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‘This or That’: What does Ohio State need from its tight end position?

The Buckeyes have developed a number of productive TEs, but there seems to be additional meat on the bone.

Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about taking sides in head-to-head debates. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”This or That” articles here.

Jeff Heuerman, Nick Vannett, Luke Farrell, Jeremy Ruckert, presumably Cade Stover... Ohio State football has experienced plenty of recent success in developing tight ends and sending them to the NFL. Does that mean OSU should be referenced as TE U? No, no it does not. But four TE in nine drafts, with a fifth (Stover) likely on the way is somewhat impressive. Especially when looking at these players’ production while in Columbus. We’re talking a few dozen catches and a few hundred yards per season. Maybe! Farrell, for example, totaled just 380 receiving yards for his entire Buckeye career.

Despite their general lack of production, these big-bodied Buckeye pass catchers have been viewed as NFL prospects because they possess — or have possessed — a well-rounded skillset. Players mentioned above have shown the ability to run, catch, and block, which is what I would call the hybrid model of a TE. On occasion, they (let’s be honest, we’re only talking about Ruckert here) have been able to dominate a drive, a quarter, or a game with their playmaking. But for the most part, these guys have been role players or cogs in the wheel.

While the recent arrangement and/or utilization of these players has been beneficial to all, it seems as if there is a higher ceiling for both team and certain individual(s), especially in a Ryan Day/Brian Hartline-curated offense. I am talking about a Kelce-esque ceiling, as in Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs. The all-world TE blessed with wide receiver skills and Rob Gronkowski size is considered one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL. And his skillset helps give the Chiefs’ offense a higher ceiling than most. At least higher than the offenses which prefer to deploy a traditional in-line blocker or two. Sure, having Patrick Mahomes doesn’t hurt, but Kelce gives Kansas City an extra (dangerous) weapon. It is akin to having a third, fourth, or fifth wide receiver on the field at all times.

Michael Chow/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

So should Ohio State stick with a ‘traditional’ hybrid approach (this), especially considering the current roster’s lack of experience along the offensive line? Or will fans and observers see the Buckeyes lean (more) into a ‘new school’ plan of attack, relying heavily upon the TE position (that)? Obviously, personnel will help dictate direction moving forward, but it seems as if Day and Co. have already made their choice regarding this or that...

The choice appears to be embracing the ‘Kelce Way’ of utilizing their TE as a legit weapon rather than just a blunt object. Stover’s usage in 2022 is clear evidence of the shift. This former linebacker, who is not the most skilled pass catcher in the world, reeled in 36 receptions for 406 yards and 5 TD last season, producing one of the best seasons by an OSU TE since Rickey Dudley ran around The Shoe. And we’re talking about a guy in Stover who was playing LB in the 2022 Rose Bowl!

No offense, but he (Stover) is not in the same league, skill-wise, as Kelce, Mark Andrews, or George Kittle. But the Buckeyes still used the heck out of him. And not only did he play a significant role, but he also ended up establishing himself as one of the team’s most valuable offensive assets. This became clear when Stover was knocked out of last season’s Peach Bowl.

Past evidence of desired TE involvement was Day’s attempted utilization of Jeremy Ruckert – which yielded mixed results – while future, further evidence is and has been supported by the recruitment of players like Jelani Thurman, Max LeBlanc, and Ty Lockwood, who Ohio State failed to land. These incoming freshmen and/or freshmen to be, in my humble opinion, profile primarily as pass catchers. Thurman, especially, looks like he was created in a lab using equal parts Kelce and Lebron James. He is the modern TE. He, in theory, could finish with 500, 600, and 700 yards in a season for the Buckeyes.

And that (wordplay, embracing this week’s LGHL theme, get it?) is what I hope we eventually see in Columbus. Because I think taking the metaphorical cover off the TE position and putting the pedal to the metal, is a way for Day, Hartline, and others to take an already potent offense to an even higher level. I mean, imagine Dalton Kincaid, formerly of the Utah Utes, playing in OSU’s offense last year — alongside Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. JSN would have been forgotten by Week 6!

Now, would there be enough targets to go around, with two, three, or four top-notch WR and a Kelce-type TE on the field? Probably not. Not if Ohio State wanted to maintain balance. But I vote that they (continue to) recruit dynamic playmakers at TE and figure the rest out as you go. At least have a set of plays or a general game plan in place which allows these big men to take advantage of mismatches and put the fear of some deity into opposing linebackers and defensive backs.

I have a hunch that Day and his coaches will do exactly... You guessed it, that. As opposed to recruiting, and then not bothering to target or utilize, block-first TE. The days of Jeremy Ruckert catching 26 balls for 300 yards are (and should be) a thing of the past. Expect more Gee Scott Jr. conversions and far fewer Rashod Berry experiments in the future. And the Buckeyes will be better off – and more potent – as a result.