For the second time in his Ohio State career, Cade Stover has decided to make a move to tight end.
The first move came in between his first and second years at Ohio State, when Stover – who was recruited to Ohio State as a linebacker, but had moved to defensive end by the end of his freshman year – decided to switch sides of the ball and play tight end. For most of the past two years, that appeared to be a lasting move.
After Stover moved back to defense to play linebacker in the Rose Bowl, he expressed that he felt like he was back where he belonged. During an interview with Eleven Warriors in February, Stover said he missed playing linebacker “every day” over the last two years, and said he thought he could make an impact “every single play” on the defensive side of the ball, which is where he began spring practice.
During Tuesday’s sixth practice of the spring, however, Stover was back at tight end again. And Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Kevin Wilson both said that was Stover’s decision.
“At the end of the day, it was really up to him,” Day said Tuesday. “And I think he saw just moving forward, he's got a huge ceiling at tight end. I think when you look at the work he's put in the past year and his skill set, he's got a chance to be a really good tight end. And I think the thing he would tell you is he wants to bring that same defensive mentality to the offense, and he can do that. He's strong, he's powerful, he's really athletic, got really good ball skills, was a really good high school basketball player. So he's back over at tight end and had a good couple practices.”
Day and Wilson still aren’t quite ready to call Stover’s latest position change permanent, as Day replied “never say never” when asked if it was still possible Stover could make another move back to defense. They do agree, though, that it would be best for Stover to remain at one position or the other as he enters his fourth season as a Buckeye – and they say they want him to do what’s best for him.
“Now that he's a veteran in the program, he has a voice and we want to put them in the best position to be successful,” Day said. “And it's something that, there's always been conversation about it, and now that he's been there for a couple practices, we'll continue to talk about it. But he needs to focus on something for a while in order to be successful. We can't keep bouncing around.”
While both Day and Wilson have said that they want Stover to play where he wants to play, it probably is in the team’s best interest if Stover stays at tight end. With Stover practicing on defense, Ohio State returned only one tight end – Mitch Rossi, a former walk-on who is unavailable this spring due to injury – who had played more than 100 snaps for the Buckeyes at the position. With Stover back on offense, he becomes the likely starter at one of the team’s biggest positions of uncertainty.
Had Stover remained on defense, it’s uncertain how much playing time he would have been in line for at linebacker. While he was viewed as a candidate to play the Jack/Leo position as a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end, and would have also been a candidate to play Sam linebacker in more traditional three-linebacker packages, the Buckeyes plan to continue running a 4-2-5 base defense, and Day acknowledged that has created a “logjam” at the linebacker position.
Stover will still face competition for playing time at tight end, as Joe Royer and Gee Scott Jr. are also in the mix to play increased roles this season, but both of them remain a bit undersized for what Ohio State ideally wants in an in-line blocker. At 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, Stover has the body type the Buckeyes covet at tight end, and Wilson and Day both believe he has the potential to be more of an impact player at the position than he was in 2021.
They’ve also been impressed by how hard Stover has worked to improve and become a team leader this offseason.
“I definitely think he has the skills to be very, very good,” Wilson said. “I probably have more respect for him after he went to defense, the way he played defense, the way he worked out in the winter, because he became truly one of the premier top leaders of this team, the way he approached our workouts and all that.”
“I think when you look at the work he's put in the past year and his skill set, he's got a chance to be a really good tight end.”– Ryan Day on Cade Stover
While Stover was excited about the prospect of playing linebacker going into this spring, he also said in February that the most important thing for him entering his redshirt junior season was having the opportunity to play regularly and make an impact on the field this year, feeling that he’s waited his turn long enough.
“I’m at the point now, I want to impact the game and take a leadership role on this team and just help us win ball games,” Stover said.
As Ohio State replaces Jeremy Ruckert, staying at tight end gives Stover the surest opportunity to make an impact this season, and that’s the position he’s now focused on playing once again.