2013 Spring Recap - The Tight Ends
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was apparently a very productive offseason for the Ohio State tight ends, and the improvements didn't stop in the spring. Even though there are just three tight ends on the current roster, Urban Meyer recently said that this is the best group that he's ever had.
"And I had Aaron Hernandez at Florida," he quipped on ESPN.
"I have two legitimate guys that are very good blockers, very good receivers in Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman, so we're going to utilize all of our personnel."
Heuerman and Vannett are near mirror images of each other. Both six-foot-six and 250-odd pounds, they possess good hands and the ability seal a run as well as stretch a defense.
Meyer has repeated his need for playmakers, but many think he is only referring to speedy home run hitters. The tight end can be just as much of a mismatch as a 4.4 slot receiver given the matchup.
While they may look like the typical Jim Tressel tight end, they will be asked to do much more.
"I’ve gotta tell you, the trick of the day in coaching tight ends in the spread offense is we ask them to be very good in (all areas)," Tim Hinton said last month. "We ask them to be able to run long routes, short routes, know all the different protection systems, and all the things we do with it."
Heuerman and Vannett will be put in many situations to excel this coming season, and based on their performances in the spring, they are more than ready.
Returning Starter: Jeff Heuerman (Jr.)
Photo by Jim Davidson
Heuerman started nine games as a true sophomore last season, but he only came away with eight catches. He should eclipse that number by week four this coming season.
Heuerman was impressive on a number of occasions this spring, but none more so than the 90-yard catch and run he had that saw him get behind C.J. Barnett on a pass down the middle. He caught the ball, turned and outraced Barnett for the final 50 yards or so, pulling away in the process.
I don't recall any dropped passes, and he was effective in the flats, over the middle of the field, basically anywhere. And he's probably a better run blocker than a pass catcher.
Heuerman is maturing as a player, but just as importantly, he's maturing as a leader.
"I think Jeff Heuerman is doing a much better job than a year ago," Hinton said. "He's not perfect yet at that area, but he now understands why he needs to be a leader. Sometimes when you're really young you're not ready to get there yet. Now he got a lot of minutes in a year ago, he's now one of the 'dudes' that's going to run out there and be on the field.
"Now he's got an opportunity to not only express his will on a football field, he's got to express it in the locker room. That's what Jeff is starting to do. He understands that role. He also understands there's a vacuum left by others that we had a year ago and people are going to have to fill that vacuum and that void."
Others Returning: Nick Vannett (So.), Blake Thomas (rFr.)
Photo by Jim Davidson
Vannett appeared to be the downfield threat of the two tight ends last year, but this spring they were interchangeable. Vannett was very successful in the intermediate area between linebackers and tight ends in the practices that we saw.
Like Heuerman, his size makes him a difficult matchup for defensive backs, but his athleticism and ball skills are what make him most effective. The Buckeye defense played mostly nickel this spring, and Vannett was still a weapon despite working against defensive backs like the 6-foot-3 Tyvis Powell.
He may not yet be the blocker that Heuerman is, but he's not far behind either.
"Just a year ago we were just getting used to the offense and we were young," Vannett said this spring. "Now we’ve got a year under our belt in the system and me and Jeff are getting really comfortable with the offense and I think the quarterbacks are getting comfortable with us too."
Blake Thomas was used mostly in the flats this spring when we were watching, but everybody caught a glimpse of what he can do when he carried linebacker David Perkins down the field for about 15 yards on a simple reception in the Spring Game.
He was more of a run blocker in the spring, but certainly made a noticeable play in Paul Brown Stadium.
"We're going to need Blake Thomas to contribute," Hinton said. "There's a rule in football, you always want a pair and a spare. Obviously we have a pair in Jeff and Nick. Right now we're really trying to develop Blake to be that spare, a guy that if one of those guys go down you're one play away from being 'the guy'.
"The question is, 'Is Blake ready to do that at this point?' No. He knows what he needs to get done, he knows what what he needs to accomplish and I know he'll do everything in his power to do a great job to complete that."
Newcomers: Marcus Baugh (Fr.)
Marcus Baugh is what most people expect Urban Meyer's tight ends to look like. He's extremely athletic, not out of his element split out wide, and able to do something with the ball after he catches it.
Given how much Meyer likes Heuerman and Vannett, and five or six other offensive weapons, there wouldn't seem to be a ton of touches available for Baugh as a freshman. However, when he arrives in August, if he shows himself capable, then there will be a spot for him in this offense in 2013.
Jeff Heuerman (6-6 250, Jr.)
Nick Vannett (6-6 255, rSo.)
Blake Thomas (6-5 250, rFr.)
Marcus Baugh (6-4 245, Fr.)
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