Ohio State Spring Football Preview: Receivers

COLUMBUS — With spring football right around the corner, the time has come to examine what kind of work must be done for Ohio State to get back to the top in the Big Ten.

After looking at the quarterbacks and running backs, we turn to a receiver room that appears to be as full of talent as it is unknowns.

Here is a breakdown of the situation for coach Brian Hartline:

Returning starters: Emeka Egbuka, Marvin Harrison Jr.

Next in line: Julian Fleming, Xavier Johnson, Jayden Ballard

Also in the mix: Caleb Burton, Kaleb Brown, Kojo Antwi, Kyion Grayes, Bryan Rodgers, Noah Rogers, Carnell Tate

On the way: Brandon Inniss

Egbuka and Harrison Jr. are both coming off 1,000-yard sophomore seasons while Fleming made his first big impact as a junior last fall after two years of injury issues.

Harrison probably doesn’t have much to prove this spring, and Egbuka and Fleming are set to sit out to recover from injuries that bothered them during the season.

That leaves lots of snaps for the many highly-rated recruits Hartline has pulled in over the last two years to try to impress their coach.

Hartline said he shouldn’t be their target audience, though.

“In the offseason program, the biggest thing is, and I’ll just share with you, is that as of right now, you should be trying to impress your peers,” said Hartline, who was a receiver at Ohio State from 2005-08. “Impress your peers. Your peers know. Players know. By trying to impress your peers, that means everything right?”

Doing that means taking care of the little things.

“Being on time, if not early,” Hartline said. “How you work, how you communicate, if you’re up front (or) you’re not in front. All those things matter.”

He also wants to get positive feedback from director of strength and conditioning Mickey Marotti, who is essentially the head coach of the offseason at Ohio State.

“Coach ‘Mick’ knows what it looks like. He runs the program. He’s really the facilitator of all culture at Ohio State, and if you can impress him, you’re on the right track,” Hartline said. “I’ve never seen a guy impress coach Mick and not be on the field. So do that. And then obviously the coaches.”

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Johnson is a former walk-on who can also play running back. He made a handful of noteworthy plays last season, including the game-winning touchdown catch against Notre Dame, and is an intriguing option with multiple skills.

Ballard is a four-star 2021 recruit from Massillon Washington who is still looking to make his mark on the field while Burton, Brown, Antwi and Grayes are all ‘22 signees who are in position to make a move after a year on campus.

Brown and Grayes were both national top 100 recruits while Burton and Antwi made the top 151. Brown played in four games last season while Grayes played in two, and each caught one pass.

Rodgers, Rogers and Tate are four-star class of 2023 recruits who enrolled in January.

With no one from the ‘22 class having made much of an impact yet, one or more of them figure to have a chance to jump into the two-deep, although Inniss is the highest-rated member of the class at No. 35 nationally and won’t join the team until this summer.

Rogers (6-2, 195 from Rolesville, N.C.) and Tate (6-2, 180 from Bradenton, Fla.) are both top 60 national recruits, and they are both bigger than any of the ‘22 signees, who were all listed between 5-10 and 6-0 on the roster.

Rodgers (6-0, 175 from Zephyrhills, Fla.) is more under the radar (354 nationally) from a recruiting standpoint, but everyone is the same once they step on the field.

“So if you keep your mindset on, again, impressing your peers because those peers are hard to impress, the byproduct will probably be to impress coach Mick, and then your coaches will be impressed,” Hartline said. “The rest will take care of itself. So that’s the focus. I would say, through the offseason months.”

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