Ohio State Buckeyes: Blake Thomas

Big Ten recruiting mailbag

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
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It’s time to dip into the Big Ten recruiting mailbag and answer some of your questions. We’ll try to give everyone a chance to get their questions answered. We encourage you to send your questions by Twitter to @bbournival or @TomVH.

[+] EnlargeDamian Prince
Tom Hauck for Student SportsOT Damian Prince, who is No. 22 in the ESPN 300, no longer seems like a sure thing for Ohio State.
@darkknight1093: Does the late offer to Frank Ragnow indicate that the Ohio State staff believes Damian Prince is trending away from the Buckeyes?

Brad Bournival: I won’t speak for the Ohio State staff, but I’m almost firmly convinced the Prince-to-the-Buckeyes ship has sailed. In fact, I would put it at 95 percent right now that he signs with Maryland in February.

That’s how confident I am that Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) he stays in-state at the end. When a program tells you it wants you to be the face of the program like the Terrapins have, it’s hard to argue against it.

@dannograef: Who is the biggest sleeper commit in the Big Ten?

Tom VanHaaren: It’s no secret that I think highly of Minnesota running back commit Jeff Jones (Washburn, Minn./Washburn), who completed his regular season with 39 touchdowns. I think he’s a candidate, I also like Illinois commit Mike Dudek (Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley), Michigan commit Noah Furbush (Kenton, Ohio/Kenton) and Northwestern commit Dareian Watkins (Galion, Ohio/Galion). Penn State commit De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) is in the ESPN 300, but doesn’t get talked about enough. He’s going to do big things for the Nittany Lions.

@HoosierHolmes: How much would making a bowl help Indiana’s recruiting efforts?

Bournival: To answer that question, I send you over to Penn State where recruits have gone on record to say they won’t choose the Nittany Lions because of the inability to go to a bowl for the next two seasons.

To be more precise, winning breeds winning and attracts more attention from bigger names. The proof is in the fact the same schools in the Big Ten stay on top of the recruiting rankings for that very reason. Kevin Wilson is slowly turning the program around. If he can end the five-year bowl absence this season, don’t be surprised to see a boost in recruiting as well.

@mike_albach10: I really like Malik McDowell's size and intangibles. What do you think his ceiling is?

VanHaaren: He is ranked No. 67 overall and the No. 4 defensive tackle. He is a giant, first of all. He has slimmed down some this season, but he is still head and shoulders bigger than everyone on his team. I think McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) would make an excellent 3-technique defensive tackle for any team in a 4-3 scheme. In Michigan’s defense, he would be able to slide outside to the strongside end spot in running situations and inside to tackle on passing downs. I think he is yet to tap a lot of his potential no matter where he ends up.

@WWEFan20134: Who do you think the final six will be for the class of 2014 for Ohio State football recruiting?

Bournival: With Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional) picking Penn State I only see five. The others I feel much stronger about are Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.J./Nassau Community College), Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) and teammates Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville) and Erick Smith.

@Collin_Stauder: Could the play of Michigan State’s defense this year be enough to possibly sway (Parrker) Westphal or McDowell?

VanHaaren: Michigan State always plays good defense, so that’s not something new for those guys. I think that’s part of what attracted them to the Spartans in the first place, so I don’t think that’s a bonus at this point that will tip the scales.

I think the Spartans probably have a better shot with Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) than McDowell at this point, but at the same time I still think Northwestern has a lot to say in Westphal’s recruitment as well.

The play on the field has definitely helped attract some top prospects lately, but Michigan State needs to build on the Indiana win and show more than defense to some of their targets.

@buckeyefan686: Since the Buckeyes missed out on Gesicki who do you believe they land at tight end, or would they just not take one in this class?

Bournival: I think getting a tight end is an absolute must as I’m not convinced moving Sam Hubbard (Cincinnati/Moeller) over is the solution. Even though Ohio State doesn’t utilize the tight end much, there’s not a plethora of depth at the position. Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett will be back next season, but Blake Thomas’ career is likely done with the Buckeyes and Marcus Baugh is unproven at this point. Expect them to make a harder push for DeAndre Goolsby (Derby, Kan./Derby), who took an official visit for the Wisconsin game.

@hartley_nick: Any negative recruiting vibes with Michigan’s struggles on the field?

VanHaaren: Not yet. It was only one game and Michigan still only has one loss. It was an emotional loss for the fans because of how deeply they dig into things and diagnose the issues in specific games.

Recruits don’t tend to go that far into things like fans do. If you were to ask a recruit what they saw in that game, they would probably tell you two teams who fought hard into four overtimes and one came out on top.

If that type of play continues, though, and Michigan doesn’t show progress, then I think you could start to see some noise. I don’t think would be any issues with the 2014 class or even the 2015 kids that have already committed. If the season goes downhill, I think you’d see the most impact on uncommitted 2015 targets, but still that doesn’t seem too likely at this point.

 

Position preview: Tight ends

August, 9, 2013
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Breaking down the Ohio State roster as training camp heats us and the program turns its attention to the opener on Aug. 31 against Buffalo.

TIGHT ENDS

Top of the depth chart: Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett will split first-team work.

[+] EnlargeJeff Heuerman
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesOhio State tight end Jeff Heuerman caught eight passes for 94 yards and a touchdown in 2012. Expect bigger numbers this season.
Next in line: Redshirt freshman Blake Thomas turned in a productive spring and could push for action after sitting out last season. Thomas has plenty of size at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, and he showed a glimpse of big-play potential with a 34-yard reception in the spring game.

