Shift Change

By Kyle Rowland on October 31, 2012 at 10:00a

When Tim Hinton was hired as Ohio State’s fullbacks and tight ends coach in January, he inherited two positions that were about to go under major makeovers. Zach Boren and Jake Stoneburner had played significant roles during their time in Columbus, but neither was a true offensive threat.

The parting of the Blue Sea. 

The fullback and tight ends position aren’t glorified blockers in an Urban Meyer-coached offense, though. They are pass catchers and ball carriers, in addition to blockers.

Nine games into the season, Boren and Stoneburner have each seen an uptick in production. But Boren is starting at linebacker and Stoneburner is starting at wide receiver.

Who’da thunk it?

Boren’s move was out of necessity. Ohio State had an emergency at linebacker when Etienne Sabino suffered a broken fibula against Nebraska and the replacements struggled to adapt. So in came Boren and tackles appeared. In his first game on defense since high school, Boren led the team with eight tackles at Indiana. He has 20 in three starts.

Stoneburner’s shift to receiver was due to depth at his previous position. Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett are talented options at tight end, giving an opportunity for more offensive threats to be on the field at once. The goal of the coaching staff, after all, is to get the best 11 players on the field.

“That’s an area of strength right now,” Meyer said. “Those are two good tight ends who were kind of unknown commodities in the spring and certainly last year weren’t very much involved.”

But a once bright idea seemed to dim after Stoneburner’s production dipped midway through the season. His size and athleticism were supposed to present matchup problems, and that’s exactly what they did – for Stoneburner. Instead of facing linebackers, as he did when he played tight end, Stoneburner was going against cornerbacks.

After seven catches, including three touchdowns, in the season’s first three games, Stoneburner went on a three-game stretch where he didn’t have a single reception.

That’s when he and Meyer had a heart-to-heart.

“There is nothing worse than false confidence,” Meyer said. “Maybe people telling you you’re better than you are. Deep down, Jake Stoneburner is a very, very smart guy. He watches a lot of film and sees himself. However, when I first got here, Jake Stoneburner was the greatest thing in the world, and he wasn't.”

The transition to linebacker has been seamless for Boren.

Before Ohio State’s game with Indiana, the pair sat down to discuss Stoneburner’s role in the offense.

“We had a little come-to-you-know-what meeting because he wasn’t playing well,” Meyer said. “He was playing OK, but I think one of the things that I love so much about our program is direct conversation and direct honesty.

“He wasn’t playing very hard in East Lansing. He played OK, but OK is not good enough for a guy like that. The last couple of games he played lights out.”

Said Stoneburner: “I wasn’t playing bad. I just wasn’t quite being the all-around player they thought I could be and should be. I was just getting confused out there, playing a little bit tentative.”

Meyer’s simple advice: who cares if you make mistakes?

Since the friendly chat, Stoneburner has ripped off seven receptions for 144 yards and a touchdown. A bulk of that came on a 72-yard touchdown pass at Penn State. Stoneburner said making plays and blocking better were part of the conversation.

“He’s playing well,” Meyer said. “You can watch the video – he’s going after people and he’s much more physical.”

The move to wide receiver wasn’t as easy as Stoneburner thought it would be. Wide receivers and tight ends may catch the ball, but the intricacies of each position are different. Stoneburner referenced the “atmosphere” at wide receiver and getting used to it.

“We’re nine games in and I’m still learning,” he said. “Coach Meyer kind of opened my eyes to some things I needed to do better, and that’s why you’ve been seeing me out there a little bit more.”

Stoneburner graded out a champion last week and told Meyer the past two weeks have been among the best in his career. The brutal honesty in assessing his players has been a hallmark of Meyer’s coaching career. But the players welcome it. They would rather hear exactly how they are doing and not be handled with kid gloves.

Heuerman and the Buckeyes are focused on one thing: wins.

“He always says if he’s not coaching you, they don’t care,” Stoneburner said about Meyer. “It really showed me he cared and he really wants me to better myself, so that’s what I want to do.”

Down the line, Stoneburner’s old position mates have been churning out the production, whether it’s catching passes or blocking for a stout run game that features Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde.

