"I wanted to come to Ohio State to play for Coach Meyer and to do big things in his offense. I really believed it would get to this point, and I am just going to keep working hard to make sure I accomplish the things I came here for."
As a member of Ohio State's 2013 recruiting class that could, when all is said and done, produce anywhere from eight to 10 NFL players, Jalin Marshall and his 5-star scout.com recruiting rating showed up to Columbus with big expectations.
A high school quarterback out of Middletown, Ohio, what Marshall lacked in proven ability to be a collegiate wide receiver or running back he more than made up for in raw athletic play-making ability. Urban Meyer has stated that he "loves recruiting high school quarterbacks," because they are usually the best player on their team, and Marshall was no exception. The kid with a 6'0" 190 lb frame and 4.4 breakaway speed turned down offers to continue his career as a quarterback at schools such as Tennessee, and instead trusted Meyer to do what he does best: get his play-makers the ball in space.
"I see a person who just wants to help the team win."
Despite emerging as one of Ohio State's biggest offensive threats during the 2014-15 Buckeyes' journey to immortality, redshirt sophomore Jalin Marshall has become somewhat overshadowed this season.
Being overshadowed this season is not necessarily Marshall's fault, he currently is second on the Buckeyes in receiving and fourth in the country in total punt return yards, but more so the fault of Marshall's fellow #zone6 members. With Michael Thomas making his weekly case as one of the best wide receivers in America, along with Braxton Miller stealing Marshall's wildcat package and snaps at H-back, there are simply too many great playmakers on the Buckeyes to always guarantee Marshall his well deserved 8+ touches a game.
Maybe this is why Marshall has become even more explosive this season. Less opportunities to touch the ball has led to Marshall making every touch count, as both Marshall's yards per catch and yards per punt return averages have increased by two yards from last season. Part of this has to do with Marshall partially taking over for Devin Smith as Ohio State's go-to deep ball threat, but Marshall also has built a reputation that sees him almost always break the first tackle upon receiving the ball. This is a trait that Urban Meyer has stressed from his playmakers since day one at Ohio State, and Marshall has epitomized it every time he gets the ball in his hands.
The fun part about watching Marshall with the ball is the multitude of ways in which he gets the ball in the first place. The creativity in getting Marshall the ball has decreased substantially this season due to Marshall's switch from full time H-back to mostly wide receiver, but when he does get the ball, look out, because his skills have not decreased by any stretch of the imagination.
"I think I'm pretty balanced...I think I can go deep, but I also can go underneath."
After J.T Barrett went down against Michigan last year, many saw the biggest beneficiary of the Cardale Jones experience as Devin Smith and his four long touchdowns over the course of the Buckeyes' three postseason wins. However, Marshall was arguably just as important as Smith was to the newly found Buckeyes vertical passing attack.
What made Devin Smith so important to Ohio State last season was his ability to take the top off of defenses. You had to give any corner covering Devin Smith safety help deep, because if you didn't, Smith would run right past almost any corner in America on his way to #zone6.
Alabama had a few experiences with Smith running right past their corners, and because of this they chose to sit in a two deep defense for several of the Buckeyes' third and long attempts on offense in an attempt to contain Smith.
The idea of the deep middle cross is simple: have two wide receivers run streaks on the outside pulling the safeties deep and towards the sideline, and have the slot receiver find a home in the middle void behind the linebackers, but also between the safeties. The difficult part comes with giving the quarterback enough time to allow his slot receiver to find this hole in the middle, as well as the whole completing the pass aspect.
The below video comes at a crucial point in the Ohio State Alabama 2015 Sugar Bowl. Down 21-6, the Buckeyes had already completed one deep cross to Marshall on a 3rd and long this drive, and decided to dial up a similar play again.
Jones stands tall in the pocket for as long as he can before unleashing a missile down the middle of the field to a leaping Marshall. Marshall not only has to jump in the air to catch this pass from Jones, but also has to deal with the reality that an Alabama safety is about to hit him with very bad intentions. The replay demonstrates Marshall's ability to clear the first wave of defensive backs attempting to bump him off of his route, as well as his ability to find open space and give his quarterback a window to throw the football. In the end Marshall holds on to the ball, and nonchalantly tosses it to the ref.
This is my one issue with Marshall as a receiver: for a guy that makes so many big plays, Marshall exhibits very little swag compared to his counterparts. Braxton has his LeBron James inspired "Silencer" after a particularly big touchdown, and Mike Thomas has his whole @cantguardmike and #shhhhhh movements going on. Marshall? He's usually content with just tossing the ball to the ref or throwing up a finger to signal his team's #1. Nothing wrong with that Jalin, but maybe take some of that creativity used to get you the ball and apply it to your celebrations as well.
"Jalin Marshall is one of the best punt returners in America."
