The Buckeyes had the good fortune of having two talented players who could see plenty of action at tight end in senior Jeff Heuerman and junior Nick Vannett. The duo did not disappoint, either, despite Heuerman being limited because of nagging foot injury. Heuerman and Vannett combined for 36 receptions for 427 yards and seven touchdowns.
That luxury is now gone, however. Heuerman is off to the NFL, leaving Vannett as just one of two scholarship tight ends for Ohio State this spring along with sophomore Marcus Baugh. While some OSU offensive starters have gotten rest during the spring, Vannett has taken the lion’s share of the first-team reps.
“It’s going well,” Vannett said. “Jeff left, so someone had to step up, and being a senior I try to be a leader for the other guys and for Marcus. I just try to show the way for the young guys, too. They’re looking up to the old guys to see how we do it. We kind of want to teach them the culture. So far they’re doing really well. It’s been a good spring so far.”
Vannett said he is taking the same approach as he has in past seasons, despite the knowledge that he will be the top tight end on what could be a high-powered Buckeye attack this fall. Leadership has been the biggest thing Vannett wants to add during the spring season.
For OSU tight ends coach Tim Hinton, he has tried to shore of weak spots in Vannett’s game. The Buckeyes had the best of both worlds last season because Heuerman was an impressive run blocker, while Vannett excelled as a receiving threat. Hinton wants Vannett to become an all-around better tight end as a senior.
“What we are trying to do is make him improve those weaknesses,” Hinton said. “I’ve put him in every tough situation I can because there is no perfect player, there is always something everyone can do to get a little bit better. So this spring has been challenging for him and challenging for a reason because we are trying to continually put him in a position to work on his weaknesses and what are those weaknesses?
“Those two are really nice where they complimented each other where Jeff is really, really good in the run game and the interior blocking and those sort of things and Nick was a little better on exterior blocking, so we really have tried to make sure that Nick’s weaknesses become his strengths. So he’s been challenged really hard, but that’s OK, we don’t play for a long time.”
Vannett also had a propensity for making big plays last season. He caught five of OSU’s seven tight end touchdowns, including one against archrivial Michigan and another in the College Football Playoff championship win against Oregon.
Those catches have unsurprisingly helped the Westerville (Ohio) Central product going into his final collegiate season.
“It definitely kind of loosens you up a little bit.,” Vannett said. “Once you make a big play, it’s like, ‘All right. Now I can relax and just play ball.’ Every time you get a play like that, whether it’s a touchdown or you make a big play, you kind of just relax and it’s like, ‘All right. It’s not too bad. Just keep pushing. Everything will be all right.’ ”