Ohio State is in dire need of some new production at wideout, but luckily, they have some options. If you aren't familiar with Ohio State's redshirt sophomore Noah Brown, go ahead and fix your eyes on the motioning wide receiver positioned on the top of the screen in the below video. It'll make you feel better about everything.
At 6'2 220 lbs, Noah Brown is a force to be reckoned with on the football field. The physicality that Brown displayed in the above clip was on constant display in 2014, and it was enough for Brown to be one of the few freshman during head coach Urban Meyer's tenure to not require a redshirt. While Brown and his one career catch didn't exactly fill up the stat sheet as a freshman, Brown's presence as a great perimeter blocker gave the Buckeyes' offense a reliable backup for starter Evan Spencer.
Unfortunately, Brown's true coming out party was put on hold, as a broken leg during Ohio State's 2015 training camp sidelined Brown for the entire season. Having cut weight in the off-season from a hefty 245 lbs to a lean 222, Brown was set to start from day one for the Buckeyes before his terrible injury.
You don't often see a college wide receiver with one career catch penciled in as a playmaking starter, but with Brown, this may just be the case. Receivers with Brown's willingness to block don't simply fall off trees, and it seems 2014 was simply scratching the surface of Brown's abilities as a receiver. Plus, it's not like we haven't seen receivers continue to succeed after breaking their leg. But just where does all of this Noah Brown hype come from?
"I feel like personally he was one of the best receivers last year...Him and Mike (Thomas) were pretty much unguardable last year." - Terry McLaurin
Similar to Ohio State's redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber (who could be beast), much of what we know about Brown's ability comes secondhand. While redshirt freshman receiver Terry McLaurin may have given Brown his highest praise yet, McLaurin is far from the only one excited about the possibilities Brown brings to Ohio State's offense. I realize no Ohio State teammate is exactly going to go on record saying Brown is a bad or average player, but when you're receiving this type of praise from these types of people, it's usually for a good reason:
J.T Barrett: "I think a lot of people forgot about Noah Brown...Noah Brown was going to be a big part of our offense going into Virginia Tech until he got hurt."
Curtis Samuel: "Nobody had really seen what he could do, but Noah is a big-time player...He came in every day when players weren't here, always working on his hands, always watching film. We knew he was going to have a big season. Him having that setback, it hurt us a little bit."
Kerry Coombs (cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator): "Noah Brown is a phenomenal player...He's back, so I'm not worried about last year. I'm on to this year. He's playing. He's going to be a great player. He's hard to cover. He's a big, strong buck who can catch the ball. He is a tough dude."
And finally, King Urban: "Every injury is awful...it's not even close, it's the worst part of the job...Your heart goes out to him. You never want to say you feel more sorry for this guy but a guy like Noah Brown, there's nobody that worked harder. He was playing very well."
Typically praise for an relatively unknown player falls in one of two buckets. They're either a very talented prospect who is still learning the ropes , or they're the hard practice worker who keeps trying and trying to crack the starting rotation. It looks like with Brown the Buckeyes may have the best of both worlds. Brown's impact on the field should play a huge role in defining the Buckeyes' 2016 offense, thanks to two key attributes that it appears Brown brings to the table.
While it was a short lived storyline, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott started off the 2015 season with a bang, but had a mini slump (for Zeke's standards at least) for the next few weeks. Following an electric 80 yard touchdown run on his first carry of the season, Elliott kept his streak of 100 yard games alive in the following weeks, but the big plays fans had come to expect from Elliott were missing. If Elliott could break off multiple 50 yard runs against the likes of Wisconsin and Alabama, why couldn't he do it against Hawaii and Northern Illinois?
The answer, as Meyer explained, lied in the Buckeyes' perimeter blocking. Few receiver rooms in America stress blocking as much as Ohio State, but the group of Jalin Marshall (former high school quarterback), Braxton Miller (former quarterback, year one at wide receiver), and Michael Thomas (inconsistent blocker) while talented, failed to provide the type of consistent downfield blocking that could really spring a big run.
Obviously the 2015 Buckeyes made adjustments to improve their perimeter blocking (including the move to more two tight end sets and the utilization of Paris Cambell and Curtis Samuel as reliable blockers), but this really was an issue that more people should have seen coming into the 2015 season. 2014 had Evan Spencer's legendary blocking ability, Corey Smith's knack for devastating blocks is well documented, and of course Brown was well on his way to establishing himself as a great blocker.
This could be the secret that no one is talking about for the 2016 Ohio State offense: Brown, Smith, and Samuel could very well be the best group of blocking receivers in the country. Elliott was a master at turning nothing into something, but the more chances Ohio State running backs get to run untouched through the secondary, the better.
The look of a true number one receiver
With Mike Thomas gone, Barrett needs a new primary receiver in the passing game. Who better to fill the role than the ‘big, strong buck who can catch the ball'? Maybe a large, talented, physical and hard-working wide receiver is exactly what the doctor ordered for Barrett and the Buckeyes' offense.
The reason why I'm more willing to believe in the hype surrounding Brown versus say Torrance Gibson (not to say I'm down on Gibson) is because the hype is rooted in college production. Yes, that production has been mostly been seen in practice thus far, but that is still much better than the typical case of a new receiver being a high school stud or track star.
And guess what, worst case scenario Brown fails to become the same wide receiver he has been in practice. Opponents still better watch out, because Brown is a football player, and if not getting 50+ receptions this year is something that could anger Brown, Big Ten linebackers better keep their head on a swivel because Noah Brown is coming.