COLUMBUS â€” Brian Hartline has his hands full at Ohio State this season.
The third-year wide receiver coach has recruited well and shown he can coach any receiver put in front of him. But his challenge is unique this season as the Buckeyes prepare for a shortened and delayed season. Hartline has a mix of veterans and talented young freshmen.
The key is to find where they all fit in the offense, how they fit in and which players are most ready to fit in. For Hartline, the name of the game is versatility.
“If we’ve learned anything in these times, it’s about being multiple,” Hartline said on a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday. “It’s about being versatile. So we have a lot of contingent plans. At the end of the day, we’re always trying to find a way to get the best players on the field.
“It’s not about this position, that position. It’s about, you know, the best players play. Obviously, that can change from an availability standpoint, week-to-week with injuries and other dynamics but we feel pretty good on the way these guys are working and he expectations that come with being versatile.”
Junior standout Chris Olave has been versatile his entire career. Superstar sophomore Garrett Wilson is making a switch to the slot. The four freshmen all have to find their roles before the season opener on Oct. 24.
There’s plenty to still hash out in the wide receiver room. So Hartline and the pass-catchers met with the media Tuesday afternoon to provide an update, and Lettermen Row is breaking down What We Learned from Zone 6.
Garrett Wilson ready to dominate in slot
Garrett Wilson did everything he could as a freshman at Ohio State to live up to his five-star billing out of high school. The talented freshman caught 30 passes for 432 yards and five touchdowns in his first season. But now he’s expected to take another step in his development — and he’ll be doing it from a new position.
Wilson will take over in the slot for K.J. Hill, the all-time receptions leader in Ohio State history. Those are big shoes to fill, but Wilson feels like he’s more than capable to make an impact, no matter where he lines up on the field.
“It wasn’t something I was looking forward to, it was just whatever coach wanted me to do, I was able to do that,” Wilson said. “It started in the spring, and I’d still say I need to work on a lot because it’s just a whole new position with all the intricacies of playing in the slot. But I feel like I’m getting used to it every day. I’m just worried about getting better every day at the position, understanding coverages, stuff like that.
“I’m definitely excited to be in the slot, be a little bit more involved.”
The versatile playmaker has been watching film of Hill, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams and Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs to study the ins and outs of playing on the inside. All three of them put up huge numbers in a versatile role. Wilson is hoping to do the same.
Buckeyes could be deeper than ever
Ohio State has recruited wide receivers arguably better than any other program over the last two cycles. The Buckeyes brought in Garrett Wilson and Jameson Williams, both top-100 players in the 2019 class. They brought in four receivers in the 2020 class, all top-100 players in their respective class. And before those two cycles, the Buckeyes recruited Kamryn Babb and All-America candidate Chris Olave.
This could be the deepest wide receiver room Brian Hartline has had with the Buckeyes. And he’s willing to do some shuffling of positions to get the best playmakers on the field.
“I have no issues moving anybody to any position if it gets the right people on the field,” Hartline said. “We’re still Ohio State. We still have a lot of guys that are not just in the first, second and third, fourth guy. We’re always trying to be at least two-deep, if not more. I’d argue that we’re closer to three-deep than ever.
“[There are] no qualms about moving anybody anywhere if they’re able to play at a high capacity, a high level at different spots.”
Wilson has already made the move to an inside position. And the talented freshmen are still finding their way early in their careers. Movement will be key when the roster is as deep as the Buckeyes have.
Jameson Williams more focused, ready to contribute
Jameson Williams has been overshadowed by classmate Garrett Wilson so far during his career. But that could change soon.
With the departure of three more seniors after last season, Williams will have to play a big role in the Buckeyes offense this season alongside Wilson and Chris Olave. Williams has taken plenty of steps forward to be ready for the challenge in his second year with the Buckeyes.
“I feel like I’ve been more focused and I feel like I got better with everything, in the classroom, on the field, so it works both ways,” Williams said. “I just feel like I was more focused and got a lot better with everything.”
Last season, Williams showed off his blazing speed with a long catch-and-run touchdown early in the season and had a few catches to build off. But now, he has to continue improving and becoming a go-to weapon for Justin Fields in the offense. A second year in the program will help him.
“He’s a year older,” Hartline said. “He has an opportunity to build a portfolio over time. He’ll even tell you he could do better than he currently is. That mindset is really important. He’s trained well. He had a great offseason. Academics are coming up. All of that plays a part. I think the body of work has now continued to compile.
“We have a ways to go, but I think he’s doing a good job in that light. He’s not the only guy, but he’s doing a good job.”
Kamryn Babb building toward impressive comeback
Kamryn Babb had injuries even before he arrived at Ohio State, and they haven’t slowed down for him yet.
In his first summer on campus, Babb tore his ACL and missed the season. After rehabbing and returning to the field, he tore his ACL again. Both of those injuries came after he suffered a torn ACL during his final year of high school football. He just can’t catch a break.
But now healthy again, Babb is beginning to show why he was one of the top receivers in the country in the 2018 recruiting class. He has worked hard to get healthy.
“Kam Babb is a special individual,” Hartline said. Any time he’s around the team or in the room or on the field, he’s going to bring a dynamic that is special. I think that he’s a great young man, a great football player, an even better young man. I think that we’re blessed to have him here. Great to see him out there catching footballs, making plays.
“I’m very excited to see what his future holds.”
He might even make an impact for the Buckeyes offense this season.