In 2012, the Ohio State Buckeyes went undefeated, but at times, it seemed to be in spite of the wide receivers, not because of them. There were some great moments, to be sure, but there were a lot of times when it seemed like the receivers couldn't get out of their own way.
A lot of that had to do with a couple things – there was a whole new offense to learn, a still developing quarterback, and a collective level of inexperience that resulted in no wide receiver topping 700 yards for the first time since 2008.
And no, I'm not counting 2011, because that's something all Ohio State fans are trying to forget.
Coach Urban Meyer has described his offense as a power running offense that happens to be in the spread formation, so it's unfair to expect a four deep vertical passing game on every play. But the one thing Meyer's passing offense does do is create mismatches, which lead to big plays – if the right players are playing the right positions.
The expectation for 2013 is that Meyer does have the right players for the right positions, and that the offense, particularly the receivers, which he described at times last year as a 'non-functional', is ready for big things.
Somebody has to step out of the shadows first. But who will that be?
The primary candidate could be senior Jordan Hall, returning for a fifth year of eligibility due to injury. Hall has been moved from running back to the H-Back/Pivot position, more commonly referred to as the 'Percy Harvin spot'. Next to the quarterback, this is the most important position on the offense based on how many running and receiving options it has. Having someone suited to excel as both a runner and pass catcher is pivotal for overall offensive success.
Hall has the ability to do both, and will be given every opportunity to win the job. He was hampered by a foot injury last season and was moved over from running back in the off-season, but so far, the early returns are promising:
Jordan Hall looked very crisp. The PCL/foot injuries look to be in the past. He's now a slotback in the Percy Harvin role.— Bill Rabinowitz (@brdispatch) March 5, 2013
Wow play of day, in my eyes, was Jordan Hall -- he's back at hybrid back -- leaping high over Christian Bryant to snare deep pass.— Tim May (@TIM_MAYsports) March 5, 2013
And coach Meyer was quoted as saying, after day one of spring practice:
Boy was [Jordan Hall] great today. I’ve got to be careful. I’ve started to like players too much. I love that guy.
Hall's development in the h-back slot will be important, and as a fifth year senior, he will also be expected to be a locker room leader as well. But it won't be just the Jordan Hall show. Last season's big play receiver, Devin Smith, will also be in the mix as one of Miller's 'go-to' guys. Smith only had half as many receptions (30) as the team's leading receiver from a year ago, Corey Brown, but only had 51 less receiving yards (618). His yards per catch was an eye popping 20.6, but Smith was either a feast or famine type player. And he was, in many ways, the poster child for OSU's passing attack in 2012. When he was good, he was very, very good, but he would also disappear for huge chunks of games, and had some key drops that made you RAGETWEET more than once last season.
But did I mention that when he's good, he's very, VERY good?
More will also be expected out of Corey 'Philly' Brown as well. Last season's team leader in both receptions and yards, he's not the big play type of receiver that Smith is, but still has playmaking potential. Like Smith, Brown was unable to find the consistency that eluded everybody on offense, but he was also a more reliable, if less explosive, receiver. Although you might not believe me when you watch this TD against Illinois last year:
It's safe to make the assumption that somebody will emerge from this group of three, but there are also some fantastic prospects that are coming to Columbus, and all will vie for playing time. Coach Meyer has said in the past that he doesn't like to redshirt players unless they're injured, and the hyper competitive atmosphere he has established will ensure that players who show the desire, aptitude, and ability will see the field.
I put JUCO transfer Corey Smith at the top of this list, as his experience is a decided advantage this early in the year. Yet don't overlook incoming freshman Jalin Marshall. Marshall is a five star five star recruit with speed for days, and it's very easy to see him getting significant playing time. And Jordan Hall could rotate with a guy like James Clark or Dontre Wilson, speedsters that along with Marshall can provide nightmares for opposing coordinators.
Ohio State's offense is primed for a breakout year in 2013, as long as one of these players grabs the colors and helps lead the charge.