COLUMBUS – His punt returns were often described as adventures last season in Jalin Marshall’s first year as Ohio State’s punt return man.
He fielded balls that maybe he should have let go. He was always aggressive. Full speed was his only speed. He got close to bouncing balls he should have run away from.
“What was he thinking?” was a question spoken often when Ohio State’s punt return team was on the field.
Earlier this week, Marshall – who has developed into a nationally ranked punt return – revealed what was going through his mind a year ago. Like the fans, he kept coming back to one thought.
“I just wanted to catch the ball. That was the biggest thing – just catching the ball,” he said, with a laugh. “With me not being comfortable it made it nervous for me and obviously nervous for all the fans. With me being more comfortable (this year) everybody can be more comfortable and just relax.”
Marshall, a red-shirt sophomore from Middletown, ranks eleventh nationally in punt returns at 13.3 yards per return.
“He’s one of the best punt returners in America right now,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “He’s obviously a very aggressive punt return who has worked very hard on that. He’s very aggressive and you don’t want to take that away from him.”
Marshall, who has 23 catches for 357 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver this season, took over the punt return duties last season after Dontre Wilson suffered a broken foot in the Michigan State game.
His high point as a returner last season was a 54-yard touchdown against Indiana after Ohio State fell behind the Hoosiers in the second half. The low point came a week before that when he fumbled a punt at Minnesota, which helped make OSU’s 31-24 win closer than it could have been.
Last year he said one of the biggest things he was still learning was when to be aggressive and when to back off.
“I have to learn when to try to make the big play and when to make the safe play by calling a fair catch,” he said.
Marshall hasn’t broken a return for a touchdown this season, but he says he’s a better, more mature player in punt return situations. Almost all of his punt return experience has come at OSU. He returned only five punts in his high school career.
“It’s all about practice. The more comfortable you are back there, the better you can be,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.