July 5, 2012

Fullbacks, tight ends will factor into offense

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With Ohio State's fall camp a month away from kicking off, we at Buckeye Grove have decided to take a look at the roster that Urban Meyer will be working with in his first year as Ohio State's head coach. Today, we'll take a look at the current state of the Buckeyes' fullbacks and tight ends. You can see yesterday's preview of the Ohio State wide receivers by clicking here.

When one thinks of the spread offense, the first position that comes to mind isn't necessarily the fullback. In fact, the fullback is typically the odd man out in most spread formations. But sometimes talent overrides tradition, and thanks to the roster that head coach Urban Meyer finds himself inheriting at Ohio State, don't expect the fullback position to disappear in Columbus just yet.

With the exception of John Simon, perhaps no player has received more praise from Meyer throughout the offseason than fullback Zach Boren. Entering his fourth year as a starter for the Buckeyes, Boren has proven to be one of the best in the country at his position, and his new head coach has taken notice.

A pure run blocker who has the rare gift of being able to make highlight reel plays without even touching the ball, Boren was announced by Meyer as one of the captains of the 2012 squad before spring practices had even finished.

"The first thing is that they're not pop-off guys. I can't stand the guy who just stands up there and talks. That's not leadership," Meyer said when asked why he had already chosen Boren and Simon as captains. "Leadership is by example and positive encouragement."

It's hard to imagine a player who was named captain more than five months before the start of the season not seeing much playing time in the fall, but just where that playing time will come from remains to be seen. Boren shed 12 pounds in the offseason, and Meyer has been impressed with the way the Pickerington, Ohio native carries the ball between the tackles.

Backing up Boren at fullback is senior Adam Homan.

Much like the fullback position isn't synonymous with the spread offense, the tight end position hasn't always been the first one to come to mind when one thinks of Ohio State. But between Meyer's philosophy and a plethora of talent at the position, that too is changing.

"Probably the position I'm most-excited about right now is tight ends," Meyer said during a spring press conference. "We have three good-looking guys that you'd go out and recruit those guys any day of the week."

Meyer's trio of tight ends starts with Jake Stoneburner, who was suspended indefinitely by the OSU coaching staff after pleading guilty to a disorderly conduct charge in June. Despite not currently being under scholarship with the Buckeyes, Stoneburner is expected to work his way back on to the team in time for the start of fall camp.

A fifth-year senior out of Dublin, Ohio, Stoneburner is expected to figure prominently in Meyer's offense after catching a team-high 14 balls for seven touchdowns a season ago. Having already drawn comparisons to Meyer's top tight end during his time at Florida, Aaron Hernandez, those numbers should only rise for Stoneburner in 2012.

"It's like a dream come true," Stoneburner said of playing under Meyer, who recruited him while he was the head coach at Florida. "You want to come to an offense where the tight end is almost the focal point. I wouldn't say we're the focal point, but we're definitely going to get the ball a lot."

Another player who should see an increase in touches, regardless of Stoneburner's status, is Jeff Heuerman. Despite the 6-foot-6, 247-pound Heuerman's status as a back-up, Meyer referred to the sophomore as one of his top playmakers in the spring, and with question marks surrounding the wide receiver position as it is, don't be surprised if you see two tight ends on the field at the same time for the Buckeyes.

The third tight end that Meyer was referring to was redshirt freshman Nick Vannett. At 6-foot-6, 248 pounds, the Westerville, Ohio product will primarily find himself earning playing time in red zone situations, should Stoneburner return to the team as expected.

Joining Stoneburner, Heuerman, and Vannett at tight end this fall will be three-star recruit Blake Thomas. A product of Westlake, Ohio, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Thomas ranked as the No. 16 tight end in the country after his senior season at St. Ignatius high school. With three tight ends already ahead of him on the depth chart, Thomas is a likely candidate to redshirt this fall.

Sophomore walk-ons Derek Burkholder and Kyle Schuck round out the remainder of the Buckeyes' tight end stable.


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