COLUMBUS, Ohio -- To say that Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith has high expectations for Corey Brown would be an understatement.
The then junior wide receiver enjoyed a breakout season of sorts in 2012, tallying 60 catches for 669 yards and three touchdowns, en route to being named a second team All-Big Ten selection. But when it comes to postseason awards, his position coach has adopted an attitude similar Ricky Bobby: if you ain't first, you're last.
"That's like finishing second place in a race. It's great. They thought you were almost the best receiver in the conference," Smith said. "Last year he was consistent in that he would do his job, do it well, and he would make 90 percent of the plays that presented themselves to him."
Entering the senior season of his college career, the goal for Brown is to make the most of that missing 10 percent -- and then some. After 15 spring practices this offseason, all indications are that he went a long way towards accomplishing just that.
The Upper Darby, Pa. native was Ohio State's most reliable target in the passing game last season, but Smith still sees a lot of potential left in his game. With a full season in Urban Meyer's spread offense now under his belt, Brown was able to focus on things other than just learning new plays the spring, and it showed in his play.
"He came into this spring with a different mentality," Smith said. "Not that, 'I need to run this route, get open, and catch the ball,' because he did that last year for us. He needed to take the next step into catching that route, and then turning it into something else."
After spending the majority of last season playing in the slot in the Buckeyes' H-back/'Pivot' position, the return of Jordan Hall, emergence of Chris Fields, and arrivals of Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall in the summer will allow Brown to move outside to the flanker spot in the OSU offense. It is there that the 6-foot, 187-pounder expects to makes even more plays, while not having to match up with the linebackers and safeties that he often did last season.
"I got a lot of those little intermediate throws (last season). I focused in the offseason on getting more of the downfield routes and trying to get the quick screens and all that little stuff," Brown said. "Having to come off of read-routes for linebackers, it's made me a more physical player, because I'm more used to dealing with a linebacker, a D-end, a big time safety. Now that I'm out-wide, I have to deal with somebody that's my size or smaller. I think it's easier."
It's certainly looked that way in the spring for Brown, who recorded five catches for 25 yards and a touchdown in Ohio State's spring game on April 13. After the game, Meyer lauded the offseason efforts of the player nicknamed "Philly," who he believes made the necessary strides to walk away from 2013 with a postseason honor that will leave his position coach more satisfied.
"Philly Brown's turning into a legitimate All-Big Ten candidate at wide receiver for us, which we need," the second-year Ohio State head coach said.
According to Smith, Brown has translated his on-the-field production into off-the-field leadership. For a team desperately looking to replace four captains from its undefeated 2012 squad, Brown has been mentioned as a player capable of helping fill that void, and Smith said that his big play capability has allowed him to do just that, although like his play, it's something that must be presented with consistency.
"He has the ability to just instantly turn the level of energy up on the sideline. He'll look at me on the sideline and he'll say, 'Coach, watch this, I'm going to turn it up.' And then he'll make one play and just get up excited, and all of a sudden you have 50 dudes on offense just out of their mind with energy," Smith said. "Him and I joke about it, but it's not really a joke.
"That's something that we need more consistently out of him. When you have that power and that capability, you have to use it for the good of the team. So he has it, and he needs to use it to help us."