When members of Ohio State's coaching staff go down the lengthy list of the team's offensive playmakers, Nick Vannett's name isn't one of the first to get mentioned. Not usually, anyway.
That's not because Vannett isn't a good player or a key member of the Buckeyes' offense — he's actually one of the top tight ends in the country — it's more of a compliment to the rest of the skill position guys.
With players like Ezekiel Elliott, Braxton Miller, MIchael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Curtis Samuel, among others, it's somewhat easy to see how Vannett may get lost in the shuffle. He's not flashy and he doesn't make a ton of catches — he only had 19 receptions for 220 yards and five touchdowns in 2014 as he platooned with Jeff Heuerman — but he plays a key role for Ohio State.
And in the Buckeyes' season-opener next Monday against Virginia Tech, that role could be even greater.
Ohio State was already set to take on the Hokies without a trio of wide receivers — Marshall, Dontre Wilson and Corey Smith — who were suspended in July for one game for a violation of team rules. Then, during a practice last week, the Buckeyes lost sophomore wide receiver Noah Brown for the season with a leg fracture essentially leaving the team without four of its top wideouts for the season opener.
“The coaches kind of prepare us for big stages like this. You come to a place like Ohio State, you’ve gotta be ready to play in games like this.”– Nick Vannett
That means Thomas and a stable of young receivers must man the outside receiver positions while Miller and Samuel will hold down the slot. But it also means there may be a greater opportunity for Vannett to shine as one of the more experienced players on the team.
"With the suspensions and Noah being out for the year, somebody’s gotta step up," Vannett said Monday. "We’ve got a lot of young guys who haven’t really had that game experience yet so I think they’re looking to the older guys to play a huge role in this game. We’re just going out there, practicing as hard as we can and just preparing as well as we can for this game.”
Vannett's your prototypical tight end and a perfect fit for what is required of him in Urban Meyer's offense. He's big — Vannett is listed at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds — he's strong, fast and can block for Elliott in the run game as well as he can catch passes. ESPN NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay has Vannett listed as his No. 1 tight end prospect entering the season.
As the Buckeyes prepare to go on the road to a hostile environment like Lane Stadium without four of their top offensive playmakers, having that veteran tight end like Vannett could be crucial to Ohio State's ability to knock off the Hokies no matter if it's J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones who plays quarterback.
"The coaches kind of prepare us for big stages like this," Vannett said. "You come to a place like Ohio State, you’ve gotta be ready to play in games like this."
Vannett is prepared for whatever sort of role he'll play against the Hokies. It could be his usual one that doesn't show up a ton in the box score, but there's also a strong chance he sees an expanded role with the current circumstances for the Buckeyes. He could be a major factor or an afterthought.
When Ohio State offensive coordinator Ed Warinner was asked Monday what the Buckeyes' plan was in the passing game without four of their top offensive guys, he rattled off the list of names that's been repeated several times throughout the course of training camp.
Warinner mentioned Miller. He also mentioned Samuel and Thomas. "You've got, for this game, a variety of other guys we can look to, " Warinner said.
Warinner then paused for a brief second then revealed one final name.
"Then we have our big tight end, Nick Vannett," he said.
He's never the first guy mentioned, but he's rarely ever forgotten. Vannett could be huge for Ohio State against Virginia Tech.