Let’s cut right to the chase, Ohio State’s receiving corps will be extremely raw and inexperienced in 2011.
If losing Dane Sanzenbacher (55 receptions, 948 yards, 11 TDs) to graduation weren’t enough, the loss of Devier Posey (53 receptions, 848 yards, 7 TDs) to suspension leaves exactly two scholarship players with even the slightest amount of game day experience at the start of the season.
Losing Sanzenbacher’s production and consistent presence in the lineup will be particularly difficult to duplicate. Not only was he good enough to earn team MVP honors in 2010, he put together arguably one of the ten best seasons for a receiver ever at Ohio State.
Beyond his production, the intangibles Sanzenbacher brought to the field will be what the offense misses most. He was always in the right place at the right time and was the perfect security blanket for a quarterback in need of a consistent target.
His performance in the Sugar Bowl was the culminating illustration of his knack for the clutch play. Buckeye fans may look back on that performance fondly during a potentially rough start throwing the ball in 2011.
Yes, the beginning of next season is coming together like the perfect storm… if that storm resulted in a non-productive passing attack. The Buckeyes lose their most consistent receiver in Sanzenbacher, their most dynamic receiver in Posey, return almost zero experience behind them, and as the sour cherry on top, will be breaking in a brand new quarterback.
The return of Posey and Pryor from suspension will obviously provide a jolt at some point during the season, but even the most optimistic fan has to admit that if the running game is not clicking right away, the Buckeyes may be in trouble early in the year.
As bleak as things may seem, all is not lost. This is Ohio State, and there are talented receivers… we just haven’t seen much of them on the field yet.
So, in order to introduce the players as well as to inject some optimism in the conversation, what follows is a little ‘this player may remind you of…’ analysis.
#10 Corey Brown
5’11″ 170 lbs.
With 8 receptions for 105 yards and a TD last year, Brown will be the most experienced receiver at the beginning of 2011. He played in all 13 games a year ago, but outside of some notable drops against Iowa, failed to make much of an impact on the field.
Now that we have the whole inexperience angle out of the way, it’s time to go positive.
Corey Brown reminds me of Ted Ginn Jr.
Optimistic enough for you? That was a rhetorical question, I just went plaid with that comparison.
Brown has similar game breaking speed and elite athleticism. While he might not be as fast as Ginn (we might never see someone who is), he can be just as dynamic of a playmaker for the offense.
Brown didn’t have a chance to show that during a game last season, but he was clearly impressive during practice. You don’t pass up several senior players on the depth chart as a true freshman without kicking some ass, particularly on a Jim Tressel coached team.
Brown is nearly a lock to be a starter next year, and if the new quarterback can get him the ball in space, he will make plenty of noise.
#80 Chris Fields
6’0″ 185 lbs.
The other “experienced” receiver on the roster, Fields played in 8 games last season and recorded 3 catches for 22 yards. I will spare you from now on; I promise not to talk about inexperience from this point forward. Instead, let’s jump right to the comparison… Chris Fields reminds me of Dane Sanzenbacher/Anthony Gonzalez.
I know I am not going very far back here, but like Sanzo and Gonzo, Fields is known for precise route running and quickness in and out of his breaks. In other words, he is the perfect candidate to line up as the slot receiver in 2011.
Fields is in line to be the next ‘middle of the field’ specialist for the Buckeyes, and if he can continue the legacy that Gonzo and Sanzo have recently established, the receiving corps will be one step closer to not missing a beat.
#18 T.Y. Williams
6’5″ 218 lbs.
With height that you can’t teach and glowing reviews from his coaches, Williams is one of the most exciting young prospects that will be competing for playing time next season. While players like Fields are best suited going across the middle, Williams seems destined to stretch the field on the edge.
His combination of height and athleticism are exactly what you look for when you say things like “throw it up and let them go get it.” Unfortunately, Ohio State may not have a QB with the confidence to air it out early in the season, but once Pryor returns, T.Y. could be a huge (literally) threat down field.
Williams reminds me of Michael Jenkins. He has the same frame and could develop into the same go-to presence on the field. What made Jenkins an all time great was his unbelievable consistency and precision running routes. The QB always knew exactly where he would be on the field.
If Williams can develop that kind of relationship with his QB… whoever that may be, he will be a good one for a long time in Columbus.
#6 James Louis
5’10″ 176 lbs.
A dynamic playmaker from Florida, James Louis reminds me of fellow Floridian Santonio Holmes. Louis is similar in stature and also shares the same electricity in the open field.
I am turning into a broken record here, but what really separated Holmes was his precision route running and consistency on the field. If Louis (or any of the other young receivers) want to break into the starting lineup, the devil will be in the details. Whoever can be where the quarterback expects them to be most often will earn playing time.
A year in the system should have given Louis plenty of time to work on the details that can turn a dynamic athlete into an outstanding receiver. If he can translate his potential into performances on the field, he has the chance to be another great Buckeye WR.
#15 James Jackson
5’10″ 184 lbs.
(Transfer rumors not with standing) Jackson has been in the system longer than almost any other receiver on the team. Unfortunately, he failed to show up on the depth chart last season (after taking a redshirt year in 2009) and it appears that he has been passed by some of the younger players on the roster.
Luckily for him, 2011 is the perfect year to make a move and get on the field. If Jackson can put together a solid spring, he will have the same chance as everyone else to receive playing time.
Jackson will also have an opportunity to make a splash in the return game at the very least. With Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry most likely focusing exclusively at RB, returning kicks may be Jackson’s best opportunity to make an impact in 2011.
#14 Verlon Reed
6’0″ 190 lbs.
A wildcard in the competition for playing time, Reed played QB in high school before switching over to receiver at Ohio State. He may have gained some insight into route running during his time at QB, but he is likely still too raw to see the field in 2011.
There are several incoming freshman that may see the field early in the year (Evan Spencer, Devin Smith). However, the chances of them making an impact, particularly after missing spring practice, are minimal. It wouldn’t be surprising to see both of them take a redshirt.
That leaves Ohio State with three players competing for time primarily on the perimeter (Corey Brown, T.Y. Williams, Devier Posey), and three players fighting for time in the middle (Chris Fields, James Louis, James Jackson), with some wildcards thrown in for good measure (Verlon Reed, Evan Spencer, Devin Smith).
The perimeter/inside receiver framework is an extremely rough standard to go by, of course, and the best players will be on the field regardless of where they may be best suited to play.
During the suspensions, I will go with Corey Brown and Chris Fields as the primary receivers with T.Y. Williams and James Louis working off the bench.
Post suspensions, Devier Posey and Corey Brown will be the two primary receivers with Fields, Williams, and Louis working their way in during multiple receiver sets.
It may be a bumpy ride early, but it is also exciting anticipating what so much young talent can do when given the opportunity.