Hinton Leading Experienced, Talented TEs

The lack of receiving production Ohio State has received from its tight ends over the past decade or so has been well documented, but the Buckeyes took a major step toward changing that in 2013. Is another leap in store? Fans might think so, and tight ends coach Tim Hinton isn't arguing.

At Ohio State’s Aug. 10 media day, tight ends coach Tim Hinton sat at a table in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center with a look of ease on his face. He was ready to answer all questions fired at him for the next 20 minutes or so.

With possibly the best tight end duo in the country, who could blame him?

Now in his third year with the Buckeyes, this is probably the most comfortable Hinton has felt since arriving in Columbus – this after coming to OSU to coach a position that had basically been a glorified extra member of the offensive line for the previous decade.

His first season there in 2012, he had a weapon in senior Jake Stoneburner to utilize how he pleased. That only lasted about a week, though, because head coach Urban Meyer wanted to move Stoneburner out wide to add playmaking ability to a group of receivers he referred to as a “clown show.”

That left Hinton with two second-year tight ends in sophomore Jeff Heuerman and redshirt freshman Nick Vannett. Heuerman only had one catch the previous year while Vannett didn’t even see the field. Things were bleak.

The duo finished the 2012 season with a paltry 17 receptions for 217 yards and one touchdown. Despite Meyer’s high-flying offense putting up plenty of points and yards, one could say the tight end positioned remained in the Tressel era.

2013 saw the unit double its production, though, leaving many to wonder if the tight end position would become the X-factor the offense had been missing for so long. Heuerman and Vannett combined for 34 receptions for 546 yards and five touchdowns, the most productivity out of the position in a decade. Both of them became especially useful down the seam, picking up big yardage down the middle of opposing defenses.

With both players returning after creating a solid rapport with senior quarterback Braxton Miller, the expectations are sky high for the unit in 2014. Hinton knows this and has been doing everything he can to meet those expectations.

“They’re talented and my job is to push them to always want more,” Hinton said. “If you’re an All-Pro, your job is to go out and be All-Pro again. For these guys there’s expectation levels we want them to reach.”

Meyer has made it clear that he loves his tight ends, going as far to say that he wouldn’t trade them for any other pair in the nation. He also called Heuerman, along with Miller and junior left tackle Taylor Decker, the pulse of the offense.

Hinton has loved being a part of the offensive unit the past two years and is amazed by the speed at which it runs. He is hoping to see players emerge at the receiver position so that Heuerman and Vannett can reap the benefits of single coverage through the middle of the field.

“The nice thing is … the past two years in our offense, we really can do a good job of getting the ball to the people who the defense isn’t defending,” Hinton said of the record-setting offense. “Our offense has been very versatile to get the ball to the weakness of the defense, and hopefully they still decide that the skill athletes on the outside are doing a great job and they single cover tight ends because I thought last year, at the end of the year, Jeff Heuerman became quite a weapon.”

It is now up to Hinton to keep Heuerman – who caught five passes apiece vs. both Iowa and Purdue and then had a reception of at least 30 yards in each of the last four games – as the weapon he became and build Vannett and third-stringer Marcus Baugh up to the same caliber.

“They’re dedicated to the game, they’re very gifted athletes and the obligation of walking in every day to get them to the level Ohio State fans expect and we expect, I take that very seriously,” Hinton said. “Coach Meyer always says to us, ‘Walk into your meeting room every day like you’re coaching Tom Brady.’ Which means you better be prepared, you better bring something else to the table and you better have your homework done so you can make them a better player because they are both intelligent, smart and articulate players and my job is to continue to raise their level.”

If their level is raised like it was from ’12 to ’13, then Buckeye fans should be ready to see a truly explosive offense.

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