Now That He's Figured Out “What” to Do At Tight End, Jelani Thurman Drilling Down on “How” and “Why” of Position's Techniques

By Andy Anders on April 2, 2024 at 10:10 am
Jelani Thurman

Collegiate tight ends rarely contribute in their first season. The position is just too developmental.

That’s why, despite his standing as the No. 3 tight end and No. 104 overall recruit in the 247Sports composite rankings for the 2023 recruiting class, Jelani Thurman was happy to sit back and take a redshirt for his freshman campaign.

“It was basically just a developmental year,” Thurman said. “Learning from the older guys, getting gems, getting to see them play, actually getting in there a little bit. I had a few plays during the season, but (I was) just learning, sitting back, getting ready for my year.”

With Cade Stover gone from the top of Ohio State’s tight end room – even as Gee Scott Jr. appears poised to take over as the squad’s starter – Thurman is preparing for a bigger role in the offense. As so many techniques and offensive knowledge are required to play the spot, Thurman is ready to start drilling down deeper than just knowing what to do to strike some year-two gold.

“He’s working really hard,” Ohio State tight ends coach Keenan Bailey said. “The first thing is to know what to do. Then you gotta know how to do it. Then the third part is why to do it. I think, right now, Jelani is being the best Buckeye he’s been. He’s making plays, and I gotta go back to, the entire unit has gotta be the toughest unit on the team and hardest working.”

Thurman played in five total games in 2023, four in the regular season to maintain his redshirt before making a surprise start in the Cotton Bowl. He received two snaps on the Buckeyes’ first possession then never played the rest of the game.

“Of course you want to come in and play but obviously, if you have someone in front of you that’s doing the job, getting the job done, why not let them do that,” Thurman said. “I’m here to win as a Buckeye, not just get in, play and try to be selfish.”

In 24 total snaps last season, Thurman made two receptions for 18 yards, all coming against Michigan State on Nov. 11.

Blocking has been one of the tougher parts of Thurman’s game to develop, likely a reason he didn’t see the gridiron much last season. Now that he’s worked at it for a year and change, he said that he enjoys “physically moving” people.

“It was one thing that I highlighted when I first got here, knowing that in high school I didn’t do too much of it,” Thurman said. “I was more a catching wide receiver. But when you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, you’ve gotta get better at it.”

Catching 39 passes for 624 yards and 13 touchdowns to catapult his Langston Hughes team to a Georgia state championship as a high school senior, Thurman believes his improved blocking can couple with his receiving skills to make him a diverse weapon.

“Versatility,” Thurman said of what he can bring to this year’s offense. “A lot of playmaking, a lot of down and dirty blocks because I have gotten better at blocking. Just an exciting player.”

His confidence is growing from the tweaks he’s made in his game, with the line reinforcer stating that “every aspect” of his game has improved.

Now, it’s just about drilling down on the knowledge aspect and getting into the crux of why each of his techniques is necessary so he can execute them better.

“Coach always says, ‘Know what to do, why to do it and how to do it,’” Thurman said. “This year has been me learning all three ways so I can be versatile (as a blocker and receiver) and be ready to go with no questions asked.”

Bailey is going to give Thurman ample opportunities to get involved as the offseason progresses. Thurman’s as talented as any tight end the Buckeyes have in tow, and with the competition he faces daily from an elite defense, there’s no doubt he’ll have ways to prove his mettle.

“I don’t care if he’s a senior or a true freshman,” Bailey said. “If you can play, you can play, period. I can’t wait. Give me a true freshman who can play tight end. This is Ohio State. You’ve gotta block Jack (Sawyer) and JT (Tuimoloau), you’re dog tired, next play you’re getting covered by (Caleb) Downs and Lathan (Ransom) and all those guys, are you kidding me? Is this the NFL? No, it’s Ohio State.”

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