Ohio State 2012 Breakdown: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends

By Ross Fulton on January 10, 2013 at 2:00p

We continue our 2012 analysis and early 2013 preview with a look at Ohio State's wide receivers and tight ends. As with the Buckeye offensive line, OSU's wide receiver corps was a question mark throughout spring and fall practice and the Buckeyes were undoubtedly thin at the position.

But fortunately for the Buckeyes, Corey Brown and Devin Smith emerged as two – if different – threats that contributed to the 12-0 finish. Brown was the player OSU relied on for consistency and to move the chains, while Smith was the vertical threat.

With those two and others returning, this group must continue to develop for OSU's offense to make further strides.

"H" Receiver

It is helpful to examine the wide receiver corps by position and the biggest demarcation is between the slot – or H receiver in Meyer's lingo – and outside personnel.

In Meyer's scheme, the H receiver is one of the most important positions on the offensive side of the ball. He wants a smaller athlete at the position that can make plays in space and run after the catch.

The H is also who the Buckeyes use to beat man coverage. Here's what Coach Hoover wrote about one of Meyer's staple plays, the H option:

H Option is a play designed to get the ball into the hands of the offense's most dynamic playmaker.  First it was Paris Warren at Utah, and then at Florida it was Percy Harvin, after whom the position was commonly referred to as the "Percy Position."  It is the football equivalent to the basketball play where everybody spreads the court and gets out of the way to let your best player take his guy 1 on 1.

Clearly, H is an important man and should lead the Buckeyes in receptions. Fortunately for Ohio State, Brown emerged to deftly fill this role, finishing 2012 with 60 receptions, including a career-high 12 in the win against Michigan State.

Brown was extremely reliable, catching everything thrown his way and becoming Braxton Miller's security blanket on third down. He was undoubtedly the Buckeyes' primary target in the middle to underneath zones.

This was particularly true on play action and sprint out

As the season progressed, he also exhibited an ability to run after the catch, and was versatile enough to motion into the backfield to occasionally run outside zone option. And, of course, he also had two crucial punt returns for touchdowns.

Brown emerged as one of the Buckeyes' crucial cogs and was critical to the Buckeyes' success. If he can continue to develop his explosiveness and yards after catch he will be one of college football's top wide receivers. Brown is undoubtedly one of the Buckeye offense's most important returning members for 2013.

Jake Stoneburner also aligned as an interior receiver, though in a different role. Stoneburner would align on the line of scrimmage and effectively function as a flexed tight end (when Stoneburner was in the position Brown would move to flanker or "Z"').

For Stoneburner, it was perhaps not the season some envisioned. It seemed that he was a classic tweener. He did not comfortably fit at any one position as a receiver and he was not the all-around blocker needed to function in the hybrid TE/fullback role.

Plus, in preseason, the coaching staff needed a way to get Zach Boren on the field and had a dearth of bodies at wide receiver. Yet Stoneburner did not have the immediate vertical speed Meyer looked for in his outside wide receivers. 

The only consistent thing about Stoneburner's season was inconsistency. This was a result of Stoneburner's own seeming lapses in concentration as well as a somewhat limited pass game that often did not go past the initial option, generally Brown or Devin Smith.

That is not to say, however, that Stoneburner did not make big contributions. Perhaps none was more important than the double slant pass he caught for a game-clinching touchdown against Penn State.

Stoneburner also made a less heralded but perhaps more important contribution in the form of his blocking from that flexed position. He was very effective in blocking smaller defensive backs to create a seal for edge plays, opening the OSU run game.

Y and Z Wide Receiver

The Buckeyes did not get the consistent play from its outside receivers that it did from the H position. Again, this is partly a question of scheme.

Meyer's spread offense is going to feature the inside guy. But it was also a reflection of the Buckeyes' relative dearth of playmakers from the wide receiver position.

Smith was undoubtedly the second option after Brown and OSU's deep threat. He showed immediately that he could beat a defense deep, and his game-winner against Sparty was a thing of beauty.

