Is This the Year a Tight End Emerges As a Serious Offensive Contributor for Ohio State?

By David Regimbal on April 8, 2019 at 2:45 pm
Luke Farrell and Rashod Berry

It was late in October of 2017 when Ohio State's tight end made the biggest play of the season.

The sixth-ranked Buckeyes were hosting second-ranked and unbeaten Penn State. James Franklin's squad had raced out to a 21-3 first-half lead that morphed into a 35-20 fourth quarter advantage.

That's when Ryan Day's offense started to click. Quarterback J.T. Barrett orchestrated a symphonic comeback, completing all 13 of his fourth-quarter pass attempts. And with less than two minutes on the clock and trailing by five, Barrett looked to his tight end for the signature moment of the 2017 season.

Marcus Baugh hauled in the go-ahead 16-yard touchdown catch to cap one of the most improbable comebacks of the season. 

Seeing an Ohio State tight end in the spotlight was a rare moment, because over the last two decades, the position has been underutilized in the Buckeyes offense.

Stretching from John Cooper to Urban Meyer, Ohio State's tight ends have been an afterthought in the offense. You have to go all the way back to 1995 for a notable instance.

That season, Eddie George was running his way through every defense he faced on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. All-American receiver Terry Glenn was split wide, hauling in a then-school record 1,411 receiving yards.

Streaking down the middle of the field that year was Rickey Dudley, the only Buckeye tight end in the last 23 seasons to eclipse the 500-yard receiving mark (he finished that year with 37 receptions for 575 yards and seven touchdowns).

The next-best year for a Buckeye tight end came in 2013, when Jeff Heuerman tallied 466 yards.

That's a lot of futility for a key offensive position. Apparently, that futility is so entrenched in the program that the school's most prolific passing attack couldn't turn the tide.

No team in Ohio State history threw for more yards or passing touchdowns than last year's squad. Dwayne Haskins shattered the school's single-season passing records, throwing for 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns. 

You'd think the tight ends would've seen a bump in production, but collectively, the unit hauled in just 30 catches for 296 yards and three touchdowns.

Can that change? Will Ohio State's tight ends every truly be a feature in its passing attack? 

To Day's credit, he's looking for ways to get his best players involved this fall. Jeremy Ruckert, last year's third-stringer, was one of the crown jewels of the 2018 recruiting class. Ranked the 18th overall recruit, the No. 1 tight end and a five-star recruit by 247Sports, he has all the traits you want in a seam-busting pass-catcher.

Ruckert didn't see the field much in his first season last year, finishing with just one reception for 13 yards. But with Luke Farrell and Rashod Berry back, Ruckert is staring up the depth chart. That's why Day is playing with two tight-end sets this offseason, with Ruckert lining in more of an H-back spot to give the passing attack an added dimension.

That's a big development for a tight end room that's loaded with playmaking ability. Co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson produced a lot of NFL talent at the position during his time at Oklahoma and Indiana, and if Ohio State can usher in a new commitment to its tight ends in the passing game, we might not have to wait another 23 years to see another productive tight end wearing Scarlet and Gray.

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