Ohio State had one of the best seasons in program history last year, and it came with the help of some freshmen. Now as the younger Buckeyes enter Year Two for the Buckeyes, they may be expected to take on expanded roles. Lettermen Row is breaking down a play from each key freshman and how it can help provide a glimpse into each of their futures. First up: Garrett Wilson and his move to slot receiver after being outside most of his debut campaign.
COLUMBUS — Garrett Wilson can do it all for Ohio State.
He showed an ability on the outside and in the return game as a true freshman last season. But when the Buckeyes are able to return to the practice field — whenever that may be — Wilson will continue his transition to the inside. Ohio State is going to have to find production from the slot after losing its all-time receptions leader K.J. Hill to graduation.
Hill’s presence across the middle and in the slot can’t be overstated, so if Wilson is willing and able to move there to help the offense, it will give Justin Fields a better chance of finding the sophomore while also spreading the ball around to a bevy of talented weapons. Wilson isn’t the only option in the slot, but he might be the answer.
“I think when you look at [Wilson’s] background, his basketball background, his spatial awareness is off the charts,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “His range is really good. He can operate in short areas. And the other thing for him is he can time up [routes] down the field. He’s got a unique skill set.
“But I think his ability to catch the ball, put it away, run after the catch so quickly is something you want out of a slot receiver. And running option routes, setting up defenders and understanding space and everything like that, it happens a lot faster in there. But I think his skill set fits that. The same with Jaxon, I think they fit that way. So that’s why we made that move.”
One play against Michigan stands out. It shows that Wilson can make plays in the open field from a quick route, and it showed what he can do with the ball in his hands quickly.
Ohio State only had a one-point lead on the road early in the second quarter when Fields got the ball into Wilson’s hands. And 41 yards later, Wilson was finally brought down after a massive play that set up a J.K. Dobbins touchdown run. Wilson didn’t begin the route in the slot. He was technically the furthest man outside, but as Dobbins ran a wheel route, the Buckeyes designed the play for Wilson to run a rub-concept and find the open field, something they asked their slot receivers to do often.
Wilson wasn’t recruited because he could run across the middle during a crossing route and sprint through the open field. Catches like the one he made against Miami (Ohio) for a touchdown or the acrobatic catch against Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl are examples of what Wilson is capable of doing. But the catch and run in The Game last November provided a glimpse of Wilson’s versatility. He can make plays at any space on the field — and in any situation.
If the Buckeyes are needing a slot receiver, they won’t need to look far. Garrett Wilson is right there in the room already, and the transition to the inside should be as seamless as the catches he made on the field last season.