Ohio State Buckeyes: Nick Vannett

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Almost as soon as it arrived, spring camp at Ohio State wrapped up. Time isn't likely to fly by quite as quickly in the offseason with the summer months sure to drag by until the 2014 campaign finally opens in August. The Buckeyes have plenty of work to do to get ready for their debut against Navy on Aug. 30, and to help pass the time, we're looking at some of the most pressing positional questions they'll have to answer to make another run at a championship.

Can multiple Buckeyes get involved in the passing game?

Ohio State finally lived up to its seemingly annual pledge to get the tight end position involved in the passing game. The next step is getting more than one of them rolling as a target to really expand the arsenal of an offense that can clearly create mismatches with size, strength and reliability in its impressive collection of athletes.

[+] EnlargeJeff Heuerman
Zach Bolinger/Icon SMITE Jeff Heuerman emerged as a weapon for the Buckeyes last season, and he could be even better this fall.
Jeff Heuerman finished third on the team in receptions last season, breaking out with 26 grabs for 466 yards and four touchdowns in a campaign that still might have only scratched the surface of his ability. And while Nick Vannett was a factor in different ways and chipped in eight receptions himself, the second option at tight end also seemed slightly underused at times considering how closely his skills match up with Heuerman's and the faith the coaching staff has in him as well.

Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have both made it well known how much they value a versatile chess piece at tight end, a player who can line up all over the field and wreak havoc on defenses by creating mismatches in both the passing and rushing games. And the threat of Heuerman and Vannett as receivers combined with their above average blocking has surely helped tip the scales for the dynamic ground game over the past two seasons.

But as the spread offense continues evolving under Meyer, there's no doubt he'd like to see more passes flying at his tight ends, particularly after getting a couple glimpses at the explosiveness Heuerman can provide down the field with outings like his 116-yard performance against Purdue and with a 57-yard touchdown catch against Clemson.

And while Vannett is unlikely to evenly match the production of Heuerman, unleashing the two at the same time can create all kinds of problems for a defense that must account for a pair of players who stand taller than 6-foot-5 and can stretch the field with their legs while at the same time providing Ohio State the flexibility to shift to a power formation depending on the personnel lining up against them. That may require getting Vannett a few more touches than the 17 he's had over the past two years to keep a defense honest, and Heuerman could no doubt use a couple more also.

The Buckeyes might even throw redshirt freshman Marcus Baugh into that mix, giving them three big guys with speed to make them even harder to defend at tight end. But they laid the foundation by establishing one of those Buckeyes as a legitimate, consistent threat a year ago -- and if they can do the same with a second, an already dangerous offense will hit an even higher level.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Spring weather has just now finally arrived for Ohio State, but its camp is already about to come to a close. Ahead of Saturday's exhibition game to wrap up the 15 workouts spread through March and April, we're taking a look at players who have helped themselves and could put on a show over the weekend, starting today on offense.

H-B Curtis Samuel

  • [+] EnlargeCurtis Samuel
    AP Photo/Gregory PayanCurtis Samuel showed his potential in a run in a scrimmage last week.
    An early enrollee, Samuel showed off his straight-line speed with one of the longest touchdowns of the open scrimmage on Student Appreciation Day, taking a handoff up the middle on a fourth-and-short situation and never looking back on the way to the end zone. Samuel's athleticism drew rave reviews even before he hit the practice field, and after being initially slowed by a hamstring injury last month, he put it on full display by bursting through the hole and pulling away from defenders in front of several thousand fans. Even more people will be watching at the Horseshoe, and Samuel will no doubt have a few chances to show what he could bring to the Ohio State offense as a first-year contributor at the hybrid position along with Dontre Wilson.
TE Marcus Baugh

