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Evaluating top options for Buckeyes in return game

Garrett Wilson-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson is the leader in the punt-return race for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Question Of The Day

Evaluating top options for Buckeyes in return game

The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State and the punt return position? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

There is no real mystery at the top of the depth chart for Ohio State. The punt-return job and the first opportunity to end a touchdown drought that dates back to 2014 is going to belong to Garrett Wilson.

The Buckeyes invested valuable reps in the wide receiver last year as a freshman, letting him learn from his growing pains and setting the stage for what should be a dangerous sophomore season. Wilson has speed, elusiveness and incredible vision with the football in his hands. He’s everything the Buckeyes would want in that role — though they will still have to consider other options at times considering his important to the offense in the slot.

So, what happens when Wilson gets a break on special teams? Or, perhaps, who might make a strong enough push for Ohio State that it might choose to go a different direction? On a team with an overflowing roster of athleticism, there isn’t a shortage of options.

Demario McCall

The veteran has been tabbed for an expansive role on special teams for years, and it simply hasn’t worked out for a variety of reasons. The most glaring concern with handing over the punt-return job to the senior is obviously his inconsistent work fielding the football and his relative lack of ball security. McCall is a dynamo in the open field, and that’s why he’s remained in the conversation about carving out a role for him at Ohio State for so long. But it seems likely that the Buckeyes will probably focus on younger options to develop them with an eye on the long-term picture.

Garrett Wilson-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Garrett Wilson is the leader for Ohio State as a punt return option. (Sammy Silverman/Lettermen Row)

Cameron Martinez

While the offensive and defensive coaches fight over where he fits best, it’s a lock that they can agree to share Cameron Martinez on special teams. The highlight reel of touchdowns from his high-school career will always be in the back of Ryan Day’s mind, and the elite physical tools he brings to the Buckeyes are begging to be used as soon as possible. As Wilson can attest, there’s a lot of pressure that comes with handling the punt-return role as a true freshman. But Martinez has the kind of maturity that should make it easier for him to slide into the rotation and leave a mark.

Mookie Cooper

Another versatile freshman bursting with electricity, Mookie Cooper might have a tough time cracking the deep rotation at wide receiver right away. But his top-end speed and ability to make defenders miss will still be tempting to the coaching staff, and the return game might be an option for the Buckeyes as they try to get him experience coming off a year on the sideline during his final season in high school. Cooper doesn’t always get the same acclaim as the touted wide receivers in Ohio State’s loaded recruiting class, but he might be the best suited to helping in the return game.

C.J. Saunders

Is the NCAA ever going to get around to ruling on the sixth-year eligibility appeal for C.J. Saunders? The clock is ticking. Nothing can ever be taken for granted with that governing body, but it’s hard to imagine there’s a case against letting a former walk-on turned captain not play after missing all of last year due to injury. Assuming Saunders gets the green light, he’s got previous experience in the role, the trust of the coaching staff and all the tools needed to thrive as a punt returner. As long as the NCAA does the right thing, Saunders will be in the mix.

Jameson Williams

Anybody with the kind of track-star speed of Jameson Williams has to be considered in the return game, and the sophomore wide receiver is itching for the chance to get his hands on the football more this season. Williams has to continue to sharpen up his ball skills just a bit to meet the high standards of wide receivers coach Brian Hartline, and that might be a factor in Ohio State’s thinking considering the importance of just catching the punt first. Maybe the kickoff-return role is the one that suits him best, but Williams should be a part of the conversation either way.

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Austin Ward

Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.