May 4, 2011
Taking a look at the tight ends
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COLUMBUS, Ohio - The tight end position was a running joke as recent as two years ago when it came to its incorporation in the passing offense.
In his redshirt sophomore season, Jake Stoneburner changed the culture last season.
Though Stoneburner became a primary passing target down the stretch of last season, his game could rise to a whole new level given the inexperience at wide receiver.
The Buckeyes just finished their spring football sessions just a week ago, but that doesn't mean the discussion in regards to the Ohio State football team dies down at BuckeyeGrove.com.
Today we start the a series in which we will look at each position on the team and discuss what we know, what we can expect, and what we have learned and break it down for the 2011 season.
First up is Stoneburner and the tight ends.
Returning: Jake Stoneburner, Reid Fragel, and Kyle Schuck
Spring Newcomers: Jeff Heuerman
Fall Newcomers: Nick Vannett
Tight end depth chart
11 Jake Stoneburner (rJr., 6-foot-5, 245)
88 Reid Fragel (Jr., 6-foot-8, 260)
68 Jeff Heuerman (So., 6-foot-5, 240)
1. What are reasonable expectations out of Stoneburner?
As outlined above, things didn't look too good for Stoneburner going into last year. A wide receiver at heart, Stoneburner dreamed of being the Kellen Winslow-like weapon in the Buckeye offense but in his first full season as a tight end that didn't come to fruition. Last year, however, Stoneburner asserted himself as one of the biggest weapons in Ohio State's offense. A year after catching only two passes in 2009, he grabbed 21 receptions for 222 yards and two touchdowns, including a three-reception game in Ohio State's win in the Sugar Bowl.
So the question remains - what are reasonable expectations out of him this year? Well, the expectations are through the roof given he is the second most experienced receiving option returning to Ohio State this year. The first? DeVier Posey, but he'll miss the first five games of next season while serving a suspension. This spring Ohio State emphasized getting the ball to Stoneburner and this could finally be the year he breaks out and becomes a consistent viable option. That's simply the case because Ohio State is limited at receiver, so this year the team may not have much of a choice but to throw it his way.
2. Could Stoneburner potentially be moved to wide receiver?
Given his roots as a standout high school receiver at local Dublin Coffman, the speculation has been that Stoneburner could be moving back to wide receiver because Ohio State needs help there. Though the speculation has been rampant, I don't see any chance the redshirt junior will be playing anything other than his current position. Ohio State has transformed his body to be a hybrid tight end and I don't think there's any chance the Buckeyes would move him out of that role. However, he was split out quite a bit in the spring and that could be indicative of Ohio State's plans to get him more involved in catching passes. Even so, he is at tight end to stay.
3. How will the absence of Terrelle Pryor affect Stoney?
It is hard to imagine Stoneburner not being affected by Pryor's absence because the entire offense will feel the difference without him on the field. Pryor, who is also serving the five-game suspension, is Ohio State's most dynamic playmaker and having an inexperience quarterback running the show will change the outlook of the entire Ohio State offense. It may have a specific affect on Stoneburner because he and Pryor have a very good feel for one another on the field. Both players have commented about the connection they have and in their third full season on the fight together it is hard to imagine them not taking that next step. Stoneburner's productivity will be altered by having another quarterback on the field for the first five games, but what receiver won't be affected by Pryor's absence?
4. What will Fragel's role be in the fall?
While Stoneburner has the starting spot all but locked up, there's more than enough room for Fragel to come onto the field and make plays. Fragel - a tall and powerful blocker - has been seen alongside Stoneburner on the field in double-tight sets. Though Fragel has earned his spot on the field because he's a reliable blocker, he spent a lot of time last year proving he can also be a viable option as a receiver. Last season Fragel caught nine passes for 121 yards and showed flashes of big play ability when he grabbed a 42-yard reception in the Sugar Bowl. I don't envision Fragel's role to be as large as Stoneburner's, but expect to see the tall No. 88 out on the field quite a bit come the fall.
5. What did you see out of Heuerman this spring?
The Buckeyes will also get fellow freshman tight end Nick Vannet in the fall, but Heuerman has been a pleasant surprise. Though he's only practiced with the program for all of a month, Heuerman has shown great strength and ability to block for someone his age. In the spring-closing scrimmage Heuerman had three receptions and was impressive as a blocker. Jim Tressel has mentioned his name more than once this spring as a player who has stood out, but its hard to imagine what his role will be in the fall. The Buckeyes have two capable tight ends, but he could be one injury away from playing time come September.
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.
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