Door opens for OSU wideouts

COLUMBUS — As Kyion Grayes wrapped up his interview session discussing his second spring as an Ohio State football player, he stood up and asked how he did, given he’s only ever interacted with the media one other time since arriving last year.

As he walked off following a few side conversations, Kojo Antwi screamed out to him to join the rest of the wide receivers who hadn’t yet concluded their morning.

They all had more work to do and understood that every moment to do so mattered. Nobody is fighting for a starting spot in the wide receiver room because the guys who emerged as the top four options following Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s injury are back.

Even with that reality, there seems to be an understanding that this is an important spring in OSU’s wide receiver room.

“In my mind, there’s two starters out so next man up,” Antwi said. “You want to improve and catch some eyes. Show people what you can do, especially Coach Hart (Brian Hartline).”

The Buckeyes won’t have Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming as they make their way back from offseason surgeries. Marvin Harrison Jr. is the best returning wide receiver in the country, so while he’ll be looking for his own improvement, he doesn’t have anything to prove this spring. To a lesser extent, the same goes for Xavier Johnson.

That leaves plenty of reps for a room full of young guys who haven’t proven anything and have everything to gain by seizing the opportunity. It’s a chance to start making a move toward taking over what may be three open starting spots after the 2023 season. It’s also a chance to see whether or not you can make it in this room.

“Everyone needs that,” said Hartline, the receivers coach. “The reason why they’re here is because they were looking for that. They’re chasing the ones in front of them and they are looking forward to the competition behind them. That’s never gonna change. Hopefully, we’re having that same conversation about the guys next year about this class. That won’t change.”

Antwi, Grayes, Kaleb Brown and Caleb Burton didn’t get to do much of anything last season. They played a combined 68 snaps with none catching a pass in a year that was much different than what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from the wide receiver room.

In 2018, Chris Olave started the trend of true freshmen coming on late and making an impact. In years since we’ve seen Garrett Wilson (2019), Fleming (2020) and Harrison and Egbuka (2021) do the same.

That didn’t happen last season, and with the top four back, it probably won’t happen this year either. The 2022 group has instead had to develop behind the scenes, which at times has been easier said than done. There’s a reason some view Ohio State’s wide receiver room as the best the country has to offer, and there’s more that goes into that than just what happens on Saturday.

“People think they know how to work and they have no idea,” Hartline said. “It’s not their fault. Some guys — very few — have it, and there’s some guys like that who come to mind. That is the biggest learning curve early on. The plays we’re calling, we run a pretty complex scheme with a lot of demand on the things we do so that’s a curve ball. But learning how to work is definitely No. 1.”

“It’s either you’re gonna do it or you’re not,” Grayes said. “If you’re not going to do it then you’re not going to be out there. You start to realize that you’ve gotta get on top of your stuff.”

Nothing pushes that point home more than having some early enrollees in Noah Rogers, Bryson Rodgers and Carnell Tate, who’ve made it clear they didn’t come to Columbus to sit for very long, and it’s been noticed.

Plus that group will be joined by five-star Brandon Inniss this summer. He has a skill set that may one day make him next in line in terms of standout slot receivers to come through the program.

“Already seeing it,” Hartline said. “(It’s) no different than when Mek and Marv came in behind Jaxon and Julian and that whole class. …We’ve had that consistency (and) I love seeing it so early on.”

The Buckeyes don’t have to worry about who their starting wide receivers are for another year. But the battle to fill those spots has already started.

“The truth is they’re gonna get really pushed by this freshman group,” Day said. “The three guys that came in have already made an impact. We’ve been very impressed with them and then Brandon coming in this summer. This is gonna be a really good opportunity with Emeka out, Julian out and we’re gonna be smart with X and with Marvin. Those guys have played a lot of football. What an unbelievable opportunity for all those guys to step in and play. This is a very big spring for them.”