Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Robo's Crew: The 2007 Buckeye Wide Receivers

The three quarterbacks may have to replace Troy Smith, and the defense may need to shoulder the load all season long. In saying that, however, Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline, and the rest of the wide receivers will be the most pivotal players in determining the amount of success (or lack thereof) that the Ohio State football team will have next season. Two of the best Wide Receivers in school history in Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez have since decided to test their respective games against the world's best in the NFL, and waiting in the wings they have left a number of players that have been playing in the shadows of these two Buckeye giants.

Projected Starting Split End
Brian Robiskie
Junior 6'3"
195 lbs

In the early part of the 2006 season, then Senior Roy Hall had to miss the first two games of the season due to an injury, and as a result, a relatively unknown, inexperienced sophomore by the name of Brian Robiskie was given the starting role. After tallying six catches for 60 yards as the fourth (sometimes fifth) offensive choice for Troy Smith, Robiskie never looked back from that starters role. He went on to have a very solid season, catching 29 passes for 383 yards and five touchdowns that, more often than not, came in clutch situations that gave Ohio State the victory. Remember, it was Robiskie -- and not Ginn or Gonzo -- that caught the game winning touchdown pass against Michigan, and it too was Robiskie who was on the receiving end of two of Troy Smith's most magnificent passes all season long: the 38-turned-53 yard bomb against Penn State in which Smith had to reverse field (At that point in the game, Ohio State was only winning by four in the fourth quarter), as well as the less celebrated yet almost equally impressive touchdown he threw against Iowa in which he had little to no space to fit the ball in, yet somehow managed to squeeze the ball to Robiskie anyways. Time and again, Robo showed an innate tendency to be at the right place at the right time. Of course, the one major criticism regarding Robiskie's game is that he was the beneficiary of playing on the same offense as Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez, meaning that he often did not have to match up against the opponent's best defensive back on every down like he will have to this year. For one play against Michigan, however, Robiskie managed to ease the souls of all the nervous fans when he essentially made a fool out of Leon Hall (you know, the same Leon Hall that was drafted #18 and the second corner back taken in the draft). You may remember the play as the one where Smith rolled out, Robiskie cut his route back towards Smith (leaving Hall out of position), and then after catching the ball, seemingly without any effort evading the tackle of Hall, managing to take the ball another 15-20 yards upfield (If you can't remember the begins at about the 1:00 mark of this video, but I recommend you watch the whole thing just for old time's sake). Of course, that's only one play, and still leaves a lot of questions regarding his durability as a consistent #1 receiver, but I'm confident that he'll come through this season.

Projected Starting Flanker
Ray Small

6'0" 175 lbs

Ray Small entered last season as a true freshman filled with promise. Everyone had him tagged as the "Next Teddy Ginn" from the day he committed due to his similar size, speed, agility, and overall ability. However, Small didn't have the same type of impact freshman season that Ginn had, mainly due to the fact that he was stuck behind Ginn in the depth chart. He played well early in the season in mop-up time, catching 3 passes for 41 yards against Cincinnati and 1 pass for 11 yards and his only touchdown of the season against Bowling Green. However, once the games began to mean more, Small's playing time diminished, and he only caught one more pass the rest of the season, and it was perhaps his most (in)famous moment of the season. The catch made highlight reels and even made it on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays, but it wasn't for anything that Small would like to remember. The pass went for a loss of three yards, and after he got hit, it looked like he may have been seriously injured, because he didn't move at all. It turned out to be a light concussion and he was fully recovered in no time. This year, however, has much more of a positive outlook to it. Apparently, Small has made huge strides as a receiver this offseason, and is ready for prime time. Aside from being a starting wide receiver, he's also the #1 candidate to be the team's featured kick returner going into the season, and believe it or not, he has the athleticism to make people forget (at least briefly) about Ginn's contributions as a return man.

Projected Starting Slot Receiver
Brian Hartline
Redshirt Sophomore

6'3" 180 lbs
Hartline doing the little things

Hartline is the kind of player that is just filled with good Karma. He's always flying around the field at full speed, giving his full effort whether it be in practice or a game, and he's a constant contributor where ever he is. Case in point: Hartline may be best known as a receiver, but he was awarded the Special Teams player of the week three times (Iowa, Michigan State, and Indiana) for his efforts on kickoff and punt coverage. And let's face it: If he can get Jim Tressel to give him that award three times in one season, the guy is going to get his due. Well, it looks like all of Hartline's commitment and hard work is about to pay off, because he is a likely starter at receiver this season. With his height and athleticism, Hartline should have an easier time replacing Gonzalez in the slot -- the spot where Gonzalez coined the term "mismatch" -- than most would expect. If there is one thing hurting him, it is that he is a tad lanky for his height, which could lead to durability issues, especially when he has to make catches in the middle of the field.

Other Receivers to keep an eye on

Albert Dukes and Devon Lyons
Both Juniors
Dukes and Lyons both entered Ohio State as highly regarded players, but have struggled with depth chart woes and injuries, respectively. However, both players really emerged in the Spring Game, especially Lyons, who seemed to have great chemistry with backup quarterback Robbie Schoenhoft. In the Spring Game, Lyons led all Buckeye receivers with 72 yards on three catches, and Dukes also had three catches for 20 yards.

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