New faces: Marcus Baugh gives the Buckeyes another versatile big man capable of throwing hard-hitting blocks while presenting a difficult matchup in coverage, but he’s currently off to a rocky start thanks to an off-the-field incident last month that led to a suspension for what would have been his first game with the program. There is still plenty of optimism about what he can do on the field, but he’ll have work to do to see it much with all the talent ahead of him.

Recruiting trail: Urban Meyer and Tom Herman have both proven they know how to use tight ends to exploit a defense, and neither could ever have too many of them on hand to manipulate opponents. That’s why Heuerman and Vannett are likely to spend a lot of time on the field together, and why the Buckeyes are still chasing four-star recruits even though the cupboard remains well stocked at the position. Tyler Luatua (La Mirada, Calif./La Mirada) is currently at the top of the rankings among players with an offer from Ohio State, one of three ESPN300 tight ends who remain uncommitted and chased by the program.

Flexibility: Given the similarities between Heuerman and Vannett and the packages that will feature both guys at the same time, there isn’t really much need to label one of them the starter and the other a backup. There will be plenty of opportunities for each to make an impact, but it will be interesting to see if Thomas can build on his solid work in March and April and make some appearances in the fall.

Notable numbers:

-- The Buckeyes hyped the position a year ago and planned on making Jake Stoneburner an integral part of the attack as he took on a hybrid tight end/wide receiver role, but the results were uneven at best. Stoneburner finished with just 16 receptions, though 4 of them went for touchdowns as he finished his career contributing to an unbeaten season.

-- The expectations for production at the position are high again entering the season, as the Buckeyes are once again making it an emphasis to get the tight ends involved in the passing attack. There’s reason to believe it’s not just lip service from Meyer and Herman given their track records, and Vannett and Heuerman are capable of making an impact after combining for 17 catches, 217 yards and a score a year ago.

-- Baugh might have to wait his turn before getting involved much offensively, but he’s got the hands and size to be a reliable option as a target when that chance arrives. Over his last two seasons in high school, the Riverside, Calif., native caught 68 passes for 1,138 yards and scored 10 times.

Big question: How much will the Buckeyes really throw it to the tight ends?

The offense isn’t short on weapons with a loaded backfield, veteran talent blending with talented newcomers at receivers and, of course, Braxton Miller working his magic at quarterback. But even with all those options elsewhere, Meyer has consistently singled out his tight ends for praise and made clear that he has great expectations for Vannett and Heuerman. They can make a mark even without the football in their hands thanks to their strength and willingness to clear the road as physical blockers for the ground game, and neither will complain if that’s all their asked to do. But they can really tax a defense since both are fast enough to run past linebackers and tall enough to have an edge over safeties in coverage, which should make them a tantalizing option for Herman calling the plays and Miller delivering the football.
ESPN 150 tight end Jeb Blazevich (Charlotte, NC/Charlotte Christian) went flying off the board to Georgia on Tuesday. Ian Bunting (Hinsdale, Ill./Hinsdale Central) followed suit to Michigan, and Nic Weishar (Chicago/Marist) took his talents to Notre Dame.

With all three committing -- and holding scholarship offers from Ohio State -- what does it all mean for the Buckeyes?

It wasn’t your typical unofficial visit. Then again, it wasn’t supposed to be.

Outside linebacker Kyle Berger (Cleveland/St. Ignatius), who has blown up on the recruiting scene of late, took a trip to Columbus, Ohio on Saturday to see the other side of Ohio State.


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It’s time to dip into the BuckeyeNation recruiting mailbag and answer some of your questions.

We’ll try to keep to five questions a week to give everyone a chance to get their answers.

We encourage you to send your questions by Twitter at @bbournival, e-mail at brad.bournival.espn@gmail.com or by posting a question in the Horseshoe Pit forum.

Here’s the latest installment.


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Spring forward: Tight ends breakdown

February, 15, 2013
2/15/13
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Marcus BaughErik McKinney/ESPN.comESPN 150 tight end Marcus Baugh hopes to battle for playing time in 2013.

With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

TIGHT ENDS

    • Who's back: The Buckeyes had enough confidence in two young guys to make one slight adjustment in moving Jake Stoneburner from tight end to wide receiver. That move paid off so well, the coaching staff made an even bigger change thanks to the development and contributions of sophomore Jeff Heuerman and freshman Nick Vannett, handing them additional responsibilities formerly held by fullback Zach Boren when the senior was shifted over to linebacker in the middle of the year. The young tight ends proved to be stout blockers and were reliable targets in the passing game in complementary roles, and with two years of eligibility left for Heuerman and three for Vannett, that position is in great shape moving forward with the spread offense.
    • New face: After a year on the sideline, former three-star recruit Blake Thomas doesn't qualify as new to the program, but he's looking at perhaps his first real shot to try to crack the rotation this spring. The Buckeyes landed a signature from ESPN 150 tight end Marcus Baugh on signing day, but he won't be on the field with the team until fall.

(Read full post)

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ESPN 300 athlete Porter Gustin (Salem, Utah/Salem Hills) took time out to talk recruiting and more with WeAreSC's Garry Paskwietz on Tuesday at The Opening.
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