Meyer has referred to Heuerman as the best blocking tight end he’s ever coached. Since Boren moved from fullback, Heuerman has occupied an H-back spot at times, becoming the lead blocker on run plays.

“He’s given us a component we’ve really never had at that spot,” Meyer said. “Jeff is a point guy who can really block a defensive end, and that’s just great to have on your offense.”

But the position has changed the most under Meyer based on pass catching. No offensive spot has undergone a more drastic turnaround. During his time at Florida, Meyer helped mold Aaron Hernandez into a pass-catching machine.

The receiving stats for Heuerman and Vannett aren’t eye-popping – 12 catches, 159 yards and a touchdown – but they are proof of an existence beyond being a sixth down lineman.

“We’re definitely used a lot in the receiving game,” Vannett said. “We’re being more versatile in the offense. We’re put in the wing, in the slot, next to the tackle. They do a lot with us, and it’s real exciting.”

Stoneburner’s touchdown catch at Penn State was the longest of his career and tied for the longest pass-play of Miller’s career. Stoneburner’s speed and athleticism were on full display as he caught the ball near midfield and outran the entire Penn State defense to reach the end zone.

One conversation with Meyer changed Stoneburner's fortunes.

“It was surreal,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better. To see my coaches’ faces when I came off the sideline, making fun of me that they didn’t think I could run like that, it was just a great feeling.”

Despite going three games without a catch, Stoneburner still has his season output in receptions from a year ago, which also doubled as the team high – 14. He has 236 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

But he downplays his production and preaches the team-first mentality first and foremost.

“I could care less how I do as long as we win,” Stoneburner said. “If I’m contributing, I’d like to win even more. But I’m pretty happy with where I’m at right now.”

When the bowl ban was announced last December, it appeared as if the seniors would go out with a whimper. No postseason game and no chance at a conference championship. The possibility of winning the division wasn’t known then.

But with three games to go, the Buckeyes are 9-0 and the seniors have an opportunity to be a part of only the sixth undefeated season in Ohio State history. It goes much deeper than that, though. The football program at Ohio State was at the lowest of lows a year ago and to come out the other side in the fashion it has done so speaks to the level of commitment from the players.

That includes the Stoneburners and Borens who have not only bought into a new coaching staff’s philosophy, but also trusted in them that a position change would benefit their game.

“I wouldn’t want a better way to start my senior year,” Stoneburner said. “I think we’re definitely one of the top teams in the country. There’s something about this team. We have very good chemistry.

“We’re playing for (a Leaders Division) championship, but besides that we’re just playing to win every single game.”


Comments Show All Comments

fansince1968's picture

Great & informative article. Thanks Kyle!

kevinfrenchfry's picture

i feel like we might have the same problem with next year with TE depth if Marcus Baugh emergers early, which at the very least seems like a possibility

bassplayer7770's picture

I'd like to think Blake Thomas will also progress to provide more depth at TE for next season.  As for losing Stoney at WR, we still have a lot of young talent at WR, plus we'll be adding guys like Jalin and Taivon who seem to have great speed and elusiveness.
It's nice to see Stoney having success lately.  While his long TD catch gets all the attention, he has been getting some tough yards after the catch.  I noticed this particularly versus Indiana and on his first catch against State Penn.  At PSU, he practically drug tacklers with him to make sure he got that first down.

carton's picture

Rumors say Blake Thomas transferring. 

cjkanski's picture

I'd like to have more problems like that.  "Hey Coach, whata ya want me to do with all these 6'5" 250# guys who can catch?"
"Put them all in."
Then again, I always was a bit of an instigator.

"I could *BLEEP* forever. *BLEEP until I drop" - The Count


BoFuquel's picture

We love you just the way you are, as long as you're perfect.GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

cjkanski's picture

Another fantastic story Kyle. I tell you I never get tired of hearing how the guys are locking in on the team goals. How they all want to play harder & get better for the team instead if the individual.  I'm also liking how Urban continues to lift the guys up with his attitude and honesty.

"I could *BLEEP* forever. *BLEEP until I drop" - The Count


buckeye76BHop's picture

Gives us insight into why Stoney hasn't been getting the ball in previous games before last week.  I was wondering why he wasn't getting the ball more...guess we know now.  Thanks Kyle.

