Now the Center of Attention at Tight End, Nick Vannett Knows His Time is Now at Ohio State

By Eric Seger on April 9, 2015 at 1:45 pm

When Nick Vannett jogged out for Ohio State's first practice session of the spring, he had a bit of an unfamiliar feeling about him.

Sure, Jeff Heuerman missed all of spring drills one year ago with his foot injury, allowing Vannett to get the majority of the reps with the first-string offense, but with the calendar flipped to 2015 the starting tight end job is securely his and his alone.

"I really haven't taken the time to really embrace or think about it. It's more just I have to step up right away," Vannett said Thursday following Ohio State's 10th practice of the spring. "That's the one thing, when a guy leaves you can't miss a beat on offense."

It's like that everywhere inside the program Urban Meyer's built in just three years at the helm of the Buckeyes, gathering highly rated prospects in order to build depth across the board.

With guys like Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall, Curtis Samuel, Ezekiel Elliott, Noah Brown and others on offense, the potential for much action at tight end in the passing game is limited. That was similarly the case last season, but Vannett took advantage of the opportunities they had when they were presented.

"He had some great catches last year," Ohio State tight end coach Tim Hinton said. "He understands seams. We kind of had a little deal where you know man or you know zone and he understands how to handle both. I think he's pretty good at coverage reading."

Vannett, now a redshirt senior, snagged 19 passes in Ohio State's 15 games last season, racking up 220 yards and scoring five touchdowns.

Those might look like paltry numbers, but the five scores were good enough for fourth on the team. Not bad considering he was listed as the second tight end on the depth chart behind Heuerman.

"Nick has some really good strengths in the pass game and what he does in the pass game," Hinton said. "He's really tremendous at perimeter blocking."

Heuerman made his money by being a tremendous edge blocker as well, but excelled further when asked to pave the way on the interior for Ohio State's bevy of ballcarriers. He and Vannett formed a formidable one-two punch at the spot, leading Meyer to rave about Vannett's progress towards the end of the season.

"He's a guy that we keep trying to force ourselves to get him in the game," Meyer said during Michigan week in November.

Now, the Buckeyes won't have to force anything since Heuerman's off preparing for the NFL Draft. It's Vannett's job, but his position coach isn't going to let him sit on that fact.

"I try to put him in every tough situation I can because there's no perfect player," Hinton said. "There's always something someone can do to get a little bit better and so this spring's been very challenging for him and challenging for a reason, because we're trying to continue to put him in position to improve his weaknesses."

And while Vannett might miss Heuerman's jokes, million dollar smile and uncanny ability to keep the mood light during 5 a.m. workouts, he knows every day he goes to practice his teammates are looking to him to fill the void Heuerman left behind.

"We have a saying: when one guy drops the rifle, someone's gotta be there to pick it back up," Vannett said. "I've always embraced that and I always try to compete at the same level that Jeff has and that's really been my motivation."

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