Just call Philly Brown Ohio State's top target
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Whether his coaches call him Corey or call him Philly, all that matters to Ohio State's Corey Brown is that they just keep calling his number.
Brown, dubbed "Philly" because of his hometown to differentiate him from defensive back Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown, has suddenly become the long-awaited go-to guy at wide-receiver for the Buckeyes.
"I just like the position I'm in right now, basically doing a little bit of everything," he said. "It's obviously a perfect position, being able to get some carries, being able to do the screen passes and also getting some downfield throws."
His name might not be distinctive but his numbers are.
The junior had 12 catches in the 12th-ranked Buckeyes' 17-16 win on Saturday at Michigan State. To put that into perspective, the leading receivers for the Buckeyes during the 2011 season had 14 catches.
"He's really improved. It couldn't happen to a guy that's more committed to excellence," said head coach Urban Meyer, who had verbally savaged his receivers for several months. "The good thing is he's not near what he can be."
Brown has 32 catches for 317 yards and a touchdown so far for the Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten), who host No. 21 Nebraska (4-1, 1-0) on Saturday night in a major showdown.
He's tied for 30th in the nation -- something almost unheard of in recent years for an Ohio State wide-out -- in receptions per game (6.40).
Much of his success stems from his volatility on short screen passes. But he's also helping the Buckeyes out by simply attracting extra defenders wary of the threat he poses.
"Philly Brown has come along and really drawn a lot of attention in coverage," receivers coach Zach Smith said.
This is all a world away from what Meyer and his staff thought last spring about Brown and his fellow wideouts. Meyer was grumpy about a lot of areas, but none more than the supposed pass-catchers. He said they were "not functional" and "probably the most unprepared group I've ever dealt with as far as practice."
Ohio State threw for just 127 yards a game last season -- near the bottom in all of major-college football -- with a freshman quarterback (Braxton Miller) and a group of targets who frequently dropped the passes that did get through to them. Brown, Devin Smith and Jake Stoneburner shared the team lead with a whopping 14 receptions -- in 13 games.
The Ohio State leader in catches hadn't had fewer since tight end Fred Pagac hauled in a grand total of nine in 1973, back when coach Woody Hayes favored "three yards and a cloud of dust" and disdained the forward pass.
In Year One of Meyer's no-huddle, spread attack that is heavy on passing, the Buckeyes are still a shadow of what he hopes they will become when it comes to throwing the ball. But it's still a step in the right direction -- even though Ohio State still needs to break more short passes for long touchdowns.
"He's allowed to make a guy miss once in a while and get more than eight yards," Meyer said of Brown, only half kidding. "Our spread is going to attack you vertically and horizontally. And our horizontal guy has to be able to shake loose from a couple of those (tackles)."
Brown was pleased with the catches that kept moving the chains at Spartan Stadium. But that was before Meyer got a chance to badger him all week in practice.
"The blocking was perfect, so we did a real good job on the perimeter," Brown said of the screen passes. "I've just got to get better using my vision and speed, and break some tackles."
Meyer openly says that if the Buckeyes don't have the speed and shiftiness to break long runs after a short pass, then he'll find someone who can.
"We've got to recruit, get some more (fast receivers)," he said. "I need three or four guys that can do that."
That doesn't mean Meyer doesn't recognize how far Brown and the others have come.
"I'm so very proud of him," he said. "He's our guy to go to right now in certain situations."
Still flush from his hometown Philadelphia Eagles big 19-17 win over the New York Giants on Sunday night -- and with his own team unbeaten -- Brown said he didn't care what anyone called him.
"You can call me 'Eagles' right now," he said with a laugh.
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