Certain football players just seem to have an innate ability to make plays with the ball in their hands. Guys like Ted Ginn Jr. have the ability to take a five-yard curl and proceed to run about 100 yards back and forth across the field as part of a massive gain, and that ability is not something that is coached. Some players just know where the open space is on the field is, and when these players combine this natural play-making ability with pure speed, the result can look a little something like Ohio State senior H-back Dontre Wilson.
Wilson is far from a stranger to Ohio State fans. In fact, he’s essentially the last remaining key contributor from the 2013 team that lost to Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Injuries in 2014 and 2015, plus loaded receiver groups in both years have led to Wilson failing to replicate his freshman year impact as an all-around playmaker, but there is reason to believe that things could be different in 2016.
The problem with Wilson has never been talent. Rather, it’s been production and remaining on the field. For a player with Wilson’s 4.4 speed, there is absolutely no reason why Wilson has just one career play of at least 40 yards. There have been roughly 50 other instances where it appears that Wilson is just about to run away from everybody, but a lagging teammate or last-gasp arm tackle has always been Wilson’s kryptonite.
Wilson has always had the skill and mindset to excel in the Ohio State offense, but as Urban Meyer has stated, “(Dontre’s) never been a full-time player because he's never been big and strong enough.” Wilson now reportedly weighs 195 lbs (up from 180 lbs), and showcased the type of effort and blocking ability in 2015 that will be critical in earning Wilson a full time spot in the Buckeyes’ offense. Wilson will have to earn his touches just like every other talented Ohio State receiver, but if he can stay healthy, look out, because put simply: Dontre Wilson can do things on the football field that others can not.
Wilson the athlete
For Ohio State receivers Noah Brown and Torrance Gibson, most fans and analysts are relying on practice tales and high school film to form their opinions. With young and talented players sometimes this small amount of information is simply all that’s available, and this can sometimes lead to seemingly can’t-miss prospects proving to be massive misses.
In Dontre Wilson’s case, there is no doubting that he can be a play-maker on this Ohio State offense. The flashes of potential have been seen, and Wilson is a handful for defenses to deal with in the open field.
A play that starts out as a simple sweep to the outside ends in complete chaos for the Wisconsin defense. Sometimes ball carriers will try to force a cutback or a run to the outside that simply isn’t available, but here Wilson does a great job at taking what the defense gives him. Upon attempting to reach the corner Wilson is spun around by inside pursuit, and rather then dive ahead for an extra yard or two like most players would, Wilson takes off across the field and outruns several pursuing defenders for a big gain.
Players with the ability to make something out of nothing can give opposing defenses big-time headaches. Even the perfect defense can’t stop certain athletes from making plays on the football field, and it’s safe to say that Wilson possesses this type of ability to turn a defense inside-out with his speed alone. The hope in Columbus is that the extra 15-20 lbs Wilson has added since the above clip will be enough to keep him healthy enough to make plays like this on a consistent basis.
Wilson the receiver
Wilson may not have the surest and most consistent hands ever (fumbles and drops against Michigan State in 2014 showcase this unfortunate reality), but when the ball is in the air Wilson has displayed the ability to go up and get the football by any means necessary.
Sometimes with certain ‘great catches’ there is a bit of a sigh that goes along with the play. Catching the ball counts just the same whether it’s done with one hand or two, but plays like Braxton Miller against Rutgers last season often left me shaking my head. Great catch, I guess, but maybe just catch the ball when it hits you in the chest next time?
Anyways, the only reason why suspect-great catches like Miller’s bother me is because they take away from some truly elite level catches like the one Dontre Wilson snags below against Virginia Tech in 2014.
Not only does Wilson have to make a play on the ball with just one arm, but he has to go around and over top a Virginia Tech safety who has great inside position to make a play on the ball. While the unfortunate outcome of this game may lead to a spotty memory of this catch among Ohio State fans, the level of difficulty was right up there with Mike Thomas’ snag against Alabama and even Devin Smith’s catch that (probably) inspired Odell Beckham Jr. to do something similar.
Wilson’s short stature and ability to run the football means that he likely won’t be asked to make too many contested catches down the field, but don’t be fooled: Wilson is a much more than just a fast athlete playing receiver. Truly great catches like the above don’t just happen by accident.
Wilson the football player
So why hasn’t the playmaking athlete with great catching ability been making more noise out of Columbus? Untimely injuries and a loaded depth chart at receiver have caused Wilson to miss nearly half of 2014 and 2015 combined, but there was also the issue of Wilson not properly embracing the need to become a complete football player and provide the type of blocking ability that is a required from a full-time Ohio State receiver. This changed in 2015.
Wilson’s added weight and opportunity in the offense could be the extra factors needed to make Wilson’s explosive 15 yard runs where he just couldn’t quite shake one last man, into explosive 60 yard gallops. It remains to be seen if Wilson’s improvement will be enough to take touches away from the more consistent Curtis Samuel or the insanely talented Torrance Gibson, but if Wilson continues to play his tail off like in the above clip, he’ll find a spot on the offense, because unleashing this kind of speed in any manner on the football field will reap benefits for Ohio State. Maybe his career hasn’t gone quite the way he wanted it to, but remember: it only takes Dontre Wilson about 4.4 seconds to go from an afterthought to the focal thought on the football field, and that is a scary weapon for Ohio State to have at their disposal.