Marshall's career as an Ohio State punt returner has been an emotional rollercoaster. There have been some bad moments (see: Minnesota 2014), but more than anything this emotional rollercoaster is a result of Marshall's insistence on catching almost any ball punted at him. Watching Marshall catch a punt over his head on his own five yard line against Alabama was one of the top five scariest moments of my life.
But for every time fans begin to yell at Marshall for a questionable decision to return a punt, they swallow their respective curse word and start screaming, "Go!", as Marshall yet again somehow manages to break away from multiple surefire punt return tackle attempts. I don't want to put Marshall's punt return abilities up there with another Ohio State punt returner who also wore #7, but since Teddy Ginn has left Ohio State I don't believe the Buckeyes have had a punt returner with better ability to consistently gain positive yardage.
Marshall's ability to break free from seemingly disastrous punt returns was on full display during Ohio State's national championship win over Oregon.
Catching a punt, while moving, on his own 37, Marshall is immediately hit by an Oregon defender upon catching the ball. Marshall doesn't fall down from getting hit by a defender with a 40 yard head start, because he's Jalin Marshall. Instead, Marshall breaks away from the first sure tackler, and proceeds to spin away from sure tackler number two. Marshall, now five yards backwards from where he caught the punt, proceeds to casually outruns two more Ducks, before adding one more pretty spin move to gain an extra eight yards. All in all Marshall makes 17 yards out of absolutely nothing.
"Every time I get the ball I think, 'Score,'...I don't want to think anything less than that, because if you do, you won't score."
While many saw the Braxton Miller move to H-Back as being the long awaited second coming of Percy Harvin, Percy 2.0 may have already arrived the season before in the form of Jalin Marshall.
Whether it be from tap passes, jet sweeps, or direct snaps, Marshall's ability to be equally as dangerous running the ball from behind the line of scrimmage as he is catching the ball 30 yards down field is what earns him these comparisons to the most versatile player Meyer has ever coached.
When you watch Miller or Curtis Samuel perform that "tap pass" play that Ohio State pulls out a few times a game, you typically either see them take a wide open lane outside for a good gain, or have to cut back early and get dragged down by tacklers pursuing from the inside. Marshall's vision, along with his unique blend of speed and power, give him a rare ability to bend these tap passes into whatever the defense is giving him, while still maintaining his explosive ability to take the ball to the house.
Here Marshall takes a tap pass against Hawaii, and proceeds to follow one of the best lead blockers in America around left end. The goal of this play is to stretch the defense horizontally and force them to defend every inch of the 53.33 yard football field.
Hawaii's edge defender actually does a great job of pushing Buckeyes tight end Nick Vannett two yards deep into the backfield forcing Marshall inside early on in the play, the problem is that Marshall seamlessly cuts inside the block and proceeds to continue his course outside behind his lead blockers. His speed allows him to run away from the pursing Rainbow Warriors during the six or seven yards of traffic he encounters during his brief course inside, and his power allows him to break any potential feeble arm tackle attempts. A quick 24 yards is the result, thanks to Marshall and his versatile skill set.
"If they want me outside for matchup purposes, they can put me outside. If they want me inside, I can do that."
The newest and most frequent role Marshall exhibits in the Buckeyes offense is that of the deep threat. With Devin Smith no longer doing things like this on a regular basis, it has been Marshall who has emerged as the Buckeyes receiver with the speed and route running ability to punish any defense who does not respect the deep pass.
While we have seen mixed results this season when Ohio State has attempted to throw the deep ball, Marshall has still found a way to be the recipient of several lovely bombs from both Jones and Barrett. The video below depicts one of these bombs which occurred in the 3rd quarter of Ohio States 49-28 win over Maryland.
On 1st down just inside of Terrapin territory, the Buckeyes decided to take a shot at the endzone. Jones gets plenty of time in the pocket to pump fake, set and reset his feet, and Marshall takes advantage of all this time by gaining nearly 20 feet of separation from the poor corner who was tasked with covering Marshall. Jones does a great job giving Marshall room to run underneath the football, and Marshall rewards this throw by trotting into the endzone for an easy 48 yard touchdown. Marshall's touchdowns where he breaks several tackles are great and all, but plays like this are where Marshall's development as a true wide receiver and deep threat are really on display.
"Wherever I gotta play (to help the team win), they played me at many positions, and every position I've played at, I've enjoyed being there."
The most exciting moments may still be yet to come for Ohio State's electric redshirt sophomore play-maker. If Ezekiel Elliott and Michael Thomas join Braxton Miller in the NFL next season, it will be up to current fourth option Jalin Marshall to pick up the slack and make bigger and better plays than ever before. In the meantime expect nothing less than positive yardage and tacklers grasping for air every time Marshall touches the ball, as the freak without a leash can be found anywhere and everywhere on the field, just always making plays.