Tight end is no glamorous position at Ohio State.
Marcus Baugh’s 28 catches two seasons ago were the most by a tight end since 2003, and despite school records in passing attempts and completions in 2018, tight ends combined for just 30 of the 396 passes caught.
But despite the lack of statistical spotlight, you won’t hear a complaint from a group that offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Kevin Wilson said might be the best he’s ever had.
“I’ve had maybe a group that had one more, two more talented,” Wilson said. “But when I walk in that group, I’m talking to men. There’s a lot of respect. It is a tremendous group and it’s going to have a great year for our football team.”
Redshirt junior tight end Luke Farrell spearheads a group of four that Wilson said will see significant time on the field this season. Farrell led all Buckeye tight ends with both 20 receptions and 205 yards a season ago.
Those totals appear low when compared to other collegiate tight ends such as UCLA’s Caleb Wilson, who caught 60 balls for 965 yards in 2018, but Wilson asserted that Farrell is “one of the best football players on our team.”
Historically at Ohio State, however, catching passes is the lesser of two primary functions at the position.
“To really play though, they all gotta block,” Wilson said.
Blocking was not the strong suit of sophomore tight end Jeremy Ruckert, the No. 2 player at his position in the class of 2018, when he entered the program.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Ruckert caught 61 passes for 1,094 yards and 13 touchdowns in his final high school season, yet still chose Ohio State despite its traditional lack of tight end usage in the pass game.
Though he had to make a transition that Wilson said is like switching from wide receiver to left tackle, Farrell’s position coach said only Jermaine Gresham, an eventual first round draft pick out of Oklahoma, has played more as a freshman under Wilson.
Ruckert caught only one pass for 13 yards this past season, but Wilson is not concerned about his progresion.
“Jeremy Ruckert who was highly touted coming in, I think he’s right on track. I think this is very much a developmental position,” Wilson said.
When considering schools, the New York native said the crash course in run and pass blocking would benefit his game in the long run. He took notice that three former Ohio State tight ends in Baugh, Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman –– all of whom left the program in the past five seasons –– are on NFL rosters.
“Not only did you know you were going to be developed in a way to make it to the next level football-wise, but you know you’re going to be able to have a career afterwards and move on,” Ruckert said.
Though redshirt junior Jake Hausmann has not caught a pass during his four years in the program, Wilson said he respects a player that sticks it out even when opportunities are not coming their way. With Wilson including Hausmann among his four top tight ends, it appears he will finally get his chance.
Redshirt senior Rashod Berry caught just nine passes this past season, but two of those were vital for Ohio State victories. His touchdown catch in the Rose Bowl put Ohio State up 17, and a fourth down catch against Maryland kept the Buckeyes alive in a game they won by a single point.
Ohio State’s spring practices heavily featured two-tight end sets, though Wilson seemed to back off of the notion that the Buckeyes’ base offense would regularly feature that look Wednesday.
Though a large statistical impact may once again not be a tangible feat for the Ohio State tight ends, Wilson said returning his top four with an added year’s experience will mean visible benefits for the team.
“Last year’s guys were immature, maybe they didn’t pop, but they were growing,” Wilson said. “I think this year you’re going to see a group that’s going to pop.”