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Spring Takeaway: The tight end position is settling, looking to establish role in the offense

Cade Stover moved back to tight end to give the room some stability, but the unproven group still has a long way to go until they establish their roles in the Ohio State offense

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The tight end position at Ohio State has never been the focal point of the offense, but under Ryan Day the expectations are high for how the room performs. This offseason, the numbers were relatively thin depth wise when we first came into spring, but the big news out of spring practice last week was Cade Stover moving back to the offensive side of the ball. This created some stability and depth, immediately making this room better. As spring practice concludes, this group will be looking to establish themselves as a valuable asset for the Ohio State offense heading into Fall.

Overall, the role of the tight end won’t change much this season. Last season, Jeremy Ruckert was probably the most gifted pass catching tight end Ohio State went into a season with in decades, but he only put up 26 receptions and 309 yards. The emphasis will always be in run-blocking first for Ohio State tight ends, and then being a reliable pass catcher second. For the Buckeyes, this group has a ton of upside, but the experience at the position is incredibly thin.

Kevin Wilson will have group that includes Stover, Joe Royer, Gee Scott Jr., Bennett Christian, Sam Hart, and Mitch Rossi. On paper this room has a lot of bodies with a variety different skill sets, but they are light when it comes to guys with in game experience. The depth of this group and roles aren’t an entirely clear picture, but we are beginning to see this room take shape.


Depth

When we look at the depth the Buckeyes have, there is game experience for the Buckeyes in Stover and Rossi, who had defined roles in the offense last season. Stover will be looking to be the lead in-line tight end and take over where Ruckert left off. The question surrounding Stover will be how he is able to perform as a pass catcher in the offense. For Rossi, he will continue to line up in his H-Back role as a pseudo full back for the offense, getting a lot of play time in the red zone.

Outside of those two, Scott is the only other player in the room to record a catch for the Buckeyes. Ryan Day went on record talking about how Scott is still growing into the position, and needs to continue to get stronger in run blocking if he is going to carve out a greater role. With him gaining weight and transitioning to an in-line tight end, he will have challenges in that regard. Despite the transition, he is the most dangerous pass catching option in the room with his athleticism.

Royer has made a lot of noise in spring camp, garnering praise from C.J. Stroud, Kevin Wilson, and Ryan Day. The sophomore from Cincinnati brings the size, athleticism, and pass catching ability to become the same type of tight end as Ruckert. A tandem of Stover and Royer looks incredibly similar size wise to the room last season. In the clip from the Ohio State football Twitter, we get a great view of what Royer can do as a receiver.

Bennett Christian came in physically more prepared than any tight end, but there is still quite a bit of bodies in front of him. Coming to Ohio State, Christian was utilized by his high school team in a near identical way to how the Buckeyes use the position. After Christian, a group of walk-ons and freshman Sam Hart fill out the room.

Right now, this is the outlook of the room heading into the Spring Game:

  • TE1: Cade Stover
  • TE2: Joe Royer
  • H-Back: Mitch Rossi

Role in the Offense

Ohio State fans have been pining for an expanded role in the offense for the tight ends for years, but when you look at the receiver room it becomes pretty clear there’s a reason the tight ends play fourth or even fifth fiddle in the passing game. The expectation from fans has not met the reality of what to expect from this position. The problem isn’t the fans wanting more from the room, but the room has more responsibilities than just catching passes.

Without the necessary experience in the run game, the blocking aspect is so important to Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day. At Ohio State, tight ends need to be all around players at the position who are willing to get involved in the trenches. The Buckeyes will never go away from 11-personnel, but tight ends will also never be a focal point in the passing game either. Below we are going to look at the position requirements in order of value for the Buckeye tight ends.

Inline Blocking

If you have listened to Day and Wilson throughout the years, this is the most important role the tight end plays in Ohio State’s offense. Throughout Ruckert’s career we saw Luke Farrell in front of him his first two seasons because of his blocking ability, not because Farrell was a dynamic pass catcher. This play below shows Ohio State running one of their traditional zone run plays. Ruckert seals the defensive end and creates the running lane that turns this play into a touchdown. In Ohio State’s offense, this is the main role of the tight end, and this is why Stover returning to this side of the ball was so important.

Lead Blocking

Ohio State runs a lot of split action and zone lead plays to the outside. Rossi excelled in this role as an H-Back, and this can continue to be a role for him this season even if he is not a true tight end. Once again, the tight end responsibility is shown as Ruckert coming across the formation and makes a huge block on the Rutgers contain defender. This kick out opens up nothing but green grass for the running back. If the tight end can’t get this done, he won’t play in the Ohio State offense.

Pass Catching

Tight ends at Ohio State are never the leaders in the passing game, but when they do their jobs well they are rewarded for their work in the trenches. Ruckert made some exceptional catches last year and in his career, but he was one of the more dynamic athletes Ohio State has had at the position in recent memory. The play below shows the more traditional tight end role as a pass catcher. This play was an RPO off of Ohio State’s outside zone concept with a Y-Pop. The hard run action sucks the defense in, and Ruckert is rewarded for his huge block earlier in the game.


Importance of Position

The emphasis of this position is never understated by the coaching staff, but many fans have given up on being excited about Ohio State’s tight ends. In the run game we saw how much of a difference great tight end play makes in turning normal plays into touchdowns. Their value in the passing game isn’t much, but that’s moreso because Ohio State has the best receiving room in the country.

The Buckeyes will never go away from 11-personnel despite the coaches saying this room isn’t where they want it to be. That means this position might be one of the most important groups to watch heading into the season. The room is starting to be defined, but if the tight end room isn’t ready, this can become a deficiency in the offense hurting the run game more than anything.


Conclusion

The discourse surrounding the tight end position is usually coated in disappointment, but to me it’s more a lack of understanding. Ruckert was the peak of the tight end in the Ohio State offense with the current receiver situation. That does not mean the position is disappointing, it means they are doing their job at a high level. For the Buckeyes to be successful in 2022, Day will want two tight ends he can trust to block and catch passes in a productive manner.

Ryan Day said the Buckeyes don’t currently have the packages they want with this group. The rest of spring and fall Camp will fly by, and this group will have to grow up fast. As we talked about, the emphasis starts with blocking and when the tight end proves themselves in that regard, they can begin taking on pass catching duties. Stover, Rossi, and Royer are a group of players that can make this position a strength of the offense.

With Ryan Day there are no if’s about having the tight end position on the field, which is what we’ve learned this offseason. Despite the reputation of the position, the coaches whole heartedly believe that tight ends needs to be a part of this offense. Kevin Wilson said in his press availability last week, “The better the tight end position does, the greater the offense can be.”

It’ll be up to this group of individuals with minimal experience to make this offense as elite as it can be in 2022.