- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
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.
Projected depth chart: Ohio State bracketed Heuerman and Vannett throughout last fall on the two-deep, and without much separation between them, that will continue to be the case as the coaches use them depending on matchups and play to their strengths. At a minimum, Thomas will provide some backup insurance.
Numbers game: With their length and strength, Heuerman (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) and Vannett (6-6, 255) were at their best as blockers for Ohio State's relentless rushing game, winning battles at the point of attack or taking on defenders at the second level. But they can make plays for quarterback Braxton Miller down the field as well, combining for 17 receptions, 217 yards and a touchdown as they picked up the slack at tight end from Stoneburner. Those are relatively modest numbers, but both proved capable when opportunities come their way -- likely setting them up for more this fall.
One to watch: The coaching staff has seen plenty from the tight end tandem it put on the field on the way to a perfect record, certainly liking what it saw both on the ground and through the air. That leaves the spotlight on Thomas to see how he could fit in down the road. A respected blocker coming out of high school who also showed the ability to hold a defense accountable as a receiver, the clock could be ticking for Thomas this spring to prove he can contribute at a position that will get a bit more crowded with the arrival of Baugh for training camp.
He said it: "That move could not have been made if you didn't have Heuerman and Vannett. You just couldn't do it, as much as you would want to do that. Heuerman has been coming on, he has been playing 10 or 15 plays a game, and now he played [almost] 50. Same with Nick Vannett, those guys are really coming on and the good thing is those guys are around here for a few years." -- coach Urban Meyer in October, after moving Boren to linebacker