Tight Ends Adding To Offense

The tight end position has been a topic of scrutiny for years at Ohio State, and the thought was that the position would become a key pass-catching spot under Urban Meyer. That finally happened for Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett vs. Florida A&M after excellent blocking performances before that.

For all the rave reviews the Ohio State tight end corps garnered coming into 2013, players at the position simply hadn't been producing for the Buckeyes early on.

Offensive fireworks were popping off through the first three games at almost every other position – the Buckeyes' quarterbacks and receivers had linked up for nine touchdowns and the running backs had nine of their own.

The tight end position was fizzling.

A season that appeared to hold great promise for the tight ends at the outset would see junior Jeff Heuerman and sophomore Nick Vannett preparing for the fourth game of the campaign with six catches between them, and little else that would show up in a box score.

Ohio State tight ends coach Tim Hinton said that in the third game against California, both Heuerman and Vannett had at least done their jobs as blockers well, calling their performances in that phase of the game "very efficient" and "great."

Blocking isn't sexy, though, and people were already taking notice of a perceived lack of production. Even an unnamed prospect felt compelled to broach the subject with Hinton the day after the Cal game.

"I was in a discussion with a recruit this week and one of the things, he said something about the same comment about (the lack of) catches," Hinton said. "I said, ‘The doggone defenses are not cooperating.' They are really taking us to other progressions and the quarterback is giving the ball to the right guy."

Then, it finally happened. Ohio State's tight ends enjoyed a coming out party, albeit against Florida A&M of the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision, with significant contributions in the No. 4 Buckeyes' 76-0 rout of the Rattlers. By the end of the first half, Heuerman had gone for four catches and a touchdown while Vannett hauled in two catches of his own.

In the space of two quarters, the number of tight end catches doubled,from six to 12. The number of receiving yards jumped from 55 to 125, an increase of 70.

Most important, perhaps, was that Heuerman had finally found the end zone. He did so by bullying his way into the north end zone, lowering a shoulder into Rattlers cornerback Devonte Johnson before crossing the line. Teammates teased him about the aggressive jaunt to pay dirt, Heuerman said.

Don't expect the tight end production to plateau, either. After the game, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said it was necessary to allow Heuerman and others to get touches in the game.

"Jeff Heuerman had to get his hands on the ball," Meyer said. "Some other guys had to get some. It's not that we haven't tried, (but) those situations came up. I wanted to throw the ball. I wanted to get the ball in the hands of some guys."

A week after Heuerman made most of his contributions by way of throwing blocks, he said it was a great feeling to be targeted again.

"I mean, you never really know, the games can go all sorts of different ways depending on what the other team is doing, but, you know, it all worked out," he said. "I had four catches and a touchdown, so we played really well."

FAMU is probably far from the kind of opposition the Buckeyes will face in Big Ten play, which begins Saturday against Wisconsin at Ohio Stadium. How convincing was the performance, then, considering it came against the Rattlers of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference?

Will the sudden growth of the tight end position in Ohio State's offense be curtailed by the return of FBS competition?

Expect the role of the tight ends to continue to expand, Heuerman said.

"I wouldn't say we're unsatisfied," he said. "There's always room for improvement. We're not perfect. It's a long season and we're going to play a lot of different teams and there's a lot of different things we have to do.

"Each team is different. So, we need to have our whole offense and everything ready to go. And like I said, there's probably not going to be very many of these games the rest of the year so we're going to have to really be precise on everything we do."


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