Vannett Steps into the Tight End Spotlight

By Kyle Rowland on April 11, 2014 at 9:15a

Opportunities flourish with the arrival of spring practice. Veterans seize openings, freshmen become acclimated with college football and coaches evaluate every minute detail. For Nick Vannett, spring 2014 presents an appearance in the spotlight.

Injuries are never celebrated, thus was the case when tight end Jeff Heuerman was sidelined after foot surgery. But coaches and players alike didn’t sound the alarm, because Heuerman should return at 100 percent this summer and missing two weeks of spring drills won’t act as a setback for the senior.  

It represents a chance for Vannett to further distinguish himself.

“I will take our two tight ends over anybody in America,” head coach Urban Meyer said.

Tight end is a unique position in that it’s a hybrid between wide receiver and offensive lineman. If you can’t catch or block, you need not apply. Vannett is a maestro at both. In two seasons, he’s tallied 17 receptions for 203 yards and a touchdown and his blocking prowess has earned him continual praise from Meyer and tight ends coach Tim Hinton.

Meyer tagged Vannett with the “most improved” tag this spring. Coming off a record-setting season that included yards and points not seen in decades at Ohio State, the Buckeye offense in in a bit of a reboot. The offensive line and running backs are going through total overhauls, bringing tight end to attention.

“We’re still finding our identity right now,” Vannett said. “When you lose guys like Philly Brown and Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde, it’s hard to replace those guys. But me and Jeff are trying to step up and be that key, that go-to guy. Before he got hurt, I thought we were doing a really good job. We’ve just got to keep pushing it.”

The camaraderie inside the tight ends meeting room is infectious. All hands are on deck. Veterans help young players who strive for a chunk of playing time, while Heuerman and Vannett give each other pointers. The duo came to Ohio State in the same recruiting class forging a lasting bond.

“We push each other to be great and challenge each other in practice,” Vannett said. “It hurts not having him out here, but someone has to step up. I’ve taken the challenge upon myself to go out and get better.”

When the current coaching staff took over, Hinton remembers tight ends that were on the 100 level of course instruction. That’s steadily progressed all the way up to 400 with Vannett understanding the smallest details relating to passing routes, defenses and blitz packages.

He’s established himself as a worthy competitor and one deserving of shared playing time. The Central Ohio native, a graduate of Westerville Central, is cognizant of the situation. Vannett enters his junior season firmly entranced in the rotation, but nowhere near satisfied. Content is an unspoken work in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

“I’m a junior. I have to step up,” Vannett said. “I’ve been taking things a little more serious this year. I have to mature. You have to watch more film and understand defenses better. I’m trying to help other guys out and do everything I can to make the offense successful.

“Most of it’s just internal for me. I want the best for myself. I’m a competitive person. I want to be the best tight end that goes through Ohio State, and that’s just the pride I have in myself. Every time I come out on the field, I want to get better at one area of my game and just help out the offense.”

The work ethic and alertness has not gone unnoticed. Hinton’s seen a more physical tight end who’s blocking well and interpreting the nuances of Xs and Os.

“He’s having a great spring,” Hinton said. “Each of those reps is an opportunity to get better and improve. As you go through it, you gain confidence and you believe in yourself. Coach Meyer is teasing him all the time that he has veins in his arms now. He’s starting to feel good about himself. He’s just going out and executing. The game is fast and no one is perfect, but he’s had a great spring and has improved his skill level.”

When you sign up to play football for the Buckeyes, improving is a yearly grind. It’s a crucial operation for Vannett during the offseason. The playbook expanded from 2012 to 2013, with an even more robust catalogue on tap for 2014. Life is easier when overseeing a unit that’s consistent and resourceful.

What could be conjured up this fall are two tight end sets. Vannett and Heuerman can both block and catch. Their athleticism fits the mold of a Meyer-type tight end, which he constantly utilizes.

“They just have to play well,” Hinton said. “When you do your job and you execute and you’re productive, we watch that film to the nth degree. Productive people will play. For Nick, his consistency is much better. We will find ways to get the most productive players on the field, whether it’s with two tight ends. We have a lot of weapons on offense. The physicality of what we’re doing is a lot better than it was a year ago.”

It’s an added wrinkle for defensive coordinators to ponder, a twist for an already highly regarded offense.


Comments Show All Comments

GVerrilli92's picture

Should be a good time this year.

With us probably shifting tendencies to an off-tackle running offense, the TEs will be huge in blocking and should have added opportunities to catch the ball down the seam.

Baugh will also see the field in the OOC schedule. I'm ready to see him for the first time after constantly reading about his high school accomplishments.

It's gonna be a good time.

I got a gray kitty, white kitty, tabby too, and a little orange guy who puts snakes in my shoes. Got mad MC skills, that leave ya struck, and I roll with my kitties and I'm hard as f*ck.

buckeyeradar's picture

Great attitude.  The tight ends have been waiting for their turn in the offense.  This may be the year. Thanks Kyle.

I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box but I'm one of the most colorful.

Mortc15's picture

I just love reading about allll the options Ohio State's offense is starting to have. Hopefully we see improved play from the wide receivers this year and accuracy from the qb. The defenses can't possibly take everything away and if Vannett and Baugh can take advantage of the added reps, the TEs will become an even bigger strength. Can't wait to see some of these guys in action tomorrow afternoon!


Adam21's picture

I also love reading about the many options. I think it all comes down to the offensive line. If it is as good as I think it will be, we should be in for quite a show.

+1 HS
Hovenaut's picture


Hoping that overlooking the TE becomes a real problem for opposing defenses this fall, as there should be plenty of attention given to all the talent at the other skill spots.

Would not mind seeing increased productivity from Heuerman, with Vannett (and Baugh down the road) contributing as well.

d5k's picture

Urban hinted that Vannett may have passed many of the WRs making it more likely that we use more 2 TE sets.  Lineups with Devin Smith, Dontre, Eze, Heuerman, Vannett as the skill positions would still be flexible enough if Dontre or perhaps Vannett is able to run routes outside the numbers.  This should help our young O-line in the run game.

+1 HS
tussey's picture

Just imagine running to side of the field that had Heuerman at TE, Vannett in the slot, and Spencer out wide.  That would be fantastic.

B1G 10 Buckeye Stuck in SEC Country's picture

With all the TE stories this spring I'm starting to think TE might maybe could sorta have a slight possibility of being a position of importance this coming season. However, I'm not totally convinced.

" Life is hard; it's harder if you're stupid." - John Wayne 

DC-town's picture

The tightends are talented, deep, can catch and block...but come on

 I'm not getting excited until I see them actually catching passes.  We have an embarassment if riches at receiver, rb, and pivot...the TE will always be fourth behind that- not saying they won't catch any passes, but we'll see wht we saw last year, probably 6-8 touchdowns combined on the year...would love to be wrong

'Piss excellence' -RB

Johnny_Buck71's picture

I think it's likely, especially early in the season, that we see a lot from the tight ends. It just seems to me that replacing a lot on the offensive side, particularly the line, would mean you would be purposeful in getting extra bodies on the line, if for no other reeason than just to get some blocking help. That the main two guys are reliable catching and blocking just makes it that more obvious. So I think the coach-speek actually translates to reality this year. Go Bucks!

A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore. - Yogi Berra