April 18, 2010

Stoneburner hopes to buck tight end trend

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Pardon Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner for being a tad skeptical himself when it comes to whether or not the Buckeyes are going to pass to the tight end come the regular season.

It's hard to blame him given when looking back at the past few seasons.

Ohio State hasn't necessarily been known in the recent past to utilize their tight ends in the passing attack, but Stoneburner has hoped that would change since being switched to tight end from wide receiver once arriving at Ohio State from Dublin Coffman High School.

If this spring is any indication, Stoneburner could be the first tight end in years to become a main part of the Buckeye passing attack.

"People are always talking about how tight ends never caught the ball here," Stoneburner said Friday. "I am just going to go play it by ear and see what happens."

Stoneburner has been the one of the main targets for Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor over the course of the pass few weeks and could often been seen catching passes down the middle of the field.

But Stoneburner has only hauled in two passes in his career as a Buckeye, which has turned football into a completely different sport than it was for him in high school when he was a big playmaker in the receiving game.

Last season was spent backing up tight end Jake Ballard, who excelled mostly as an extra blocker for the Buckeyes most of the season before Ballard ironically came up with one of the most important catches of the season for Ohio State in the Rose Bowl win over Oregon.

This year, Stoneburner said, could be different.

"It's been a very productive spring compared to the last two springs. Probably double the amount of balls I caught," Stoneburner said. "I've probably caught as many balls these past 10 practices as I have the past two seasons combined. If that just carries over to the fall I'll be a happy guy."

Stoneburner has always expressed his desire to be a part of the passing attack and he may have fund the key to being a major part of the game plan - get in with Pryor.

Both Pryor and Stoneburner came into college football in the same 2008 class and have formed a bond on the field. This spring, Pryor has recognized how that bond has grown on the field, too.

Pryor was asked how Ohio State's offense would be improved this season and the junior quarterback brought up his tight end without anyone else mentioning him.

"We've got Jake. Jake is a whole other dimension," Pryor answered. "I think he's going to be a big time playmaker. He's been great this spring."

Coming into college at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Stoneburner looked more like a wide receiver, but has since adopted the look of a Buckeye tight end.

Stoneburner has put on roughly 20 pounds of muscle and says he hasn't lost his speed he boasted in high school, as the tight end reportedly runs a sub-4.6 second 40-yard dash. With that speed, Stoneburner plans on keeping defenses off balance in the fall.

"We haven't really had the field-stretching tight ends," Stoneburner said. "We've had some great tight ends, but with the progression of Terrelle and him being able to make a bunch of reads and me being able to get seems open in the middle with my speed and athleticism, I think we could really exploit some defenses."

While Stoneburner would like to picture himself as a receiver first, there is no denying what the priorities will be for any tight end that lines up in a Jim Tressel-led offense.

Stoneburner is fully aware that his playing time will depend on his ability to block, which is a skill he feels has grown into a strength over the course of the last year.

"I feel like I have progressed a lot because when I got here I wasn't the greatest and I was kind of not scared, but timid, because I didn't know what I was doing," Stoneburner said. "Now that I have more strength I am more confident and I feel much better down there."

This involvement in the passing game is what Stoneburner has hoped for ever since getting moved from wide receiver to tight end because, well, he is a wide receiver at heart.

With a newfound bond with Pryor, Stoneburner feels as if he will add a whole new dimension to the Buckeyes in the fall.

"I really think I will catch a lot of balls. Terrelle tells me I am going to," Stoneburner said. "I have caught a lot of balls. I have been out there and they have been looking for me. I really think it is going to carry into camp because our offense has been really clicking, so I don't see why it would stop."

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.


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