Devastating news came out of Columbus on Wednesday night, when sophomore Noah Brown suffered a broken leg in practice. Brown, a New Jersey native, was having an excellent fall camp and essentially cemented his spot across from Michael Thomas at the other wide receiver position. He was expected to replace Evan Spencer's blocking on the perimeter, while serving as one of the eventual starting quarterback's top options.
Brown was on the verge of a breakout season after shedding some weight and working out exclusively at wide receiver. "I'll say Noah Brown definitely is probably the most improved receiver right now," cornerback Eli Apple said this week. "There was a point early in camp where nobody could cover him for a little bit, he was just so physical and really good with his hands. He just catches everything."
With a key starter gone before the season begins, the Buckeyes will have to look at their young and inexperienced talent at wide receiver, to replace the 6'2, 222-pound pass catcher. The good news is that there is a bevy of talent at the position, including eight former four-star prospects and two elite athletes who happen to be former quarterbacks in Braxton Miller and Torrance Gibson. The bad news is that they are extremely inexperienced. In fact, only Thomas, Corey Smith, Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson have played significant snaps in the slot and out wide for this offense.
When looking at the starting lineup without Brown, one will see a lot of potential and a position where at least a few of those highly touted recruits will be forced to step up. Thomas is locked in at one receiver spot but Brown's position will now be a competition between Johnnie Dixon, Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, Torrance Gibson, K.J. Hill, James Clark and Jeff Greene. The H-Back position will be set with Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson, Miller and Curtis Samuel.
My projected week one line-up would consist of Thomas, Dixon (starting in Brown's former spot), then Miller and Samuel splitting time at H-Back. I expect McLaurin to see time behind Dixon, with a decent chance of Campbell and Clark, then a slim chance of the new member of "Zone 6," Gibson seeing the field in Blacksburg, VA.
Once the suspended players are back after Week 1, Smith will be able to provide veteran depth behind Thomas as a downfield threat, while Marshall and Wilson have experience playing both in the slot and out-wide. With Miller and Samuel in the fold at H-Back, I expect Marshall and possibly Wilson to bump outside.
Brown's size and physicality cannot be replaced, but there are talented youngsters waiting for their chance to step-up and make plays on the perimeter. When injuries occur to a starting player, there are hungry players in the two and three-deep who are anxious to see the field and make their mark.
Thankfully, Brown had surgery this morning and is expected to have a full recovery.