COLUMBUS: Devin Smith has a new routine this summer. Every day he shows up at the practice facility, he doesn’t leave without catching at least one pass — and most days it’s a lot more than just one.
Smith, a Massillon graduate, is best known for his dazzling one-handed touchdown catch in the opener last season against Miami. He led the Buckeyes with six touchdown catches, but he only caught 30 passes for the season. OSU receivers coach Zach Smith expects that number to improve this season.
“He made plays that would make you think he could be the best receiver in the country,” Zach Smith said. “Then he made plays that you said, ‘Wow, that’s not the same kid.’ I’m expecting a consistent performance at that level. Not at a good level, not a great level, but an exceptional level.”
Philly Brown is Ohio State’s established No. 1 receiver, and Evan Spencer has been praised as having the best camp thus far. Somewhere in the middle is Devin Smith, who has spent a lot of time this summer working with the coaches on route running and catching passes.
“Every day I come in here, I make sure I catch 100 to 200 balls,” Devin Smith said. “I never leave this facility without catching a pass. That’s one thing that changed from last year to this year.”
Urban Meyer has promised a more expansive offense this season, in part because of Jordan Hall’s health as the H back, and Braxton Miller’s improvement at quarterback. Devin Smith averaged 20.6 yards per catch last season, easily the best on the team.
Zach Smith thought some of Devin Smith’s inconsistency could be attributed to his youth, but now that he’s entering his junior year, that’s no longer a viable excuse.
“He had the ability and he did it,” Zach Smith said. “If you can do it once, you can do it every time. It’s a matter of committing to doing that and understanding why and how it worked.”
Miller looking for a spot
Steve Miller (Canton McKinley) entered Ohio State with great fanfare, but now he’s entering his junior season and still searching for a starting job along the defensive line. He won’t find one this fall, although defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said he knows all the positions and will be used primarily to back up Noah Spence at defensive end.
“We have to find ways to get him out there,” Vrabel said. “There’s a role somewhere on this football team for Steve. There’s guys in front of him right now, but he’s going to be a backup and play throughout the season.”
Miller appeared in nine games last season, posting his first career sack against Central Florida.
Sophomore Jake Russell (Twinsburg) was pushed down the depth chart when the Buckeyes stumbled into Australian Cameron Johnston to handle the punting duties.
The Buckeyes were left without a punter when they lost Johnny Townsend to Alabama on National Signing Day.
They entered the summer expecting Drew Basil to handle both the punting and kicking duties, with Russell available as a backup punter, until they landed Johnston, a former Australian Rules Football player.
“Isn’t that an amazing story?” said special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs, who learned to speak Australian to recruit Johnston. “[It] is remarkably different than English. We found a kid that I believe is truly special in a lot of ways. He’s a tough guy, he’s an athlete, he can run and he’s absolutely gifted with his feet.”
Johnston is 21, but will enter as a freshman with four years of eligibility.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Buckeyes blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/buckeye-blogging. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.