At this time a year ago, it looked like Joe Royer had a real chance to be Ohio State’s starting tight end in 2022.
Cade Stover was planning to move back to defense at the time, and Royer seemingly had the most momentum to emerge as the starter on a wide-open tight end depth chart.
Instead, Royer played only seven offensive snaps during the regular season.
Stover’s move back to defense was short-lived, and he ended up solidifying himself as Ohio State’s No. 1 tight end. Royer started the season fourth on the depth chart behind Stover, Mitch Rossi and Gee Scott Jr. Then, Royer suffered both injury and personal tragedy that kept him off the field most of the year.
A pulled groin early in the season sidelined Royer for seven games. He was away from the team entirely for a portion of that time after his mother, Micki, passed away in September.
It was a hard year for Royer both on and off the field. But he was grateful for the support he received from his Buckeye teammates and coaches along the way.
“It was tough. Obviously, I wanted to be out there more playing. But God has a bigger plan for me and I can’t pick and choose whether I play or get hurt or not,” Royer told Eleven Warriors during an interview at Ohio State’s media day before the Peach Bowl. “The tight ends and (new tight ends coach Keenan Bailey), they were there a lot for me. And obviously all the coaches and players were. They made it real easy for me when I got back to Columbus, so they helped me out a lot.”
Royer finally got his opportunity to play a bigger role in the offense against Georgia in the Peach Bowl. Stover left the game after suffering back spasms late in the first quarter, and Scott was also sidelined by injury, opening the door for Royer to be the next man up at tight end along with Rossi. Royer played 28 snaps after Stover’s exit from the game and caught one pass for nine yards.
Could that playing time in the College Football Playoff propel Royer into a bigger role in 2023? He knows that will depend in part on how he continues to develop this offseason.
“I gotta have a big offseason, still,” Royer said before the Peach Bowl. “Big spring ball as well and fall camp, continue to show the coaches that they can trust me. So hopefully do well in those aspects and they’ll put me out on the field.”
Specifically, Royer said he needs to “get bigger, stronger so I can be a better blocker in the run and pass game.” The 6-foot-5 tight end, who weighed in at 245 pounds this past season, is looking to bulk up to above 250 pounds this offseason.
With Stover returning to Ohio State for his fifth-year senior season but Rossi now done with the Buckeyes, Royer is expected to compete with Scott to be the No. 2 tight end behind Stover. That’s a role that should come with substantial playing time, as Rossi played 286 offensive snaps for the Buckeyes in 2022.
Seeing as Rossi was primarily a blocker for the Buckeyes, the ability to block – even if more as a traditional in-line tight end than the fullback role Rossi often played for Ohio State – will be paramount to taking his place as one of OSU’s top two tight ends. Redshirt sophomore Sam Hart, redshirt freshman Bennett Christian and even true freshman Jelani Thurman could also factor into the competition to be the No. 2 tight end this spring and summer.
That said, both Royer and Scott offer the potential to give Ohio State another pass-catching weapon at the position. And they have a blueprint to follow for a fourth-year breakout from Stover, who went from catching just five passes for 76 yards in 2021 to catching 36 passes for 406 yards and five touchdowns in 2022.
“I'm super happy for Cade. Nobody deserves that more than him. He’s the hardest worker and a great guy, so I'm extremely happy for him,” Royer said. “But yeah, he just kind of set a new bar for the tight ends out of Ohio State, so I'm hoping whenever I get my shot, I can live up to that.”
While the 2022 season didn’t go the way Royer envisioned it would, Ohio State utilizing him as much as it did in a CFP game indicates he’s started to earn the coaches’ trust despite his lack of playing time before that. Stover said last year he thinks Royer “can be really special one day,” and Bailey echoed that sentiment while speaking with Eleven Warriors before the Peach Bowl.
“If you look across the room, we've got a lot of great guys. I mean, this kid sitting next to me can be special,” Bailey said while sitting alongside Royer at Ohio State’s media day.
How much of a role that will lead to in 2023 remains to be determined this offseason. He’ll do everything he can to try to make the biggest impact he can for the Buckeyes, though, because that’s what his mother would want.
“She'd always get on me about if I'm gonna do something, do it to the best of my ability. Don’t ever sell myself short,” Royer said. “So I'm just trying to live by that and continue to make her proud.”