COLUMBUS — Brian Hartline has a lot to do this spring.
On top of learning to be offensive coordinator on the job, he is expanding his recruiting duties to all positions on offense and still coaching the receivers.
While he fended off many questions about the efforts of head coach Ryan Day to groom him as a play-caller, Hartline gave an overall positive assessment of his spring so far.
“It’s awesome,” the 36-year-old former Buckeye player said. “I mean, it’s definitely a little more uncomfortable than it would have been this time last year, but I would say anytime you’re uncomfortable you have a chance to grow, which is good.”
That seems to be especially true at receiver, where some of his veterans are out or limited but a large group of youngsters are vying for spots in the two-deep.
“I would say that we are a good six or seven deep now, and that’s really good,” Hartline said. “I would say that. I would say in my opinion guys are showing the trajectory, the four or five or six, that is much better than it was this time last year.”
Hartline, who is chatty with reporters but not always forthcoming with actual information, declined to reveal who is in that group, but there is no shortage of candidates with more than a dozen players in his room (including walk-ons).
Bringing back 1,000-yard receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka and seniors Julian Fleming and Xavier Johnson gives Hartline a strong foundation to build on, but Egbuka and Fleming are out this spring recovering from surgeries while Harrison’s reps are being limited to keep him fresh for the fall.
That leaves a large group of first- and second-year players to soak up practice reps, often times against a higher level of competition (first team rather than the second team or second team instead of third) than they might have if every hand were on deck.
“So everyone’s being pushed, everyone’s growing and having these extra reps with a couple guys out have been awesome,” Hartline said. “They know that those are eventually going to go away, so as long as we’re maximizing those, we’ll be in a much better position come fall camp.”
The oldest player of the group that has not made much of an impact on the field yet, Jayden Ballard, turned heads when he caught a long touchdown pass in the team’s scrimmage Saturday.
Hartline said he likes what he has seen from the junior from Massillon this spring, but with the caveat that he has only reached the level he would have hoped to see him playing on last fall when he caught eight passes for 155 yards and one touchdown.
“He’s doing a great job,” Hartline said. “I think he’s in a position where he’s playing faster, he’s playing more consistent.
“He’s on a good path. And he knows that.”
Of the three highly regarded true freshmen who are taking part in spring practice, one seems to have started faster than the other.
Carnell Tate, a 6-2, 180-pound four-star recruit from Chicago by way of IMG Academy in Florida already has had the black stripe removed from his helmet, a rite of passage for young players that usually doesn’t happen so soon.
“I wouldn’t say he surprised me,” Hartline said. “I think that I really appreciate where he’s at off the field and on the field so early in his career. I wouldn’t say I would have expected it to happen so quickly. I would have figured by the end of summer it would be starting to click a little bit, but he’s done a great job since he stepped foot on campus.
“He has all straight A’s right now, he’s never missed a workout, he’s always on time, he’s doing his job on the field. The combination of all that, it was well-deserved.”
Tate was the No. 59 overall recruit in the country in the class of 2023, but that only made him the No. 3 receiver in Ohio State’s class.
The top prospect, Brandon Inniss of American Heritage in Fort Lauderale, Fla., will not enroll until summer while Noah Rogers of Rolesville, N.C., and Bryson Rodgers of Zephyrhills, Fla,, are in the mix this spring.
Hartline identified the 6-foot, 175-pound Rodgers as a member of the competition for playing time in the slot, where many snaps are available because of Egbuka’s absence.
He’s joined there by walk-on Reis Stocksdale of Little Miami High School and Kaleb Brown, a sophomore from Chicago St. Rita.