Overview - Tight Ends and Fullbacks

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Football
Final Post-Spring Overview — Tight Ends and Fullbacks
By Tony Gerdeman

In the present future of Ohio State football, the tight end and fullback will be interchangeable on offense. However, the coaches will still obviously tailor the skill to their abilities, which means that even though they are interchangeable, there will not be a “one size fits all” substitution pattern.

Don't expect Zach Boren to run a wheel route down the sideline, and don't expect Jake Stoneburner to be leading Carlos Hyde up the middle. But do expect them to line up in the same spots throughout a game.

While it is assumed that there will be a role for Boren on this team, it seems pretty apparent that the traditional fullback will be phased out after this season because none have been recruited even though both fullbacks on the team are departing seniors.

Actually, that's also an indication of just how interchangeable the two positions are. The tight end can apparently replace the fullback pretty easily. Fullbacks and tight ends coach Tim Hinton said that they aren't necessarily looking for a specific body type in recruiting, rather they are looking for a particular skill set. If they can find that in a six-foot 240-pound bruiser, then they'll recruit him. It's just that those types of guys don't necessarily make good mismatches in the passing game against linebackers.

Overview

Jake Stoneburner
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jake Stoneburner

Soon after Urban Meyer was hired, the talk quickly turned to Jake Stoneburner and what could be in store for him. He has the speed and athleticism to be the type of playmaker that Meyer is seeking. He also has the experience and understanding to make the transition to this new offense almost seamless.

Behind him at tight end are a pair of young guys who fit into the old Ohio State mold, more so than the new one. Rising sophomore Jeff Heuerman got some good minutes last year, but only caught one pass as the third tight end. Nick Vannett redshirted last year, so he'll still have four years to make his mark in this tight end friendly offense.

Incoming freshman tight end Blake Thomas is not yet on campus, and with two fullbacks and three tight ends in front of him, snaps will likely be impossible to find.

Even if the traditional fullback is not long for the world at Ohio State, there will always be a place for a guy like Zach Boren. He's paved so many roads that he should have a flagger warning on his jersey. Backup Adam Homan, a senior like Boren, has a redshirt year available to him, but who knows if he wants it, or if Meyer is interested in giving it.

Preconceived Notion

It is pretty well assumed that Stoneburner is just about perfect for what Urban Meyer and Tom Herman want to do. But the same can't be said for everybody else.

Jeff Heuerman
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jeff Heuerman

Heuerman and Vannett are both big tight ends who were recruited to play in the pro style of offense that Ohio State has run forever. Are they athletic and nimble enough to be found useful? Can they do more than block and run basic routes?

While there is obviously a place for the tight ends in this offense, the fullbacks may as well be nomads. How much use for a fullback—even one as good as Boren—does this spread actually have? Is it cursory? Is it obligatory, as in almost obliging a good kid like Boren with playing time?

Basically, the concern is whether or not the bulk of this current crop of tight ends and fullbacks is simply too lumbering to really make their mark in Meyer's offense.

The assumption is that everybody here can block, because that's been their job forever. It's everything else that they'll need to be able to do now.

Recalibration

The most telling part of watching Spring practices didn't involve what certain players could or couldn't do, rather it involved the simple fact that everybody got the ball. Granted, this isn't overly unusual in the spring for Ohio State, because we've seen tight ends and fullbacks used when it didn't matter before.

However, it was good to see Vannett have an effective spring, and then produce in the Spring Game. Heuerman talked about how nice it was to be in an offense that asked its tight ends to do different things, and it's clear that he and Vannett are enjoying their new roles. It's also clear that they're not out of place.

While some would call Stoneburner a big play threat, some of his best work this spring was inside the ten-yard line. He was unstoppable near the goal line, and will probably be a very busy target in that regard this season.

Zach Boren shares a moment with Urban Meyer
Photo by Dan Harker
Zach Boren

Boren got some carries this spring and it would be great to see him get a few during the regular season as well. But no matter how he is used, expect him to produce exactly what the coaches are looking for.

Urban Meyer mentioned several times this spring that he felt comfortable that this team is going to be able to run, and a good part of that is the way this group has been run blocking. In fact, with the switch to more of a zone blocking scheme, Stoneburner has said that blocking is even easier now.

Outlook

The bottom line is that if these two positions can handle the work, Tom Herman will keep them pretty busy. They will all still need to block, however, because Ohio State is always going to run with power.

Clearly Stoneburner should be the most productive of the lot, but Heuerman and Vannett have positioned themselves to see plenty of time on the field as well.

All in all, the Buckeyes should be quite fine at tight end and fullback. It's not only one of the deeper positions on the team, but that depth is also talented and experienced.

With the early attention this position has gained, it would be somewhat of an upset if the production didn't approach what is anticipated. Though if it doesn't, maybe that means the other areas on offense are outperforming what is anticipated of them.

Hey, it's a thought.

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