Heading into fall camp, the Ohio State football team found itself surrounded by questions of who would step up and start in multiple positions on both sides of the ball.
Tight ends coach Tim Hinton is head of a unit that had such a problem, but you won’t hear a word of complaint from him.
Unlike positions such as the defensive line and linebacker (aside from second team All-Big Ten linebacker Ryan Shazier) who were left with a compilation of young, inexperienced players to choose from, Hinton has two talented tight ends who spent significant time on the field in 2012.
Junior Jeff Heuerman and redshirt sophomore Nick Vannettcombined for 17 catches, 217 yards and a touchdown last year, and both are looking to earn a role as the team’s No. 1 tight end.
Hinton, though, is not convinced that there will even be a No. 1 guy this year.
“I think there’s a (No.) 1 and (No.) 1 A, and I think it depends on what we’re doing. Each has certain strengths that they are better than the other at,” Hinton said. “I don’t feel uncomfortable with either one going in and playing a whole game nor do I feel uncomfortable spotting them in the right places.”
When asked if the Buckeyes would look to employ a two tight end set, a system gaining traction in today’s NFL landscape, Hinton made it clear he likes the idea of multiple tight ends.
“We certainly want to stretch some football teams and put two tight ends out there and have to play spread football from two tight ends, and hopefully we can do a great job of that,” Hinton said.
During camp, both tight ends have been developing a chemistry on the field that can really help the team, according toHeuerman.
“We work really well together. This offense is so fast and up-tempo and demanding, especially on the tight ends and all the things we have to do,” Heuerman said. “It’s almost impossible for it just to be run with one tight end. Him and I complement each other really well and I think together it’ll be a fun year to watch.”
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman has seen the advantage that having both Heuerman andVannett can bring to the offense.
“The good thing about us being no huddle is we don’t have to take those guys off the field. We don’t have a blocking tight end and a pass-catching tight end. We’ve got two tight ends that can line up and do both things,” Herman said. “It allows us to play faster, it allows us to keep the entire offense in as a one personnel group.”
Hinton said the use of an uptempo offense with more than one tight end gives OSU an advantage over their opponent.
“The whole premise of being no huddle is to keep the defense on the field and get them running around, get them tired. If you’re subbing guys out that have specialty roles, then the defense is allowed to substitute too,” Hinton said. “I think the biggest flexibility offensively comes in the fact that they can do both things very, very well.”
Heuerman attributes his growth during camp to the extra time he has had in coach Urban Meyer’s offense when compared to the start of last season.
“This is my second year in the program so I understand it a lot more. Understanding the program and how everything works with the culture and everything has really helped out,” Heuerman said. “On the field, second year in the offense, knowing what to do rather than just lining up like it was last year. I think it’s really helped me succeed.”
With the addition of new players from coach Urban Meyer’s first recruiting class who are expected to contribute right away as well to the improvements the veterans have made this offseason, distributing the football could be a point of emphasis all season. But Heuerman wants to contribute in any way he can, as long as the team keeps winning.
“The more weapons you got, the better you’ll be. If that means I get less catches or less opportunities and we win and get to where we want to get, then I’m perfectly fine with that,” Heuerman said.
Further down the depth chart, things seem to get a little more dicey, with the loss of redshirt freshman Blake Thomas to a career-ending neck injury in addition to the suspension of freshman Marcus Baugh for the season opener.
Redshirt junior J.T. Moore is helping to fill the holes left by Thomas and Baugh, making the switch from defensive end to tight end last week. Heuerman said he is fitting into his new role well.
“He’s doing good. That’s a tough transition going from defensive end to tight end. It’s two totally different worlds and he embraced the change really well,” Heuerman said. “He’s been doing really good with us, he’s been blocking really well. I think we’ll definitely see him in there in some two tight end packages and stuff and goal line and stuff.”
But Hinton is not going to worry about the tight end position as long as Vannett or Heuerman is on the field.
“When 86 (Heuerman) and 81 (Vannett) are out there, I feel really comfortable. When it’s the young guys right now, I don’t feel near as comfortable. I mean God bless them, they’re working hard, but they’re not there yet,” Hinton said.