OSU Spring Forecast: Tight End
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a good season for the Ohio State tight ends a year ago, which has raised the expectations for each tight end on the roster in 2014.
After a year in which Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett combined for 34 catches and 546 yards and five touchdowns, the tight ends will continue to bear more weight in the passing game for the Buckeye offense.
More than just catching passes, however, is the obvious need for the tight ends to block. As often as Ohio State spreads their tight ends out, they need to excel at blocking in one-on-one situations out in space. As important as the running game is to the Buckeyes, if a tight end can't block, then he won't play.
Who's Coming Back?
The good news is that all four tight ends from last season return, and the better news is that all of them will finally be able to play. Last year as a true freshman Marcus Baugh (6-4 240) redshirted, and provided he makes it through some disciplinary action, he will see the field this year for the Buckeyes.
Last year's starter, Jeff Heuerman (6-6 252) returns for his senior season. He is an NFL prospect, and his 26 catches were third on the team a year ago. He is as comfortable next to a tackle as he is flexed out in the slot.
Behind him is junior Nick Vannett (6-6 255), who finished with eight receptions for 80 yards last season. Like Heuerman, he is a big target who can make plays out of the slot. The fourth tight end is converted defensive end J.T. Moore (6-3 260). Moore's experience is mainly as an extra blocking tight end. He didn't catch any passes a year ago.
Expectations Heading Into Spring
When you return every player at a position group, the expectation is for that group to be better across the board. That's the situation with the tight end position for the Buckeyes in 2014, which means they should be even more involved in the passing game than they were in 2013.
Jeff Heuerman will likely be one of the leaders of the offense, and he should be a nightmare for Ohio State's young linebackers to cover. Covering Nick Vannett won't be much easier, as he is a virtual doppelganger of Heuerman. Without knowing how much Marcus Baugh is going to be involved, it's difficult to know what to expect.
Best Case Scenario
If the Buckeyes want to be as effective as possible, then they'll need Nick Vannett to be interchangeable with Jeff Heuerman. Heuerman is one of the best tight ends in the conference, and position coach Tim Hinton will need Vannett to be as productive as Heuerman in his limited opportunities. They won't want any drop off, because as we saw in the Big Ten Championship Game, one missed block is all it takes to end championship hopes.
If Marcus Baugh is participating in spring practice, then they'll want him to show the athleticism and speed that made him one of the top tight end prospects in the 2013 class. With J.T. Moore, the coaches will want him to continue providing veteran leadership to the offense as a whole. There may not be many opportunities for him this season, so he'll need to show the coaches this spring that he can handle whatever they give him.
One to Watch For
More of a receiver than a true tight end in high school, Marcus Baugh had issues catching the ball last year, which is never good for somebody whose job is to catch passes. He needs to make that a non-issue this spring, and also show that he can block.
He might be the best athlete of the entire group, but unless he can show the maturity that his coaches require, he won't be seeing the field. He has a ton of potential, but he will need just as much patience because there are at least two tight ends ahead of him, and the Buckeyes don't figure to play many two tight end sets.
If Baugh can handle his discipline and remain patient, he could be a very effective player for this offense. It just may not happen as quickly as he'd like.
Trending Up or Down
There is no question that the tight end position at Ohio State is trending up. From Urban Meyer's first year to his second year, the tight end became a more consistent part of the offense. Jeff Heuerman's 26 catches from a year ago should go up in 2014.
With every tight end on the roster returning, there is no argument for a downward trend. Perhaps the only issue one could have with the Ohio State tight ends is that the Buckeyes didn't sign one in the 2014 recruiting class. That is true, but Meyer has said that it would be possible for Noah Brown (6-2 225) to get a few snaps as a flex tight end. Regardless, having four bodies in for the spring is plenty, especially when two of them are as experienced and talented as Heuerman and Vannett.
This should be a very productive position for the Buckeyes. It would not be a surprise to see Jeff Heuerman top 40 catches this season, and he should be fully expected to have a solid spring. In fact, if he's not one of the most talked about players on offense after the spring is done, it will be a mild upset.
Overall, it's difficult to recall a time when Ohio State was this deep at tight end. Granted, only Heuerman and Vannett have played significant minutes, but just the two of them alone represent more talent than the Buckeyes have typically had on hand at the position.
While every other area of the Ohio State offense will get more attention than the tight ends, it should be a very quiet and overall productive spring for the position. There are plenty of question marks for the Buckeyes on offense entering the spring, but the tight end position is likely one of calm and confidence for the Ohio State coaches.
Previous Spring Position Forecasts:
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