  • The redshirt freshman started his career on the wrong foot off the field, but if Baugh can avoid any more of those missteps, he clearly has the talent to make things happen on the turf for the Buckeyes. Ohio State already has two talented players ahead of him at one of its deepest positions, but with Jeff Heuerman currently on the shelf following foot surgery, Baugh has benefited from the additional reps and is building a case to be included in the game plan in some fashion along with Nick Vannett. Even before Heuerman was injured, Baugh was turning heads by teaming with reserve quarterback J.T. Barrett for some long gains through the air, and more passes figure to be coming his way in the spring showcase.
RT Darryl Baldwin

  • The fifth-year senior has had to patiently wait his turn, but his time appears to have finally arrived this spring as he prepares for his final season with the program and a likely role in the starting lineup. Offensive line coach Ed Warinner has had a magic touch at right tackle during his two seasons with Ohio State, turning former tight end Reid Fragel into a professional prospect with just one year to work with him and then bringing Taylor Decker quickly up to speed last season in his first year as a starter. With Decker switching over to the left side, Baldwin has earned praise for his work with the starters and will have one more chance in live action to solidify that role as his own heading into the offseason.



WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- For all the accomplishments, there was a hole on Braxton Miller’s résumé that he had to address.

A Big Ten player of the year trophy sits on the shelf at his parents’ house. The Ohio State quarterback was productive enough last season to finish fifth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. And he is the starter for a team that hasn’t dropped a game in its last 21 tries.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
AP Photo/Michael ConroyCarlos Hyde racked up another 100-yard rushing performance in Ohio State's win over Purdue.
But he came up short in a wild overtime loss the last time the Buckeyes hit the road to take on Purdue. Miller was injured in the second half of last season’s game as Ohio State ultimately needed another extra session to win while he was being examined at the hospital.

So for all those accolades, Miller still really didn’t have a win of his own to point to against Purdue, an omission he quickly addressed in a 56-0 rout for No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium.

“Absolutely, this was self-comfort,” Miller said. “Two years ago was a hard-fought game with a crazy ending. Last year, just crazy how I got knocked out with my collarbone and things like that.

“After the last two years with this team ... you just have to come back the next year stronger with a chip on your shoulder.”

Collectively, the Buckeyes played as if there was a boulder on their shoulders as they once again made quick work of a Big Ten opponent while doing everything they can to stay in the national title conversation by stacking up style points.

Ohio State still can’t do it all on its own at this point, but Miller & Co. are certainly building a more compelling argument for themselves.

And the quarterback wasn’t the only player or position group erasing a few résumé gaps in the blowout.
  • Tight ends: The Buckeyes always intend to involve their tight ends in the offense, but it usually amounts to little more than lip service. They certainly mean it this season. Purdue had no answer for Jeff Heuerman on Saturday as he was consistently left alone in the secondary and racked up 116 yards on five catches with a touchdown. The junior was the first Ohio State tight end to post 100 receiving yards since 1996. Backup Nick Vannett tacked on 21 yards and a score in the rout.
  • Defensive backs: The secondary rarely lived up to its billing as the strength of the defense during the first half of the season, but since being publicly challenged by coach Urban Meyer, it has bounced back and, despite the loss of senior safety Christian Bryant to a season-ending injury, asserted itself as perhaps the best unit in the Big Ten. Doran Grant jumped a throw on the second snap of the game for an interception he returned for a touchdown to set an early tone, and the Buckeyes never let up in coverage as they combined with a tenacious pass rush up front to hold Purdue to 89 passing yards.
  • Kenny Guiton: Purdue’s old nemesis continued to add to his credentials as one of the nation’s best backup quarterbacks. Guiton was given almost a full half of work, and even lined up in the same formation with Miller for the second consecutive week, and again the offense never missed a beat. The senior captain completed 8 of his 11 throws for 59 yards and a touchdown, and he was explosive as a rusher in accounting for 98 yards and two more scores.

The Buckeyes could point to more feats if they wanted to, like how Meyer’s 21-game winning streak to start his tenure is the longest in college football since Larry Coker debuted with 24 straight wins at Miami in 2001-02. Or for another historical perspective, the Buckeyes have scored 50 points or more in consecutive games three times under Meyer -- and had done so only four times in 122 seasons before he arrived.

