Then-redshirt-sophomore tight end Nick Vannett (81) advances the ball during a game against Purdue Nov. 2 at Ross-Ade Stadium. OSU won, 56-0. Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

Then-redshirt-sophomore tight end Nick Vannett (81) advances the ball during a game against Purdue Nov. 2 at Ross-Ade Stadium. OSU won, 56-0.
Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

A tight end has to be an offensive lineman who can catch like a receiver. Or is it a wide receiver who can block like one of the big uglies?

Often, players who play the tight end position exhibit a little of both sets of skills needed to succeed and excel in one area, but the Ohio State football team might just have two players who excel at it all.

“I’ll take our two tight ends (senior Jeff Heuerman and redshirt-junior Nick Vannett) over anyone in America,” coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday at a fundraiser luncheon.

Heuerman is the starter at tight end, but he’s currently out for the remainder of spring practice after having foot surgery.

Vannett said the two tight ends have always pushed each other to improve, and now, with Heuerman gone, he is trying to keep that trend up and potentially win the starting spot.

“Over the years, we always pushed each other to be great, challenge each other in practice,” Vannett said. “It kind of hurts not having him out here, but someone’s got to step up. I kind of took the challenge upon myself to go out and get better.”

Meyer said he has noticed the improvement in Vannett, who only recorded eight catches and a touchdown last season, calling him “one of the two or three most improved players on the team.”

Tight ends coach Tim Hinton said he has seen Vannett play well in the spring, especially in the absence of Heuerman.

“Nick’s had a phenomenal spring so far, and obviously getting a few more reps (now) that Jeff’s a little nicked up,” Hinton said April 3. “Each of those reps are opportunities to get better and improve … He was able to make a lot of plays today and he’s more physical at the point of attack in blocking. He’s doing a great job of managing the X’s and O’s. Boy, he’s having a great spring.”

The Buckeyes are returning one of the nation’s top offenses from 2013, after finishing seventh in the country with an average of 511.9 yards per game. But with a lot of turnover, losing six starters including wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown and running back Carlos Hyde, the Buckeyes will be looking for new players to step up.

That’s where the tight ends come in, Vannett said.

“We’re still finding our identity right now,” Vannett said. “When you lose guys like ‘Philly’ Brown and Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde, it’s hard to replace those guys. But me and Jeff, we’re trying to step up and be that key, that go-to guy. Before he got hurt I thought we were doing a really good job and we’ve just got to keep pushing it.”

With this being his fourth season in the program, Vannett said he has realized the time to become a leader and grow as a player is now.

“Being a junior, it’s time to mature,” Vannett said. “You’ve got to watch a little more film, you’ve got to understand defenses better and I’ve got two more years after this so if I don’t do it now, when am I going to do it? Just really taking it as a serious job and just going out there and doing what I’ve got to do, helping others out and doing what I have to, to be successful.”

If Vannett wants to prove his worth and increase his playing time in 2014, whether it be as the lone tight end or in a two tight end set, his time in spring without Heuerman is running out. Spring practice concludes Thursday, with the annual spring game taking place at noon Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

But he was quick to add that although Heuerman is gone for the time being, he has to grow on his own to reach his lofty goals.

“Most of it’s just internal for me. I want the best for myself,” Vannett said. “I’m a competitive person and my goals are, I want to be the best tight end that goes through Ohio State and that’s just the pride I have in myself. Every time I come out on the field, I want to get better at one area of my game and also just help out the offense.”

The regular seasons kicks off Aug. 30 at noon against Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.