Ohio State got some good news on the recruiting trail on Dec. 30 in the form of Sam Hart, a tight end from Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, Colorado. While Hart's commitment came unexpectedly and he is only a three-star in the national rankings, he could be a great fit for Ohio State's offense.
Based solely on measurables (6-5, 225) and a quick glance at his film, he looks like most high school tight ends do: raw. However, when you take a deep dive into his film and compare his play to how Ohio State uses its tight ends, you can see exactly why Ohio State took Hart's commitment at this stage.
Ohio State's tight ends have been used to do a variety of things in Ryan Day's offense. In their simplest form, Ohio State's tight ends are asked to play four different roles: wide receiver, H-back, sixth offensive lineman and finally tight end. Hart currently shows the ability to play all of these roles with plenty of room to improve once he arrives in Columbus.
Below, we break down some specific plays from his junior highlight reel to demonstrate the skills he will bring to the Buckeyes in 2021.
Hart often lines up at wide receiver at Cherokee Trail, whether it be in the slot or out wide. Even with the Buckeyes' current talent at wide receiver, they still often line up their tight ends out wide hoping to create matchups with smaller defenders.
Three plays on Hart's junior film really highlight his ability to be a matchup nightmare at wide receiver:
- Play one: Left slot, the second man from the bottom. Hart sells the fade then breaks at 10 yards on a corner route to the sideline. He sees his quarterback rolling then breaks towards the sideline and goes over the defender to catch the ball.
- Play two: Split out wide, top of the screen. Hart runs a deep fade and separates from his defender. He reads the ball well after looking back to see that the ball is underthrown, then makes the adjustment and high points the ball.
- Play three: Split out wide, top of the screen. Hart runs a tight five-yard comeback against a cornerback in off coverage. At the top of his route, Hart shows his chest and breaks towards the ball. After the catch, he runs through an ankle tackle then trucks a defender to get the first down.
The first two plays show how good Hart is at running routes, tracking the ball and most importantly catching the ball. The third clip, however, is more indicative of what he will be asked to do at Ohio State: catch the short route then work for the first down.
The H-back position at Ohio State typically refers to the wide receiver/running back hybrid that became famous in Urban Meyer's offense, but under Day, however, another hybrid position has emerged, with a second tight end lining up in a two-point stance either beside or behind the offensive line and blocking – a pseudo-fullback role.
Hart's junior highlight tape includes two plays that show his ability to play that hybrid position:
- Play one: End of the right side of the offensive line, off a motion. Hart does a great job of using inside alignment to block the end defender out to open up a lane for the runner.
- Play two: Third wide receiver from the bottom just outside the offensive line. Even though he almost looks like a slot receiver here, this is a very good representation of what he will do at Ohio State. Hart lines up inside on a small defender and uses his body on an in-breaking route to catch a pass for a positive gain.
This H-back hybrid position is perfect for a player like Hart who can use inside alignment to gain a blocking advantage or shield a defender with outside technique on a reception.
Sixth offensive lineman
While some teams actually bring in an extra offensive lineman off the sidelines on running downs, most try to use a tight end to gain a blocking advantage on pass or run plays. Ohio State often uses its tight ends as a blocker to get the edge on run plays or to block a defender on rollout passes instead of using a sixth offensive lineman.
Three plays from Hart's junior year show that he has the blocking prowess to be an extra offensive lineman in those sets:
- Play one: Top of the screen, right of the offensive tackle. In this play, Hart has to make the key block and he does perfectly. Hart is supposed to down block the defensive end to the inside, allowing the running back to break outside. Not only does Hart seal off the defender, he also puts him in the dirt.
- Play two: Bottom of the screen, on the left side of the tackle. Unlike the previous play, Hart's block is not the most crucial but still very important and shows his mobility. Hart is lined up with his hand in the dirt and is asked to block the linebacker in space. He does this very well, taking the linebacker even deeper into the end zone.
- Play three: Bottom of the screen, outside the left tackle. This final play is a mixture of the two previous plays because he is tasked with blocking a blitzing linebacker. Hart absorbs the contact from the linebacker and manages to give no ground while turning the defender out.
This section of tight end play is completely reliant on a tight end's ability and desire to block. Hart isn't yet the most technically sound run blocker, but he has a good foundation. More importantly, Hart has the want-to and a bit of a mean streak as a blocker.
As a traditional tight end, an Ohio State tight end must being able to block or receive at any given time. Lucky for Ohio State, Hart excels in both areas.
The following three plays in Hart's junior film show exactly why Hart is a coveted tight end prospect:
- Play one: Middle of the screen, outside the right tackle. This is your standard tight end play where he is asked to double-team with the offensive tackle and finish through the defensive tackle. He and the tackle drive the defensive player 10 yards downfield together, then Hart takes him 10 more yards.
- Play two: Bottom of the screen, left of the offensive tackle. Out of all the plays on Hart's highlights, this may be the one that looks like a carbon copy out of Ohio State's playbook. Hart takes a shallow cross off the line and runs it 10 yards deep, where he is wide open for the quarterback rolling out.
- Play three: Middle of the screen, right of the offensive tackle. Another play that looks like one Hart will run in Columbus. Hart starts with his hand in the dirt and bursts off the line, then settles in the middle of the field and flashes back to the quarterback after five yards.
Hart is not a finished product at tight end, and he has said that, but he has the tools to develop into an all-around tight end at Ohio State.
In the meantime, Hart has to add some strength and technique in order to play with the Buckeyes, but he is a clear system fit for what Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson want their tight ends to do in Ohio State's offense.