, too, but he did manage to get into the two-deep.

“I think you’re seeing a different player,” Day said of Inniss this spring. “His body’s changed completely from where it was last summer. When he’s in the right shape, he’s really talented. He’s got great short-area quickness. He’s got just a competitive fire. He was really good in winter workouts.”

Day also liked what he saw from Tate in the winter.

“I think the sky’s the limit for Carnell,” Day said. “He’s extremely talented. He’s been here now a year, so he went through a spring, went through a season. Now this is his second spring so this is not new to him. You know, based on what we saw coming off of last year, where he’s at right now, he’s right on pace with some of those other guys.”

For his part, Hartline said he is trying something new from a coaching standpoint: Celebrating good plays in practice rather than taking them for granted.

“I think that the energy is one thing that we just kind of identified as one of our goals,” Hartline said. “Production follows energy. The higher the energy, the more productive we are. So I think in years past, there’s a lot of expectations and assumptions being made in our room, and rightfully so. They’ve earned it, but making plays was normal, and we didn’t really celebrate ‘em well.”

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