Once teams began playing Smith with soft coverage, however, he became less effective. This was partly self-imposed with untimely drops. This was unfortunate because Smith also demonstrated an ability to run with the football after the catch.

Promisingly, however, Smith improved on these aspects in the season's last month. In particular, he was effective on flash screens and hitch routes against those soft coverage schemes.

Smith may have the most all-around upside of the Buckeye receivers, and thus if he can develop the other aspects of his game, he can really make a leap forward. 

As noted, Brown often lined up on run downs at Z receiver, moving inside on third down. Smith, Brown, and Stoneburner played the vast majority of wide receiver plays. After those three, there was a significant drop-off in snaps.

Indeed, the only other outside receiver playing significant minutes was Evan Spencer. Spencer has good size with good hands and exhibited flashes. But he did not emerge as enough of a threat in a run-heavy offense to gain consistent looks.

Tight End and H-Back (Y)

The Y position went through a drastic shift midseason, as Boren, who received the majority of the reps, moved to defense, providing significantly more playing time to Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett. Boren was never a vertical pass threat but was a devastating lead blocker.

Heuerman could not match Boren's ability to lead block and occasionally struggled with reading defensive games. But Meyer commented that Heuerman was one of the best blocking tight ends he had coached and he was very effective from more traditional tight end alignments.

Heuerman was not a significant vertical threat either, but was effective on flood routes off play-action.

Vannett is less the blocker than Heuerman, but quicker and more of a deep pass threat. Vannett generally played, then, when OSU wanted more of a pass-catching threat from the position, as well as in two tight end sets. In particular, OSU utilized Vannett on seam routes.

A Step Forward?

Despite the strides made at wide reciever, no one would assert that the Buckeye receiving corps was the strength of the offense. Ohio State needs similar improvements from year one to year two to more fully realize the offense's potential.

The personnel is there to make that jump. Part of the improvement will come in the form of Miller becoming more consistent, working through his progressions, and moving when his initial reads are not present. But some of it needs to come from the receivers themselves.

As noted, Brown established himself as sure-handed and a reliable threat to move the chains. If he can become more of a home run threat whenever he touches the football, he will become a receiver opposing defenses need to plan for.

OSU also needs consistent play from its outside receiver spots. As noted, Smith has the potential to be an all-around receiving threat, but simply needs to increase his consistency. And OSU needs a reliable third option. Spencer has the size that he could become a good complement on the outside, but needs to demonstrate consistent results. This could also come in the form of the tight ends, whether it be Heuerman, Vannett, or freshman Marcus Baugh.

The bottom line is that the Buckeyes need more playable wide receivers than just two or three guys. Help is also on the way in the form of Jordan Hall's return. Hall has the potential to fill this "H" role in certain down and distances, getting the ball underneath in space and moving between the slot and backfield. This will allow Brown to move outside and present a defense with different matchups.

Incoming freshmen such as Jalin Marshall and Ezekiel Elliott could also potentially fill these multifaceted roles. The upshot for the Buckeyes is that increased playmaking threats should improve the offense's flexibility and allow them to threaten the defense. 


Comments Show All Comments

themostbrian's picture

Wonderful breakdown, Ross!
Do you see Jordan Hall as more of a RB or an H in next year's offense?

Ross Fulton's picture

The biggest area I see J. Hall contributing is something I have actually discussing today on twitter. Meyer & Co. like to slow down the linebackers by using lots of jet sweep action built into the base inside zone and counter trey plays. But OSU did not really have a player to run those sweep plays this year. I think Hall fills that role quite a bit. He can do that either by motioning into the backfield from H-back, starting in the backfield, or vice versa.

themostbrian's picture

Thanks so much for the response. Appreciate you putting that all into context for me!

themostbrian's picture

One more question: Where do you see Jalin Marshall fitting in, position-wise? Is he the classic H that we've all been waiting for? Will he be more in the Jordan Hall or Corey Brown mold? Or, perhaps, something else entirely?

Ross Fulton's picture

I frankly see him as the protypical H receiver...


