Ohio State Buckeyes: Receivers embracing chance to carry young quarterbacks

Although Ohio State’s potential quarterbacks were never made available before the Buckeyes’ spring game, many words were spoken about them during leading up to Saturday.

Perhaps the most interesting comment related to the freshmen signal-callers came Thursday from Brian Hartline — though it wasn’t about the quarterbacks.

“I love the situation with a young quarterback because it has asked us and demands us to be more detailed than ever,” Hartline said of the receivers he coaches.

Among other things, that means running routes just right and being careful not to send the wrong message back to the quarterback with body language on option routes.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Hartline. “I think it really provides a lot of clear direction on what’s expected. Are we doing it? Are we not? And then we don’t have the cloudiness all the time of maybe the quarterback is making us right. They obviously do, but anytime quarterbacks make you right, it kind of covers up the real problem, the real inefficiency.”

As is often the case, this is an area Hartline can speak on from experience.

He caught 17 passes for 256 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Buckeyes’ fourth receiver in 2006 when Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith was at quarterback.

A season later, Hartline was the No. 2 receiver for senior Todd Boeckman and caught 52 passes for 694 yards and six touchdowns.

In 2008, his production went down — 21 catches for 479 yards and four touchdowns — as the Buckeyes broke in freshman Terrelle Pryor as the starter most of the season, but Ohio State won the Big Ten all three seasons.

“Production doesn’t mean it was good — production means it was good enough, and we’re trying to aim for excellent,” Hartline said. “So a lot of times there’s a little more ownership now on knowing we’ve got to take care of our duty to handle and to help the young quarterbacks.”

Like all of their teammates who spoke before them this spring, none of the receivers revealed much about how the quarterbacks have performed so far.

Some variation of, ”They can all throw it,” carried the day again, but Garrett Wilson had an interesting way of framing the situation.

“Every year we recruit the top dudes,” said Wilson, a junior originally from Central Ohio who graduated from high school in Texas as a five-star prospect. “This has been going on forever.

“Coach Day is one of the best at his job in the country, so I’m very confident 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 need to go.”

⋅ Aside from expressing confidence in the quarterbacks, Wilson revealed news about himself.

He will be playing the “X” receiver this fall after getting a lot of time in the slot last season.

While the move to the slot was meant to create mismatches, playing outside at what is also known as “split end” presents multiple opportunities.

For Wilson, that is the challenge of beating press coverage off the line of scrimmage, a skill that would bolster his NFL Draft stock.

Beyond that, he said it allows more of the young pups a chance to show they can bite.

“We’ve just got some dogs in the Zone 6 room,” Wilson said,

“We feel like the quarterbacks are gonna be relying on us a lot, and because that Zone 6 room is super deep we just, we just wanted to get all the dudes out there as best as we could. So it wasn’t really my idea, but whenever they proposed it to me, I was I was cool with that 100%.”

⋅ Among those youngsters hoping to break out this fall is Julian Fleming.

The No. 1-rated receiver in the country (and No. 3 player) in the class of 2020, he played in seven of eight games last season and caught seven passes for 74 yards.

Fleming broke into the two-deep despite playing at only about 75 percent because of a lingering shoulder issue.

“I think he’s a special individual,” Hartline said. “His size and speed combination are like I’ve probably never seen in college football — me personally — so the development he’s had from last (preseason) through the season to develop and learn football and grow, I thought was really awesome.”

Fleming is among the players practicing with some limitations this spring as he recovers from surgery, but Hartline is excited about his future.

“I think he’s a rock star as an individual, and I look forward to get him back on a full time regimen,” Hartline said. “But you know it is what it is. Everyone’s has a different plan in spring and he’s getting ultra healthy first so he can maximize what he’s capable of doing.”

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