“I told him I want to get on the field. I feel like if I sat on the bench I wouldn't be helping this team, I'd be selfish...That's not the type of guy I am." - Torrance Gibson
With just one conversation, the world was turned upside down for Ohio State redshirt Freshman Torrance Gibson. A highly recruited 4-star quarterback, Gibson possessed killer speed and a level of smoothness reserved for only the most elite athletes. Even with a commitment to Ohio State, Gibson still didn't think he would change positions as late as March 2015, but if there's one thing that is clear about perhaps Ohio State's most talented player it's this: Torrance Gibson is a competitor who wants to get on the field and make plays.
Unfortunately for Gibson, his desire to help the team and get on the field never came to fruition in 2015. A receiver room that included three players who will now be playing on Sundays this Fall was the root of the problem, but for a player of Gibson's caliber, it was still fair to ask if the switch to receiver was the right move after all.
"We've worked hard, me and him, especially on the deep balls...He comes out here and runs as fast as he can, and I throw it as hard as I can, because you can't overthrow the guy." - Joe Burrow
All of a sudden, everything was golden for Ohio State's supposed next big thing. Buckeye fan's first glimpse of Gibson came this past April in front of 100,000+ at the Horseshoe for Ohio State's spring game. Gibson didn't play perfect, but when not playing perfect still consists of two touchdowns, people tend to focus less on the negatives and more on the positives. Especially when the positives look like this:
Gibson combined this beautiful over the shoulder touchdown catch with a short touchdown run off of a pop pass, and had several other nice catches that displayed his speed and smooth ability to make defenders miss. Even with such limited film on Gibson playing receiver, it's clear Gibson has the tools to be a big-time playmaker in the Buckeyes' offense.
The problem is, nearly every year another newcomer is pushed as the next great playmaker in Urban Meyer's offense. Curtis Samuel has a very promising outlook for his 2016 campaign, but last season saw Samuel’s total touches reach just 39 (30 less than his Freshman total) even after being dubbed a "Top 5 playmaker" on an already loaded Ohio State offense by Meyer in spring ball. Before Samuel, consistently great spring game performances weren't enough to land Michael Thomas on the field on Saturdays.
I actually don't see Gibson becoming the next Samuel or Thomas, the tantalizingly talented player who still fails to receive the type of touches they almost assuredly warrant. I also don't see Gibson coming close to touching his sky high ceiling as a receiver this early on in his career. What the hell do I see then? I see the second coming of 2014 Jalin Marshall.
Gibson the Receiver
At this point Ohio State is well accustomed to converting quarterbacks to wide receivers. Even before Braxton Miller and Jalin Marshall pulled off this feat, Evan Spencer successfully made the difficult transition. While these players all had their own unique skill-set to bring to the position, most of what the Ohio State offense asked them to do was the same in terms of running routes.
Route running is a very difficult skill to perfect. Sure, it might seem easy to run a "Go" route straight past a less athletic corner, but what happens when that less athletic corner has a technically sound jam and consistently displays perfect technique in coverage? Even more importantly, a timing offense like Ohio States revolves around receivers being in the right spots at the right time all over the field in order to remain in-sync with the quarterback.
For these reasons, we should have a fairly good idea of what to expect from Gibson as a route runner. Deep vertical routes, and shorter to intermediate horizontal routes will allow Gibson to "just play" more than "think" as a receiver. This is not a slight at Gibson, as it really doesn't matter how an athlete of Gibson's caliber gets the ball, just so long as he does get it.
Jalin Marshall faced a similar situation as Gibson as a redshirt Freshman in 2014, and the ways in which Ohio State got him the ball were truly remarkable. While Marshall's route tree opened up as he gained more experience at both Ohio State and the receiver position, sweeps off of pop passes and deep crossers were the bulk of his 2014 contributions to the Buckeyes. Great athleticism and toughness allowed Marshall to take advantage of these opportunities and make big plays down the field like this:
Despite his limitations as a new receiver, Marshall managed to haul in 38 receptions as a redshirt Freshman, to the tune of 499 yards and 6 touchdowns. Sure, a chunk of these receptions came off of the quarterback friendly pop passes, but Marshall was also utilized extensively in the run game with 25 carries on the season. Which leads us to...
Gibson the Wildcat Quarterback
Under Meyer, Ohio State's offense has utilized some type of "Wildcat" package nearly every year. While Braxton Miller was essentially an all-time wildcat quarterback in 2012 and 2013, Marshall regularly received wildcat snaps in 2014, before Miller took the role back over in 2015. What makes these packages so intriguing are that they seem to be less of a package, and more of a mini offense.
When Ohio State runs the wildcat, they run it with speed. Last season if Miller ripped off a 10 yard run from the wildcat, you had better get lined up fast, because it wouldn't take long for Miller to be right back at the line demanding another snap. While we never got to see the wildcat package utilized to include the passing game, that time may be now for Gibson.
"I would love to use him as a quarterback-slash, because he's that good of an athlete." - Urban Meyer
It's not hard to imagine Gibson as this year's wildcat quarterback, and I'd honestly be shocked if this isn't the case. Whether or not Gibson can finally add a passing dimension to the wildcat offense remains to be seen, but the good news is that Gibson should be receiving the ball in a multitude of ways in 2016, including...
Gibson the Returner
Gone are the weekly emotional roller coasters that were Jalin Marshall punt returns (this is a picture of a casual over the head fair catch inside his own 10 yard line against Alabama), and while Gibson has a long way to go to be mentioned in the same breath as Marshall the punt returner, it appears as though he's going to try.
Spotted as part of a select group of punt returners at an Ohio State spring practice, it appears as though Gibson will be utilized as the Buckeyes' primary special teams weapon. It would be interesting to see Gibson's speed and frame on display for the kickoff team as well, but Gibson may be too valuable of an offensive weapon to risk injury there.
Overall, Torrance Gibson is definitely worth getting excited over. Is he quite ready to become college football's next elite playmaker? Probably not. But on an offense that is dying for players to step up and make plays, don't bet against the freak athlete to start making a name for himself in a very exciting and versatile way.