(*11*) Emeka Egbuka can help Buckeyes on offense and on kick returns in 2022

The talent in Ohio State’s wide receiver room is unquestioned. It may be the most talented position group in the country; that’s at least a discussion.

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Because of this talent, wideouts who might start from Day 1 at other programs have to wait their turn with the Buckeyes. Emeka Egbuka is a good example of this fact.

Despite being the top-ranked receiver in the 2021 recruiting class, Egbuka was more or less a backup as a freshman. He played 115 snaps on offense last year, which included five games he didn’t step on the field as a receiver. In that time, Egbuka managed nine catches for 191 yards.

As a sophomore, and with less competition in front of him thanks to the departures of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, the expectation is that Egbuka will see more time on offense in 2022, perhaps even starting alongside junior Jaxon Smith-Njigba and classmate Marvin Harrison Jr. While it’s likely, Egbuka still has to contend with plenty of talent around him, as wide receivers coach Brian Hartline said he has a group of six guys that are ready to step in and play as fall camp comes to an end and the new season looms.

But where Egbuka can certainly help the Scarlet and Gray is on kick returns.

“I think that’s something we’re going into Week 1 with and just gonna be focusing on making sure we secure the kick and hopefully spring something big,” Egbuka said on Wednesday.

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While Ohio State has had players that fit the profile of elite returners in the past, it’s been a while since the Buckeyes got elite production. It was 2010 against Michigan when the Scarlet and Gray, courtesy of Jalin Marshall, last returned a kickoff for a touchdown.

Last season, Egbuka showed more than promise on special teams, taking over at kick returner for running back TreVeyon Henderson after the first week of the season. The freshman averaged 29 yards per kick return, 12th best in the country. Each of the 11 players in front of him all found the endzone at least once.

Egbuka is confident he will do that this year.

Egbuka said. “We had great blocks last year, and I am very confident in us having great blocks again.”

While Egbuka takes pride in Ohio State’s return game and would like to end the special teams touchdown drought, he also continues to develop as a receiver. Obviously a player who isn’t afraid of competition, Egbuka understands that this was a big offseason for his future.

 

In Buckeye practices open to the media during fall camp, Egbuka often lined up as the second outside receiver opposite Harrison, with Smith-Njigba remaining in the slot. Egbuka rotated at this position with Fleming, something fans could see more during games.

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This is not dissimilar to how Egbuka was used in the Rose Bowl to end last season after Olave and Wilson opted out. In that game, Egbuka played the most snaps of his freshman season in a contest that wasn’t a blowout and recorded three catches for 46 yards.

 

A year of experience and a full offseason under his belt has Egbuka ready for a bigger role offensively in 2022, whatever that may be.

“Probably more acclimated to the college football experience,” Egbuka said of his progress entering his sophomore season. “It’s way different than high school. I mean, football is football, but at the same time, the play speed is way faster. I feel like this year, I’m playing with a lot more confidence. And I’m excited to see what the season has in store.

Being involved more with the first-team receivers in the lead up to the Rose Bowl and in recent practices has benefited Egbuka. It has allowed the receiver to work more with C.J. Stroud and begin to develop more of a rapport with his quarterback.

“It was definitely big to get those reps in with C.J.,” Egbuka said. “We didn’t get as many last year but now we’re building trust we’re able to connect more on a lot of bigger stuff. So that’s going to be huge for the season… Just getting in with C.J. And we’re here after hours and stuff like that, just making sure we’re able to perfect our craft.”

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While he hasn’t had as much time as he might have at a different program to play as a receiver yet, Egbuka’s development has continued. Hartline sees a connection between his play as a return man and how that’s helped Egbuka as a wideout in terms of continuing to develop.

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Hartline said of Egbuka. (*1*)

Like many of his teammates, Egbuka came to Ohio State to be a part of something bigger and to develop as a player. While he wants to be on the field, and he will be, Egbuka also wants to see this receiver group continue to get better and live up to its talent.

(*7*) he said of his mindset going into the season.