All that really mattered, though, was beating the next opponent and staying unbeaten, since that will ultimately be the only thing that determines their fate. But the Buckeyes had plenty of icing on the cake along the way.

Big Ten recruiting mailbag

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
11:00
AM ET
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.

 

Where does No. 1 TE Luatua land? 

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
4:47
PM ET
Tyler Luatua (La Mirada, Calif./La Marida) is starting to narrow down his choices and has three official visits lined up so far.

He’s not one to brag or really go that much in depth about his recruiting, but the fact he has Alabama, Notre Dame and Ohio State already scheduled shows just how high the interest is in those schools.

While there are two more officials to set up, the Crimson Tide, Fighting Irish and Buckeyes are ready to roll out the red carpet for the ESPN 300 senior -- he’s ranked 68th overall and is the No. 1 tight end at the H-position.

Here is a look at all three schools and why each makes sense for the 6-foot-3, 243-pound Luatua:

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
4:00
PM ET
We are one week from kickoff, people. One week! Remember to breathe.

And if you're not following us on Twitter, get to it. We're going to have a lot of great updates on there throughout the season, especially on game days. More than 86,000 followers can't be wrong.

Now back to the old-school way of communicating -- by email.




Ryan W. from West Michigan writes: With all the talk about the Big Ten's perception, tell me why I should even care? Outside of the new playoff committee starting next year, who cares what other people outside of the B1G think? I mean, if us fans enjoy the product on the field, I couldn't care less what someone in Oregon or Florida thinks about my favorite team and conference.

Brian Bennett: Ryan, if you want to go all Midwest isolationism, have at it. There's something to be said for just following your favorite team and caring primarily about winning the Big Ten. The success of the Big Ten Network validates this. The flip side is, if you want to take that approach, you can't complain about where your team is ranked in the polls, when it is snubbed for a spot in the four-team playoff or when the media incessantly cover the SEC. Perception can also play a large role in recruiting, as some top prospects want to go where they think they have the best chance for a national championship and national exposure. The nature of college football's postseason and the different schedules each team plays has made perception of conferences important in the big picture. But if you like focusing on the small picture, so be it.




Tom from Marion, Iowa, writes: Help me out, fellow Redbird fan. I just don't get it! Well I do get it... the SEC is King. But, in the BCS era, the Big 12 has been in the BCS title game seven times, won two lost five; ACC, Big East, B1G and Pac-12 three times, all with one title; ND o for 1. All I hear is how much the BIG stinks. Where's the hate for the others? Specifically the Big 12; they've lost five out of seven? That's what I don't get.

Brian Bennett: Huge stretch coming up for the birds on the bat. Anyway, I think there are a few things at play here in terms of the Big Ten's reputation. One is the power of the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mentality. The Big Ten hasn't had a team play for the national title since the 2006 season, and that's an eternity in our Instagram society. Also, the last two times the league played on that stage, Ohio State got blown out in consecutive years by SEC teams, beginning the whole SEC-speed-trumps-Big-Ten-narrative. Another problem is that the Buckeyes are the only conference team to play for a title, whereas leagues such as the Big 12 (Texas and Oklahoma) and Pac-12 have (USC and Oregon) have had more than one team in the BCS championship game and others right on the cusp of it (Oklahoma State, Stanford). Finally, the Big Ten has not performed well in the past couple of years against the SEC in bowl games or in its nonconference games in general, and its Rose Bowl record in the past decade-plus is abysmal.

Other conferences, as you mention, have had their own failures, and you could argue that Oklahoma has fared just as poorly, if not worse, on the big stage as Ohio State. Why they have escaped the vitriol seemingly directed at the Big Ten is not entirely clear, but some moves by the league that have been viewed as pompous -- ahem, Legends and Leaders -- surely played a role.




