Stoneburner Brings New Look To OSU

Tight ends have been more often linked with offensive linemen than the wide receiver group at Ohio State throughout much of the Jim Tressel era, but Jake Stoneburner hopes to change all that this season.

Anyone skeptical about the impact Jacob Stoneburner can have as a tight end on the Ohio State passing game this season should keep one number in mind, although Stoneburner and wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell cannot quite agree on just what that figure is.

In this case, the subject is not how many passes the sophomore tight end might expect to see thrown his way. Rather, the issue is just how fast Stoneburner can pick up his team-issued Nikes and put them down in the 40-yard dash.

"We electrically time it here and I ran a 4.58, but I don't think he really believes me on that," Stoneburner said.

Proving he has not lost touch with Stoneburner since the player moved to the tight ends room prior to last spring, Hazell was close to predicting what his former pupil would say.

"He's 247 pounds and runs a 4.6," Hazell said. "He'll tell you he runs a 4.5, but he runs a legitimate 4.6."

When told later what Hazell had to say about his speed, Stoneburner smiled and gave a predictable retort.

"The clock said 4.58, so we'll argue that all day," the player said.

Speed measurements aside, a few things are not in dispute.

For one, Ohio State has not utilized the tight end in the passing game to any significant degree since Ben Hartsock and Ryan Hamby combined to catch more than 50 passes in 2003.

Second, they have not had a player with Stoneburner's blend of size and speed, at least in Hazell's time on the Ohio State staff, a period that began in 2004.

"When you've got a guy like Jake, who is special, he can put a lot of pressure on people down the field, so that will help us," Hazell said.

Quarterback Terrelle Pryor is impressed as well.

"Jake Stoneburner's good," Pryor said. "I'll tell you that right off the jump - he's the real deal. It's up to the coaches to call that, but if he's open, he's going to get the ball.

"I don't want to blow up his head, but he's like a receiver at tight end. He weighs 255 pounds and he can run his butt off. He can get open. If you put a linebacker on him he's running past him. If he can get open, he'll put his body and position himself in. I've got a big body to throw to."

Stoneburner (who said he weighs around 250) was quick to deflect the notion that the prospect of seeing more passes is all about his particular skills. He pointed out the development of the other 10 people on the field plays a major role as well.

If the offensive line cannot hold up in pass protection by itself, the tight end must stay in to help slow down oncoming rushers.

If the quarterback is not adept at making his progressions, he is not likely to find the tight end even if he is open.

Effective running backs make Stoneburner's job of getting behind the secondary easier, too, if safeties are forced to creep up to stop the run.

With nine starters back this season, everything could be falling into place for a breakout season for the Ohio State offense's forgotten men on the end of the line.

A lack of passes to the tight ends has not been only the lament of fans, however.

A year ago, Tressel told reporters at the start of spring practice that the staff had concluded it had not done a good enough job pressuring a defense in the middle of the field in the passing game. He dubbed that a priority for 2009 and named Stoneburner's move from wide receiver to tight end part of a bigger emphasis on using the area between the hashmarks.

Unfortunately, Hazell did not need to be told tight ends Jake Ballard and Stoneburner caught only 16 passes for 180 yards last season to know that much more work needed to be done.

"No," he said when asked if the coaches had accomplished their stated goals of attacking the middle more effectively. "I think we're doing it more this spring than we have in the past. We feel that there are certain areas of the field that we need to be able to attack. When you've got a guy like Jake - who is really a special guy - he can put a lot of pressure on people down the field, so that will help us."

For his part, Stoneburner admitted to skepticism initially over his position switch, but after a year shadowing Ballard - who had 14 grabs for 150 yards as a senior last season - said he is comfortable with his new duties and a body bulked up from the 230 pounds he weighed his freshman year.

"I love it a lot because I feel like I can create mismatches that other tight ends really can't do because of my experience at wide receiver," Stoneburner said. "That's why I like it so much."

He has even taken to blocking, a key component in Ohio State's power run game.

"I can get it done. I think they've trusted me in blocking. I've gotten a lot stronger, put on some weight over the offseason, so I think I'm ready for it."

Buckeye Sports Top Stories