Throughout the month of August, LGHL writers will be attempting to answer some of the most important questions about Ohio State’s 2021 football season. To catch up on all editions of LGHL Asks, click HERE.
LGHL Asks: Will this be the year that Ohio State fully incorporates the tight end into the offense?
It feels like it has been decades since Ohio State saw big production from a tight end in the passing game. Rickey Dudley has been the only Buckeye tight end in the last 30 years to crack 500 receiving yards in a season, racking up 575 yards in 1995. Dudley also hauled in seven touchdowns that season, which is tied with Jake Stoneburner’s 2011 output for most in school history by a tight end.
Do I think Ohio State will fully incorporate the tight end into the offense this year? That really depends on what you consider “fully incorporate”. The Buckeyes aren’t going to feature their tight ends like Iowa State does with Charlie Kolar, or like you saw Iowa do a few years ago with Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. Ohio State has preferred to use their tight ends more as blockers, and anything they get from them in the passing game is just an added bonus.
That doesn’t mean the tight ends will be silent in the passing game, though. The Buckeyes do have Jeremy Ruckert, who came to Columbus as one of the best receiving tight ends coming out of high school, earning comparisons to former Miami tight end Jeremy Shockey. Ruckert has shown glimpses of his incredible talent in his first three seasons with the Buckeyes. The senior has 28 catches, with Ruckert finding the end zone nine times for Ohio State.
When Ruckert does end up scoring a touchdown in a game, there is a good chance he is going to find the end zone again before the game is over. Ruckert has scored two touchdowns in a game three times during his Ohio State career. Last year Ruckert scored twice early in the season at Penn State, and came up big for the Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson, scoring two touchdowns in the second quarter.
Don’t expect Ruckert to catch 50 passes this year, but half that number might be a realistic goal. With the insane amount of talent Ohio State has amassed at wide receiver, it’ll be tough to imagine Ruckert becoming a frequent target for whoever starts at quarterback for the Buckeyes. Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Julian Fleming, and a few others will get the bulk of the attention from Ohio State’s quarterback.
At least Ruckert will benefit from the talent that surrounds him on offense. Opposing defenses won’t be able to cover all of Ohio State’s receivers, as well as Ruckert. Choices will have to be made, and if opponents decide to give Ruckert space to work, they’ll likely be forced to pay for that decision.
Keep a close eye on Ruckert when Ohio State gets inside the red zone. With his big body and soft hands, it’s easy to understand why Ruckert would be a popular option when the Buckeyes get inside the 20. Of Ruckert’s nine career touchdown receptions, eight have come when Ohio State has been in the red zone.
While Ohio State’s new starting quarterback will have a plethora of options at wide receiver to work with, Ruckert could become a security blanket for the new quarterback. Ohio State fans have been spoiled with quarterbacks over the last decade. We haven’t seen any of the quarterbacks on the roster in action at the college level yet, aside for some mop-up duty for C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller. If the starting quarterback of the Buckeyes gets off to a slow start, a few throws to Ruckert could be just what is needed to help boost their confidence.
Ruckert isn’t the only talented tight end Ohio State has on the roster. Gee Scott Jr. will join Ruckert at tight end this year after spending his first season in Columbus as a wide receiver. What’ll determine how much of an impact Scott has is how quickly he is able to pick up the blocking assignments that are expected out of Ohio State tight ends. There’s no doubt that Scott is talented when it comes to catching the football, but it means nothing if the coaches don’t trust Scott enough to fulfill all the responsibilities that come with being a tight end.
If Scott can pick up his new position quickly, Ohio State’s scary offense will turn into an absolute nightmare for opponents. When you look at where it stands right now, tight end is where the least production is expected to come from, and that’s saying a lot because the Buckeyes do have a lot of talent at the position. It just speaks to how loaded Ohio State is everywhere else.
You saw some strides last year when it came to how Ohio State used their tight ends compared to previous years. I think this year Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson continue that progression to get their tight ends more involved when it comes to receiving. In prior years the tight ends have been an afterthought just because they were more used for blocking, but if opponents to continue to think that way, Ohio State is going to take advantage of it. While you won’t see any Ohio State tight ends break school records this year, they’ll put up very respectable numbers.