Darrin from Reedsburg, Wis., writes: It appears Tanner McEvoy is going to be third on the QB depth chart at best. Any chance of seeing him at wide receiver this year?

Brian Bennett: Darrin, McEvoy worked out at receiver during practice this week. Though he was rather adamant about not playing receiver when I asked him about it earlier this month, it makes sense for both him and the team. McEvoy is an excellent athlete who is 6-foot-6, and he played receiver in high school until his senior year. Wisconsin is also very thin at wideout beyond Jared Abbrederis. This could be a situation like Devin Gardner at Michigan, where McEvoy sacrifices for the team for a while before eventually working his way back to quarterback.




Brian from Portland, Ore., writes: Hey Brian -- cool name! Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said that he has the two best tight ends in the nation in Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett. To which, I would respond, "Uh, who?" Who's your pick for the top TE in the B1G this year? My bet is on someone wearing blue and white.

Brian Bennett: As far as tight end groups go, it's hard to beat Penn State. Bill O'Brien seemingly has about a dozen options there, led by Kyle Carter and Jesse James. I'm also excited to see true freshman Adam Breneman -- the nation's No. 1 tight end recruit last year -- in action this season. The Nittany Lions aren't the only ones blessed with outstanding tight ends, however. Jacob Pedersen is a proven weapon for Wisconsin. Devin Funchess could have a huge year at Michigan. Ted Bolser is a big-time receiving threat for Indiana, and Iowa's's C.J. Fiedorowicz has a boatload of ability. I even left out a few really good ones. Tight end should once again be a position of strength in the Big Ten.




Mike from Macungie, Pa., writes: Someone posed a question about Allen Robinson (I think) being in the running for a Heisman. My question isn't that we do/don't have a Heisman contender, but do you think the sanctions would put a contender from Penn State at a disadvantage? Let's say (and this is a HUGE hypothetical) Allen Robinson has as good of a year, or a better year, than last season. If he's in the top three for the Heisman, do you think the voters would take into account the sanctions against Penn State in possibly not voting for him? Matt Barkley came close two years ago, and you could argue similar circumstances.

Brian Bennett: It's an interesting question. I don't think probation necessarily hurts a Penn State player's chances of winning the Heisman. Sure, some voters might hold it against a Nittany Lions star, but think about what a great story it would be if a player had a tremendous year and led the team to a 12-0 regular season. That narrative would carry a lot of weight. And remember, Heisman voting is done before the bowls. A Penn State player would potentially be hurt by the lack of a conference championship game, as his season would end a week earlier than some other candidates. The bigger question is, of course, whether the Lions will have enough depth to go 11-1 or 12-0, which is likely a requirement for one of their players to get in the mix. And no matter how good Robinson is, receivers have almost no chance of winning the Heisman. If this guy couldn't do it in 2003, or this guy in 2007 with those ridiculous numbers, forget about it.




Shifty from O'Fallon, Ill., writes: I've seen plenty of references (to include yours in the mailbag Monday), about what Bill O'Brien can do with Christian Hackenberg based on how he transformed Matt McGloin. I think they'll likely be great together, but I think everyone underplays how important McGloin's B1G experience was to his breakout season. It's not like McGloin was a 18-year-old walk-on. Dont you think we need to pump the brakes a little before we decide the only thing between Hack and Todd Blackledge is four weeks with BO'B?

Brian Bennett: Shifty, huh? Remind me not to enter into a real estate deal with you. Anyway, I agree that they hype is probably getting a little out of control for Hackenberg, since he's only a true freshman. But that's what happens when you're the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation. I don't think anyone is suggesting that he will put up McGloin's numbers from last year (3,266 yards, 24 touchdowns) right away. McGloin, as you mentioned, had a lot of experience. But as much as I loved watching McGloin's bust out last year, let's not forget that A) he really struggled at times before O'Brien came along; and B) he never had the biggest arm. Hackenberg simply has better physical tools. Does that mean he'll grasp the system and play with McGloin's moxie this year, or ever during his career? Not necessarily. But when you combine his pure skills, O'Brien's quarterback acumen and an offense loaded with receiving targets, the outlook is pretty bright for Hackenberg.




