Jeremy Ruckert's Return Gives Ohio State an Exceptional Target if It Wants to More Prominently Feature the Tight End in the Passing Game

By Chris Lauderback on July 29, 2021 at 8:35 am
Jeremy Ruckert torched Clemson for two touchdowns in last year's College Football Playoff semifinal contest.

Is this THE year?

No this probably isn't the year the collective tight end position goes ham within Ohio State's passing attack simply based on history and the roster's overall lack of proven depth but there's reason to believe the star at the position, Jeremy Ruckert, has a chance to put up a top-10 single-season by a tight end in school history. 

Ruckert, a Lindenhurst, New Jersey native, surprised many when he opted to return for another season in Columbus which, in theory, would suggest he could see a few more balls thrown in his direction this fall. 

Day fanned the flames of that hypothesis when during Big Ten media days, he answered a Zach Harrison query by suggesting the plan is to "get Ruckert at least 31 catches," enough to break Ben Hartsock's school record of 30 in a single-season. 

Poor Day either misinterpreted the facts or received some inaccurate information, presumably from his associate AD of communications, Jerry Emig, considering Hartsock's 33 catches in 2003 aren't even good enough to place among Ohio State's top five single-seasons from a tight end. 

For accuracy sake, Billy Anders owns the single-season receptions mark for an OSU tight end with 55 in 1966. John Frank is next with 45 in both 1981 and 1983, followed by 40 from Jeff Ellis in 1988 and finally Bob Grimes' 39 way back in 1952. 

That said, no tight end has come all that close to the 33 catches Hartsock logged 17 seasons ago. Marcus Baugh tallied 28 in 2017 and Jeff Heuerman had 26 back in 2013. 

Kinda makes you feel like Ruckert would sign up for the 31 his head coach touted in a heartbeat though he's undoubtedly hungry for more. 

Last season, Ruckert put up 13 receptions for 151 yards in Ohio State's pandemic-shortened eight game season. The catches ranked third on the squad and the yards placed fourth. Assuming Ruckert played a full 15 games at that same pace, he would've finished with 24 grabs for 289 yards and nine scores. 

Even with the decent abbreviated season stats, Ruckert recorded zero or one catch in five of eight games. Hell, 60% of his yardage production came over the last two contests as he lit up Clemson with three catches for 55 yards before posting one grab, a spectacular one-hander no less, for 36 yards versus Alabama. 

His effort in the College Football Playoff semifinal was particularly notable as he hauled in a 17-yard touchdown toss giving Ohio State its first lead at 21-14 (which it would not relinquish) before his 12-yard score early in third quarter extended the cushion over Dabo's Tigers to 35-14. 

Looking back to the 2019 season, Ruckert led the tight ends with 14 catches and 142 yards though both stats ranked seventh on the team. Just like last season, he slotted just behind Luke Farrell in snap counts and served as an effective blocker. 

It's all about usage when it comes to Ruckert's production as reliable hands have never been a question mark. The greatest example came against Wisconsin during the 2019 Big Ten title game as the Buckeyes trailed 21-7 early the second half in Indianapolis. 

To Ruckert's credit, while he'd love to be more involved in the passing game, he's about team achievement over personal accolades. At last week's Big Ten media days event, Ruckert made it clear he'd rather "have a big ring on my finger than 20 touchdowns" while reminding writers he'd block, play special teams or catch the football if that helps the team reach the ultimate goal. 

This fall however, while Day's comments don't guarantee a more prominent role in the  passing game for Ruckert, there are certainly factors that play into him doing exactly that. 

First, the rest of the tight ends on the roster played a combined 37 snaps last season. Former linebacker and third-year player Cade Stover might be first in line to spell Ruckert and/or join him in two tight end sets after playing only five snaps in 2020. 

After that, you're talking about another position-switch guy in second-year man Gee Scott Jr. and Joe Royer, also entering his second season for the Buckeyes. Sam Hart is a first-year guy and it seems a stretch to think he'd be a factor this season. So yeah, Ruckert is going to be on the field a ton. 

Also, Day needs to break in a new starting quarterback that'll be woefully short on collegiate experience but will at least be working behind what should be a dominant offensive line. Ruckert could serve as a bit of a security blanket on underneath stuff or find himself with room to maneuver as teams do what they can to defend Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson on the edges. 

With those realities among others, it feels like Ruckert truly does have a shot to put up - by Ohio State's standards - big time numbers from his tight end position this season. 

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