With a plethora of young weapons set to catch Justin Fields’ passes on the outside, Ohio State may benefit from its experience at the tight end position.
In a position group with four upperclassmen, Jeremy Ruckert is the lone junior and accounted for 56 percent of catches from the 2019 tight end group. Hauling in 142 yards and four touchdowns his sophomore season, the New York native has prepared through an unusual offseason to take the next step in his maturation.
“I just want to keep improving as an all-around tight end,” Ruckert said Sept. 25 in a Zoom call. “Feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger this offseason, so hopefully that will be put on display this year in my blocking and everything like that, and I really just want to step it up in all three aspects.”
In order to improve all facets of his game, Ruckert said he has turned to improving his understanding of the game.
Entering his third season, Ruckert said his grasp of the offense and specific techniques has allowed him to focus on expanding his football knowledge.
“I think the main thing I’m trying to look at this year is really understanding defenses and coverage and fronts and all that,” Ruckert said March 4.
Due to a greater understanding of the game and increased physical maturity, Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said there is a difference in the group from a year ago: speed.
“And with that, I think the quarterbacks are getting more confident and comfortable in making sure as they go through the progressions, they are giving them a right peek as long as it fits the time and the play and all that,” Wilson said Sept. 25 in a Zoom call.
Wilson, who has coached the Ohio State tight ends since 2017, said the group looked to the NFL to see what improvements each player could make. Ruckert said the group looked at the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, two teams that utilized the tight end a lot during the 2019-20 NFL season.
“In the NFL, the biggest play that they always convert on is the tight end over the middle,” Ruckert said. “We’re doing a lot of everything right now.”
Ruckert said he could see the tight end over the middle being integrated more in the 2020 offense.
Like the other members of the Ohio State football team, Ruckert was forced to prepare for the football season away from campus in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ruckert, who had been working out with one of his friends back home, said the amount of COVID-19 cases in Long Island, New York, forced him to work out on his own.
In order to work out at his home, Ruckert said he and his dad decided to build their own squat rack by acquiring wood from the store and watching tutorial videos.
“Not only was it good for me to keep getting workouts in and be safe, but it was cool to really do that with my dad and my brothers and get to spend some family time that normally we really wouldn’t get,” Ruckert said.
Ruckert said that he still uses the squat rack whenever he goes home.
Although unorthodox, the training prior to mid-August was in anticipation of a fall football season, a payoff that temporarily vanished when the Big Ten decided to postpone the season Aug. 11.
“We just wanted to know when and who we were playing against and to really focus on that to just give you something to look forward to. It was kinda rough just working and doing workouts in practice when you didn’t really have an idea of when we were playing,” Ruckert said. “Getting the green light to go really lifted up a lot of guys. Feel like the energy has been really good these last couple of practices.”
The decision to go forward with the Big Ten season was announced Sept. 16.
A year ago, Ruckert, who entered his sophomore season with only one catch, flashed the best receiving performance of his career in Ohio State’s 2019 season opener against Florida Atlantic.
In the game, Ruckert posted career highs with four catches, 38 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Ruckert entered the 2019 season as the lone sophomore contributing amongst a trio of upperclassmen.
With former tight end Rashod Berry now departed from the team, seniors Luke Farrell and Jake Hausmann remain as the elder statesmen in the position group.
Even though he was a key contributor a year ago, Ruckert said he still learns from the two players above him.
“If you just watch them do all the little things right –– whether it’s on the field or even just in the classroom or outside the field,” Ruckert said. “Really I just go to them if I have any questions. They have always been really good to go to and talk to about stuff. We’ve gotten really close this year.”
The 2020 season could prove to be a stepping stone for the No. 2 tight end recruit in the 2018 class, but although he has worked on personal improvement throughout the offseason, his focus is on team success as the season opener against Nebraska approaches.
“My main goal is just to do whatever we can do to help win the national championship and beat Nebraska right now,” Ruckert said.