Enrique from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Brian, put yourself in Mark Dantonio's shoes. Damion Terry has performed admirably the first two fall scrimmages. Your other quarterbacks have been lackluster, failing to make big plays. Meanwhile, your exciting true freshman is 14 of 21, for 341 yards in the air, 40 on the ground, with four touchdowns and no interceptions, and much of that has come against the first-team defense. If (yay, hypotheticals!) Terry can continue to perform this well in the fall practices, would you, the head coach, go with the young upstart? You might not get a better chance than this year to make it to the Rose Bowl after a prolonged absence. Or do you redshirt him and prep him for next year?

Brian Bennett: Next question.

Oh, sorry. I got a little too into my Dantonio role-playing. First all, let's acknowledge that Dantonio and his offensive coaches know a heck of a lot more about who's playing well in practice and who understands the system than you and I can glean from some reports and limited practice viewing. And let's not anoint a true freshman based on one glowing scrimmage performance. But I do believe Michigan State should play Terry this season, especially in the first few games, so he could redshirt if he were to get hurt. I'll be surprised if Andrew Maxwell is not the starter vs. Western Michigan next Friday, but I think Dantonio should give Terry snaps in some special packages just to see what the kid can do. He is the future, and the future is now for the Spartans. They have an elite defense and a favorable schedule, so they need to go for it this year. The last thing the team needs is a quarterback who is going to make a bunch of mistakes, and there is a serious risk of that with Terry. But he can likely be very effective in certain situations and in a handful of plays per game, giving Michigan State a much-needed different look on offense.

That's me in Dantonio's shoes, anyway. (So where's the tread?).

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
12:00
PM ET
My dog tried to play with a skunk this week. I think we're all getting stir crazy waiting for the football season.

Position preview: Tight ends

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
10:00
AM ET
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.

Position preview: Wide receivers

August, 6, 2013
8/06/13
10:00
AM ET
Breaking down the Ohio State roster as training camp starts to heat up and the program turns its attention to the opener on Aug. 31 against Buffalo.

WIDE RECEIVERS

[+] EnlargeDevin Smith, Isaiah Lewis
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesDevin Smith looks to get help from some newcomers this fall.
Top of the depth chart: Philly Brown and Devin Smith on the perimeter with Chris Fields in the slot

Next in line: Michael Thomas might not have been able to crack the starting lineup with another impressive spring camp, but the sophomore is certainly knocking loudly on the door thanks to a complete package of size, willingness to take on contact, speed and an ability to make difficult grabs with his strong hands. Evan Spencer has also shown flashes of productivity, and he could be a nice addition to the rotation if Ohio State needs to throw another body in the mix.

New faces: The lack of depth at receiver was no secret, and Urban Meyer and his staff attacked that potential weakness on national signing day by loading up at the position and landing some of the fastest targets on their board to beef up the passing attack. Depending on how smooth the transition is for Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith and James Clark, the Buckeyes may have instantly turned a spot that could have been easily tripped up by a couple injuries into a group capable of moving on without missing a beat.

Recruiting trail: Brown could find himself in elite company if he leads the team in receptions for the third straight season as expected. But he’ll have to be replaced in the offseason, and while there are already candidates to fill that void on campus, the Buckeyes are chasing recruits at receiver with the same urgency they did a year ago to make sure the pipeline is full. Four-star commits Lonnie Johnson (Gary, Ind./West Side) and Terry McLaurin (Indianapolis/Cathedral) are already in the fold, and both bring the type of game-breaking speed Meyer so covets on the perimeter.