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

buckeyepastor's picture

I remember it taking Teddy Ginn about a solid season to go from being juswt a great athlete to a great wide receiver.    It's blocking, route running, reading the secondary, catching the ball, knowing how to get in position to help your QB.  
It was encouraging to see both Spencer and Stoney get more involved against PSU.  Smith and Brown are clearly our top receivers this year, but gettting to where we are 4-5 deep wtih how we spread the ball around each week will really open things up.  

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

cjkanski's picture

Yeah, seeing it all click together for Ginn was fun to watch. Early on I was thinking "Man, when this kid tightens up his routes he's going to blow it up!".
I'd love to see Stoney take this re-kindled fire and pour it on thru November!

"I could *BLEEP* forever. *BLEEP until I drop" - The Count


Arizona_Buckeye's picture

These seniors have a great deal to be proud of!  They may not have a bowl game or a shot at the title, but they have restored the program back from a very dark place to one of a very bright future and that will never be forgotten by the Buckeye Nation! 

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

Earle's picture

It reminds me a little of the Kentucky basketball class under Pitino that restored the program back to prominence after the NCAA hammer.  Granted, the level of the comeback was greater, but those guys' names are hanging from the rafters in Rupp.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

LouGroza's picture

Just another perfect example of what one of the best coaches, if not the best coach in CFB can do with a team and its players. It would be a completely different story without Urban coaching this team.

yrro's picture

The talk about Heuerman and Hyde makes me curious if inheriting a power run football team is going to change any of Meyer's recruiting philosophy going forward. Having the personnel to really ram it down their throats inside seems to make his scheme even more deadly. It's always been spread to run power before, but it didn't seem like he really recruited the running backs and tight ends to optimize that aspect.

Tim's picture

I wouldn't mind seeing some short yardage plays run from under center.  Like on 4th and 1 or at the goal line, it doesn't even seem like QB sneak is an option because he has to be a few yards back from the center.

bassplayer7770's picture

Our Offense is ranked 23rd in Red Zone Offense this season scoring 33 out of 37 attempts.  That includes 23 rushing TDs, 7 passing TDs, and only 3 field goals.  At this point, I'm not going to question what we do in the red zone.

Tim's picture

That's true, and I'm not going to question the overall philosophy, but in the long-run, a QB sneak is going to be a higher percentage play to get a yard.  They shouldn't do it all the time, but in a tight game where half a yard is really needed, I think it would be good to have.

OSUBias's picture

Think we failed on one short yardage 4th down conversion this season? Second game right before half? I might be missing one (I'm not counting the fake punt miss), but whatever they are doing is working for short yardage. Seems like we always get it when it matters, even if it is juke city XBRAX.

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

pukindawg's picture

Great article Kyle. Did notice a mistype though. (Boren moved "from" fullback).
"Meyer has referred to Heuerman as the best blocking tight end he’s ever coached. Since Boren moved to fullback, Heuerman has occupied an H-back spot at times, becoming the lead blocker on run plays".

cinserious's picture

N3xt year it will be Vannett, Heuerman, and Marcus Baugh who will be competing at an even higher level than this yr to become the premier beast at TE, posssibly tops in the country. Baugh might come in last of the three considering he'll be at least a year behind the other two in understanding the offense. I don't know anything about Blake Thomas though.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

TennesseeJohn's picture

Love seeing Stoneburner succeeding in the system. There's no reason he shoudn't be making big plays like that all the time, with his size and hands.
Meyer's openness and honesty is so refreshing.

Grayskullsession's picture

Seeing the production we are seeing from the Tight Ends today is almost surreal when you look at the Tressel Era.

"if irony were made of strawberries, we' d all be drinking a lot of smoothies right now."

MediBuck's picture

I had a lot of concerns when I saw Stoney struggling earlier on in the season, given his rather quiet 2011 campaign. Now I realize that he hasn't been utilizing his size to his advantage against his current matchup vs. DBs. Looking forward to some great things from him in our last three games!

"There is a force that makes us all brothers, no one goes his way alone." --Woody Hayes

osubuckeye4life's picture

I'm glad to see Stoney is stepping his game up. If he continues to improve he will be a great threat in the last three games.