2012 Buckeye Rewind – Fullbacks/Tight Ends
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Few positions on the Ohio State roster were in a state of flux quite like the tight end and fullback positions in 2012.
The arrival of Urban Meyer and a new offensive coaching staff meant both positions would likely change drastically from what they had been under Jim Tressel and his staff.
In today’s Buckeye Rewind, we focus in on these two positions for a look at how they changed and why over the course of Meyer’s first season in Columbus.
Expectations Coming Into The Season
The year started with Jake Stoneburner at tight end and Zach Boren at fullback. It ended with both of those guys playing other positions. Stoneburner’s switch was not nearly as extreme as Boren’s, but expectations are really out the window at that point.
Stoneburner slid over to play wide receiver towards the end of spring practice, and while he was suspended for most of the summer, expectations where at an all-time high for the Dublin Coffman product.
He led the team in touchdown catches in 2011 despite playing in one of the worst, and possibly most outdated, offenses in the country. Paired with Urban Meyer and Tom Herman, Stoneburner was expected to put up huge numbers as a fifth year senior in 2013.
Jeff Huerman hauls in a two-point converstion against Purdue to tie the game and send it into overtime.
Photo by Dan Harker
Jeff Heuerman was also very highly thought of as the backup, but Nick Vannett was still largely an afterthought following his redshirt year in 2011. He got a little love from Meyer in the offseason, but expectations were still rather low.
At fullback, Boren was headed into his fourth year as the starter, but no one knew exactly what to expect. We knew he was an excellent blocker and a physical football player, but Meyer’s offenses had not typically featured a traditional blocking back like Boren.
How the Season Played Out
The fact Boren quickly became one of Meyer’s “guys” in the offseason allowed the new staff to consider different ways to get him involved in the offense. They used him as an H-back and threw him the ball out of the backfield. They even used him as a ball-carrier early in the season, helping him get into the end zone for his first – and second – career rushing touchdowns.
This went on for about six weeks, but the big switch came in week seven. With Stoneburner already playing mostly wideout in the slot – he also played a little flex tight end – Boren was asked to hop over to defense and help them fix a problem at linebacker.
Senior Etienne Sabino was out with a broken leg and Luke Fickell was in dire straits. The move was expected to be temporary, with Boren likely moving back to offense – or even playing both ways – when Sabino came back.
That never happened. Boren took to defense like he was born to play middle linebacker, and it allowed Meyer to get Heuerman and Vannett more playing time on offense. It was a win-win.
Boren became a leader and fixture at linebacker, finishing with 50 tackles in just six games. Heuerman became a more prototypical H-back in Meyer’s offense, a 6-5 target who could catch the ball and block as well as just about anyone on the line.
Heuerman finished with eight catches for 94 yards and a touchdown. He also caught the season-saving two-point conversion from Kenny Guiton to send the Purdue game into overtime.
Just as importantly, Vannett emerged as a No. 2 target at the H-back/tight end position. He hauled in nine catches for 123 yards as a redshirt freshman and became one of Braxton Miller’s favorite targets over the middle.
What Should We Expect in 2013
Boren and Stoneburner are both gone, as is Adam Homan, but Heuerman and Vannett return to solidify the H-back/tight end position for Meyer and assistant coach Tim Hinton in 2013.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Heuerman, a 250-pound kid out of Naples, Fla., is likely to be the opening day starter, but Vannett brings an intriguing aspect to the position. He is a good route runner, a big target (6-6, 225) and a kid who can make a little something happen with the football when he gets it.
Redshirt freshman Blake Thomas (St. Ignatius) will also be in the mix this year, along with incoming freshman Marcus Baugh out of Riverside, Calif. Baugh is a 6-4 target who played in the Under Armour All-American game down in Florida this year.
He was rated as the No. 6 tight end in the country by Rivals.com and really solidified that position in the 2013 class to the point where Meyer and his staff never really had to worry about missing out on Heuerman’s little brother, Mike, who recently enrolled at Notre Dame.
There won’t be any traditional fullbacks on scholarship this fall, but Meyer made sure to grab a couple of those type kids as preferred walk-ons for 2013. Devin Hill (Columbus Northland) and William Houston (Dublin Scioto) both enrolled at OSU in January for the start of Spring Semester. Hill is a transfer from Purdue.
It was interesting to see how these positions slowly morphed into one over the course of the 2012 season. There will always be room in the game of football for smashmouth players who love to hit and block, but they probably won’t be on scholarship at OSU under Meyer unless they bring more to the table.
I like what he did with getting kids like Houston, an OSU legacy, and Hill to help fill that void at fullback. Those kids will be great practice players who bring a little physicality to the game. They probably won’t see the field much in four years, however, because Meyer is going to want as many playmakers as he can have on the field.
Heuerman brings enough as a passing target that he should be a mainstay out there again in 2012, but it will be interest to see watch what they do with these two positions. It’s possible Meyer could go with Jordan Hall or Rod Smith as an H-back type player in 2013 as a way of getting more talent on the field.
He will have some newcomers in Jalin Marshall, Ezekiel Elliott (presumably) and possibly either Dontre Wilson or James Clark who can jump right in there and carry the football.
Vannett and Baugh are probably the two guys who emerge as the more traditional pass-catching tight end. With three more years in the system, Vannett could develop into one of the better, or at least more productive, players at his position if he can see enough time on the field.
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