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June 19, 2013

Buckeyes receivers look to continue tradition

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- During an interview session in April, Ohio State wide receiver's coach Zach Smith was asked if there was an adjustment period that his players had to go through when Urban Meyer and his spread attack took over the formerly traditional Buckeyes offensive approach. And while Smith admitted that his position group was being asked to do things differently than they had been in the past, he was also sure to note that life in the limelight shouldn't be anything new for wide receivers at Ohio State.

"There have been seven first-rounders since 1995, more than anyone else in the country," Smith said. "I don't think there's been a university in the last 17 years that has produced wideouts like this place has."

As it turns out, Smith is right -- and then some.

With Joey Galloway (1995), Terry Glenn (1996), David Boston (1999), Michael Jenkins (2003), Santonio Holmes (2006), Ted Ginn Jr. (2007), and Anthony Gonzalez (2007) all having been chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft in the past 17 years, no program has produced as much elite NFL-ready talent at the wide receivers position as the Buckeyes have in recent memory. In fact, no school in the past 27 years has produced as many first round wide receivers as Ohio State has, despite the Buckeyes' former reputation of being a ground-and-pound Big Ten program.

"A lot of people think of the Big Ten and Ohio State as three yards and a cloud of dust," former Buckeyes head coach John Cooper told Rivals in 2006. "But, that isn't the case anymore."

Although Cris Carter -- who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer -- may have set the standard for great Ohio State receivers during his college career from 1984-1986, it's not a coincidence that the Buckeyes' string of first round picks began with four players that were recruited by Cooper. Ohio State's head coach from 1988-2000, Cooper helped usher in a new era of balanced offense in Columbus, that featured speedsters like Galloway and Glenn, and a physical freak of nature in Boston.

"I realized a long time ago that you can't be one-dimensional on offense in the Big Ten," Cooper said. "Defensive coordinators are too smart in that league and you can't run against eight-man fronts. You had to be balanced and use your receivers to attack defenses. And we were fortunate enough to have the talent to do that."

Cooper's successor, Jim Tressel, had a reputation of being a conservative play-caller on offense, but still helped send Jenkins to the NFL, where he is in the midst of an 11-year career. Tressel also recruited Ginn and Gonzalez to Ohio State, where they played key roles in the development of 2006 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith, as did Holmes, who was named the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It's been six years since the Buckeyes have had a first round pick in the NFL Draft, but if Meyer's track record is any indication, that streak should be coming to an end sooner rather than later.

During his time as the head coach at Florida from 2005-2010, Meyer had six wide receivers drafted from his program, including 2009 first round pick Percy Harvin. As Smith explained back in April, the wide receiver position is a crucial one in Meyer's scheme, and if played correctly, should prepare players for potential professional careers.

"Our offense is built around the wide receiver position in the throw game," Smith said. "We rely heavily on them in the throw game not to be a simple college offense. We ask them to do a lot of stuff, and they are receiving an NFL education at the position as far as reading coverages, reading defenders' techniques, understanding how to attack those."

Described a year ago as a "clown show," it's clear that the wide receivers didn't match the expectations that Meyer, Smith, and Ohio State history have set for them. But with one full season and another spring practice period under their belts, Smith believes that the wide receivers are taking the necessary strides towards continuing the tradition that's been set before them.

"I think they weren't ready, they didn't know how significant that expectation was -- and now they know," he said. "Now they've taken that extra step to commit to learning that and understanding that, and thriving and flourishing with that."



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