I think they will move Brown around a lot. Maybe more Hall and Marshall in the slot on run downs with Brown at Z. Then Brown will bump inside with 11 and 10 personnel. That is what they did with him this year anyway.

rdubs's picture

Definitely agree on Stoneburner's down field blocking, he might have been too much of a tweener for most roles, but that one he was perfect for.  I'll bet on 75% of Braxton's runs over 20 yards you'll see Stoneburner pancaking a safety to force someone from the opposite side of the field to make the play.

Tengauge's picture

As usual Mr. Fulton educates us on the inside happenings in a wonderful way. Thanks Ross for all you do in preparing these articles and breaking it down. 

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Ross, good point about the impact that Z. Boren's switch to defense had on the offense. Maybe the offense would have struggled just a bit less against Purdue and Wisconsin with Boren still playing H-back? Of course, he was a life saver on defense, so - on balance - the move paid off big time. Now that I think about it, Boren is one hell of a football player.

Ross Fulton's picture

He absolutely is. And yes I think it would have helped spring BM a few times on the edge...

Ethos's picture

Have we heard about How Hall is doing from an injury standpoint?  Is he fully healed at this point?  I'm worried about his psyche for next year having sustained this injury.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

BED's picture

Thanks for choosing the Dave highlight with Hyde trolling Denard at the end.

The Ohio State University, College of Arts & Sciences, Class of 2006
The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Class of 2009

Maestro's picture

The take home for me is that all of the receivers will be better next season as Miller becomes a more reliable passer.  I am very excited about the offense next season.  I really enjoyed seeing the progressing of Vannett over the season and look forward to Miller having several different reliable receiving options next season.

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Ross Fulton's picture

On a related note, I will also add my 2 cents re WR recruiting. As I discuss in the article, you cannot look at WR recruiting as though they all play the same position. Jalin Marshall will be an 'H.' They already have him and Tavian Jacobs that both have to be slot guys. Therefore, the emphasis is going to be on guys that can play on the outside. You don't need to be Calvin Johnson size, but you also don't want to have 5'9'' guys either.

OSU is really thin right now on outside guys. That's why they really wanted Quick. To me, Elder and Timmons are more the size of a slot WR, and that may be why they fall lower on their interest list.

Maestro's picture

Gibson is an outside guy right?

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OldColumbusTown's picture

I believe he is, but he's more of a Santonio Holmes-sized WR.  He's going to beat you with his speed and as a deep threat, but I don't think he's one that you can expect to win a bunch of jump-ball battles.

Ross Fulton's picture

Yes, agreed. 



I think this may be the reason for the renewed interest in Corey Smith.

cinserious's picture

Thats why we have Michael Thomas.

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

CptBuckeye24's picture

For this passing to improve and takeoff, a precision-based passing with timing routes and precise routes must develop.  Braxton must have his reads and options on timing routes and hit the open guy.  At times, it seemed like Braxton was waiting for someone to just get wide open or take off and run.  If this passing game really develops, the offense will be way more effective and efficient. 
Devin Smith has talent and upside but he needs to catch more passes and be more of an all-around threat rather than just a vertical threat. 
With Hall, Brown, Smith, Spencer, Thomas, Vannett/Heuerman, and Marshall this receiving core really needs to step up.  The potential is there but both Braxton and the receivers need to develop really quickly for OSU to go undefeated.  It can be done, and I think it will be, but is a necessity for this team. 

Killer nuts's picture

I think the next big step will be Braxton gaining the ability to "throw a guy open" when he is well covered by placing the ball with accuracy and anticipation. After that the receivers need to be able to catch the ball in tight quarters and get YAC

rgarrett22's picture

Michael Thomas had a HUGE spring game last year and I was expecting him to make more of an impact on the field as a true freshman. He played some snaps here or there, but he always looked a little lost out on the field.

Could he be the outside threat that we definitely need after another off season of work and development with the coaching staff?

IBleedSandG's picture

I'd look for Thomas to play a bigger role this year along w/ Spencer.


Ross Fulton's picture

Agreed. Thomas played sporadically this year but did not really distinguish himself. I would look for him to also have a chance to earn PT this spring.