Flexibility: The Buckeyes are much more capable of spreading the ball around in the passing game this season, and neither Meyer nor offensive coordinator Tom Herman are shy about using every weapon available to them. That should take some of the pressure off Brown, but he and Devin Smith will still be the top attractions and favorite targets for Braxton Miller after another season of absorbing the playbook and developing physically. Brown, in particular, should benefit from his improved ability to make something happen after the catch, which figures to significantly improve his yardage total as a senior.

Notable numbers:

-- Brown certainly isn’t likely to match his 46-catch improvement from his sophomore year to his breakout junior campaign, but he does have room to build on his yardage. Criticized early last season by Meyer for not making defenders miss any tackles, Brown steadily improved but still finished the season averaging 11.1 yards per reception -- and boosting that was a top priority in the spring.

-- Devin Smith has proven he can strike from just about anywhere, but perhaps more important for the Buckeyes, he’s also been able to do it when the team needs him to deliver most. On his 10 touchdown grabs through two seasons, Smith has averaged a robust 39.3 yards on his scores -- and three of them have gone down as game-winners.

-- Devin Smith and Brown combined for 90 receptions last season, and while the Buckeyes might take that total again from the starters without much complaint, they’d definitely prefer it to account for a smaller percentage of the overall production. In all, the tandem made 56 percent of the receptions for the offense and only one other returning player finished with double-digit catches last year with Spencer’s 12.

Big question: How much help can the newcomers provide?

The Buckeyes can be reasonably certain they know what they’re getting out of Smith and Brown. They have plenty of optimism for the improvements Miller has made as a passer, and they also are confident in the combination at tight end with Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett capable of expanding the game plan through the air. But Ohio State could use at least one and probably two targets who either haven’t had a chance to shine yet or weren’t on campus a year ago to add some diversity, depth and danger to the WR unit. Thomas is a likely option moving into his sophomore campaign, but the three newcomers will also be watched closely this month to see if they’ll be able to jump right in that mix or if the Buckeyes will have to continue to lean heavily on the veterans.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The last of the lists is out, and Ohio State has players all over them.

From the offensive line to the secondary, the Buckeyes had more than their share of representatives on the various preseason hype lists, which is no surprise given how high the team will rank collectively when the polls come out ahead of the opener in late August.

Obviously not everybody expected to contribute to a potential national-title run found a way into the minds of the various committees who ultimately will hand out the hardware once an actual season has been played. But just in case there was any confusion, appearing on a watch list in July isn't mandatory to lift an individual trophy in December -- just ask Johnny Manziel.

So with that in mind, BuckeyeNation offers up its own helpful list for potential voters heading into the season, taking a look at some Ohio State players who will bear watching and conceivably could draw some attention to themselves before the year is done.

Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence
  • Who should be watching: Nagurski, Lombardi voters
  • Why: The sophomores didn't play enough a year ago to generate any sort of national buzz, but there's little doubt they each have the athleticism and playmaking ability to become household names quickly this fall. Playing behind veterans in John Simon and Nathan Williams helped bring the talented bookends along slowly while still incorporating them in the rotation during their first year on campus, but the Buckeyes will need to unleash them with those seniors gone and the spots in the starting lineup waiting for Washington and Spence to show their potential off to the rest of the country. The glimpse they showed in the spring game only reinforced how high the ceiling is for the duo, even if it was only a scrimmage.
  • Dark-horse chances: No matter how much damage Washington's strength or Spence's speed inflicts on Ohio State's opponents, neither is likely to seriously challenge a destructive force like Jadeveon Clowney this season. But with breakout campaigns now, they definitely can lay the groundwork for a future run at individual glory as juniors.
Nick Vannett
  • Who should be watching: Mackey committee
  • Why: Jeff Heuerman gave the Buckeyes one entry on the watch list for the nation's best tight end, and he's certainly a deserving candidate who can make life tough for defenders with his ability to create physical mismatches in the passing game while still chipping in as an effective blocker for the rushing attack. But there's another guy on the Ohio State roster who fits that bill as well, and it's the ability to pair Heuerman and Vannett together that could make for weekly headaches for defensive coordinators trying to decipher what Urban Meyer is doing with his spread attack this season.
  • Dark-horse chances: At this point, it would be reasonable and perhaps fair to peg Vannett's chances of winning an individual award at the same level of Heuerman heading into the season. After all, both are going to figure prominently in Ohio State's plans for the offense this year and are equally capable of providing a reliable target for Braxton Miller and building the kind of statistical resume needed to win over voters. That might hurt the chances for both of them in the long run, but Vannett shouldn't be overlooked.
Marcus Hall
  • Who should be watching: Outland, Lombardi voters
  • Why: The Buckeyes have such a rich supply of senior starters, at least one was bound to be overlooked in the offseason. The right guard drew that short straw for Ohio State, but that certainly doesn't make Hall any less important to the offensive line or even that unlikely to draw some sort of individual acclaim by the end of the season. He left camp as perhaps the most improved member of that veteran offensive line, and position coach Ed Warinner wasn't shy about pointing out the refinements Hall made as a technician in the trenches. Perhaps Andrew Norwell, Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley were all more deserving of spots on the various watch lists for linemen, but Hall really couldn't have been that far behind.
  • Dark-horse odds: The Buckeyes might have a battle on their hands just to pick the most valuable blocker on their own team, so standing out from the group enough to generate the kind of national support needed to win a personal trophy will be a challenge for all four seniors up front. But at a minimum, Hall's contributions aren't likely to go unappreciated by the Ohio State coaching staff and his teammates.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The wait is almost over. The season is finally creeping up again, and the annual release of preseason watch lists for the biggest awards in college football confirms it -- and helps provide a useful distraction during the final month leading up to the start of training camp. BuckeyeNation will be tracking all the Ohio State players being tracked by the various committees and will be handicapping their odds of bringing a few trophies back to campus along the way.

[+] EnlargeJeff Heuerman
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsTight end Jeff Heuerman should have a significant role in the Ohio State offense this season.
JOHN MACKEY AWARD

  • What: The nation's top tight end
  • On the list: Ohio State junior Jeff Heuerman
  • Credentials: The position didn't get quite as much work in the passing game last fall as expected, but the load figures to increase significantly now that Urban Meyer has had a year to watch Heuerman develop and find the best way to get him involved in the offense. His physical attributes rank among the best on the team in terms of reps on the bench press and vertical leap, which makes him a potential nightmare for defenders. He's already a load with a frame of 6-foot-6, 250 pounds and more mobility than anybody that size should have. Heuerman's role was more as a blocker during the unbeaten season a year ago, and he finished with just eight catches for 94 yards and a touchdown -- actually losing a head-to-head statistical battle with fellow tight end Nick Vannett in both receptions and yardage. Bigger things should be in store for both of them this season as the offense evolves to take advantage of the unique set of skills they each bring to the field.
  • Head to head: Showcase opportunities against other tight ends currently being watched by the committee -- Ted Bolser (Indiana), Kyle Carter (Penn State), C.J. Fiedorowicz (Iowa), Devin Funchess (Michigan), Gabe Holmes (Purdue), Jacob Pedersen (Wisconsin),
  • Odds: Just because Vannett isn't among the candidates on the initial watch list doesn't mean he can't contend for the honor along with Heuerman. But the fact that both tight ends are expected to have more significant roles in the offense this fall will probably harm their individual chances of winning a major award. That personal loss, though, would be a team gain for the Buckeyes.
The day could come soon when Urban Meyer and Thad Matta will compete for the same recruit.

Such is the nature of the “new” tight end in football.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

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?


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Rising stock: Jeff Heuerman

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
10:30
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With spring practice in the books and Ohio State now heading into its offseason conditioning program, BuckeyeNation is looking back at the players who boosted their stock with the program the most during those 15 invaluable workouts. The offense will go first this week, followed by a handful of defenders who will be in line for heavy workloads this fall as well.

