It has been 16 years since Ohio State has had a single tight end record 30 receptions, when Ben Hartsock recorded 33 catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns in 2003.
A season ago, that pattern continued, with then-redshirt junior Rashod Berry, then-sophomore Luke Farrell and then-freshman Jeremy Ruckert combining for 30 catches, 296 yards and three touchdowns between them.
Ohio State has not been known for its production at the tight end position.
But the trio of tight ends, as well as junior Jake Hausmann, are all returning for the Buckeyes, combining to make one of the most experienced positions on the roster.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said he can see a future for the offense that relies much more on the tight end than it has in recent memory.
“They’re getting there. I mean they’re a strength because we got everybody back, and they’ve had a good offseason,” Day said. “The strength of a college football coach is being able to adapt and being able to figure out what your strengths are, who the best personnel is, and then putting the right package together on the field and not just putting a system in.”
Day has no absolute answer for what package would best benefit the tight end offensively, and the same is true for offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Kevin Wilson.
But Wilson sees the strength in the tight end room returning from a season ago, and he said the battle won’t come down strictly to choosing the top player at the position.
“If the tight end position is better, and their skill set says they can do a lot of jobs, now we change formations, but they get on the field,” Wilson said. “It’s not like we’re trying to have more tight ends because the receiver position is not gonna be strong. The receiver position is gonna be strong. It’s just our tight end position is getting stronger that they can get on the field more.”
The wide receiver room lost its veteran trio of Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon, but held on to a new senior group of Austin Mack, K.J. Hill and Binjimen Victor, a sophomore receiver who made a impact at the end of this past season in Chris Olave as well as a new addition in freshman Garrett Wilson, a five-star recruit.
There’s still depth, but the tight end position has a chance to adapt, specifically through Ruckert.
Ruckert has been taking some snaps at H-back during spring practices, a position that was majorly held by Campbell in 2018 and has been used with Hill and junior running back Demario McCall.
The freshman tight end had one catch for 13 yards after seeing action in 12 games for the Buckeyes this past season.
“We’re just trying new things, new offense, and I’m not gonna say I expected it, but we’ve talked about it before, and I’m excited to keep it going,” Ruckert said. “I’m just trying to go play, so whatever they want me to do, I’ll just go play.”
Wilson described Ruckert as the tight end with the most upside of the group, saying Farrell is the most consistent but “not flashy,” while Berry is the strongest and most dynamic in the room.
Having this type of depth at the position could open up the opportunity for production at tight end that Ohio State has not seen since well before the Urban Meyer era.
But with uncertainty at quarterback, depth at wide receiver and an offense that is yet to cement its identity, only time will tell if the added year of experience will be enough to make all the difference.
“You end up not only competing by your position, but you end up competing by personnel groupings,” Day said. “If the second tight end is better than the third receiver, then we’re gonna see two tight ends in the game, and we’ve been messing around with some of that this spring, and some of it has looked pretty good.”