[+] EnlargeJeff Heuerman
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesSix-foot-6, 250-pound tight end Jeff Heuerman looks to be a major factor in the Buckeyes offense in 2013.
No. 5: Jeff Heuerman

  • Who: The junior tight end was already a relatively known quantity for the Buckeyes after providing some rugged blocking and some occasional assistance as a receiving threat last season. But Heuerman had to cede some of the responsibility to Jake Stoneburner in terms of the passing attack. But Stoneburner's departure, Heuerman's continued development and added comfort in the spread system has the 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end in position to be a major factor for the Buckeyes.
  • Spring progress: Given his particular role a year ago and his huge frame, Heuerman might not have had much to prove as a blocker this spring. But coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman love to create mismatches with their tight ends and use them in a variety of ways to keep a defense off balance. Showing more familiarity with the playbook went a long way for Heuerman and could help keep him on the field for almost any scenario -- from short-yardage to third-and-long.
  • Jockeying for position: Heuerman already owned a starting job at tight end, a spot he shared last year with Nick Vannett. The sophomore was impressive in his own right during camp, and he'll likely stay bracketed with Heuerman as the official first-teamers and keep giving Meyer a couple reasons to feel good about the amount of flexibility he'll have on offense.
  • He said it: "I’m just excited about being more of an every-down tight end, rather than last year where third-and-long, third-and-7, Jake’s in there running routes. That’s the big thing they’ve been working on this spring, being the every-down tight end. [Position coach Tim] Hinton and coach Meyer, coach Herman, they’ve been doing great getting me ready for that, and I’m excited for that."
  • Closing number: Heuerman generated most of his excitement before the spring game, but he still wrapped up camp by tacking on a catch for 6 yards in the exhibition win for his Scarlet team. He finished last season with 8 catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.

Notebook: Sophomores rack up sacks

April, 13, 2013
4/13/13
6:07
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- The work in the backfield was a little bit easier since their targets couldn’t actually be taken to the ground, lowering the degree of difficulty for defensive linemen hunting for a sack.

Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence still had to do the hard part and get there first, but that didn’t appear to be too taxing for the talented sophomores, either.

[+] EnlargeAdolphus Washington
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesAdolphus Washington, shown making a hit against UCF last season, had four sacks in Ohio State's spring game.
Over and over, the heirs to the starting bookend spots on the line took turns abusing blockers and forcing officials to blow early whistles to save quarterbacks from potential punishment. It made it difficult for anybody to track exactly how many sacks they should be credited for in Ohio State’s spring finale on Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium.

“38 or something?” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer joked. “I’m very pleased with Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington.”

That might have been something of an understatement, with Washington piling up four sacks and Spence tacking on three more, consistently wreaking havoc and showing the kind of potential that has excited the Buckeyes throughout camp.

Heading into the offseason, the emergence of the tandem up front has eased some concerns for a defense that is replacing six starters in the front seven -- including the entire group of linemen.

There might still be some issues with depth that will need to be answered when practice resumes in August, but there isn’t any question at this point who will be sliding in to replace departed seniors John Simon and Nathan Williams on the edge.

“I just went out there and played football,” Washington said. “I did what my coaches told me to do, and it just happened that I got four sacks.”

Moving forward: The Buckeyes aren’t caught up yet. But “The Chase” is on, and the margin is shrinking.

Meyer has stressed the need for Ohio State to find a way to make up for the 15 bowl practices missed because of the NCAA sanctions that barred the Buckeyes from the postseason last year, which led to the development of the “Chase” area in the practice facility where players can work out on their own doing football-specific drills. At this point, the Buckeyes have apparently scratched off seven of the dates they missed.

(Read full post)

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Front Rowe: Making Time For Family
Holly Rowe takes a look at how a little creative scheduling allows Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer to balance his personal life with his coaching life.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video