Ohio State head coach Ryan Day went into the 2021 season with the idea of getting senior tight end Jeremy Ruckert 30 catches on the year. Ruckert fell four catches short of that mark, finishing with 26 receptions for 309 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games. Of course, the Buckeyes themselves fell a couple games short of their own desired mark as well, which didn’t help Ruckert’s quest for 30 receptions.
Still, Ruckert averaged two catches per game this past season, which tied Marcus Baugh’s mark in 2017 for most by an Ohio State tight end since Ben Hartsock went crazy in 2003 and averaged 2.5 receptions per game.
For his career, Ruckert caught 54 passes for 615 yards and 12 touchdowns. The 54 receptions put him just outside the top 10 for Ohio State tight ends all-time. Both Marcus Baugh and Nick Vannett are tied for ninth all-time with 55 catches. However, Ruckert’s 12 career touchdown catches are good for second among Buckeye tight ends all-time, just one behind career school leader Jake Stoneburner’s 13.
Replacing Jeremy Ruckert will not be easy, especially when you add in the fact that backup tight end Cade Stover may be sticking with defense moving forward. Questions abound at tight end for the Buckeyes. Will the answers be as abundant?
Even though it seemed after the Rose Bowl like the days of Cade Stover at tight end were over, nothing has been said definitively that his time on offense is done. As such, he bears some mentioning here even though he’s probably more likely at this point to end up on defense. However, the amount of youth and inexperience at this position has to be a concern for the coaches heading into the offseason.
The Ohio State coaches cited the growth of Joe Royer during bowl practice as one reason why they were okay with having Stover on defense, so that trajectory needs to continue through the winter and into the spring. Royer caught one pass for nine yards this season, seeing action on offense in three games as a redshirt freshman.
Despite Royer’s strong practices in December, Mitch Rossi was the only other tight end to get snaps on offense in the Rose Bowl. The former walk-on was a fifth-year senior in 2021 and still has a decision to make on whether or not he will be utilizing his free year from the NCAA and coming back in 2022 for a sixth year. Rossi will tell you he’s much more of a fullback than a tight end, but his ability to block doesn’t really need a position label attached to it. He has been a very important piece of the offense the past two seasons and would be invaluable in 12 personnel sets once again in 2022.
The possibilities continue to build for Gee Scott, Jr. as he ventures into his junior season. Despite heading into his third year as a Buckeye, this will just be Scott’s second year as a tight end. This has been a developmental process in many ways for Scott and there is little doubt he will be much more equipped to handle the position as a stronger and more experienced tight end in 2022.
The Buckeyes signed one tight end in the 2021 class and that was Sam Hart. Hart didn’t see the field this past season, which is pretty typical for Ohio State tight ends. The winter and spring will be key for Hart as he looks to find a way into the rotation next season. The Buckeyes also signed just one tight end so far in the 2022 class. Bennett Christian already looks quite the part at 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds. He will participate in spring ball but there will still be a sizable learning curve.
Ohio State was also looking at the transfer portal for a tight end this winter and that could continue all the way into May and June.
For the sake of this projection, we’ll keep Mitch Rossi on the team and have Cade Stover stay on defense. Having Rossi back is obviously valuable for the offense as a whole but shouldn’t keep Gee Scott, Joe Royer, Sam Hart, and Bennett Christian from getting their work in and developing.
All four of the younger tight ends will continue improving as blockers, especially if they want to be every-down players. This winter is going to be huge for each of them as they continue to put in strength work. What happens over the next two months could go as far to determine the 2022 starter as what happens in spring and fall camp. And it’s not just about getting stronger — it’s also about showing the kind of tenacity in mat drills that gives coaches confidence that the physicality and desire to deal with defensive ends and linebackers is present.
Expect Rossi, Royer, and Scott to all get work with the ones in the spring. And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hart and Christian get work with the top group as well because of the constant rotating that goes on in practice. There is going to be a bunch of work available this spring. It will be a huge individual opportunity for each player to show that they can be as much use on first down as third down.
Given the inexperience at the position as a whole, it would be a surprise if one player emerged over the others to command the kind of snaps that Jeremy Ruckert received in 2021. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, and it doesn’t mean that the coaches wouldn’t welcome it, it just means that it’s unlikely.
The most likely outcome is a pretty balanced rotation of Mitch Rossi, Joe Royer, and Gee Scott next year, while Sam Hart and Bennett Christian try to work in some snaps where they can get them. Eventually, somebody may then begin to distance themselves over the course of the season.
Should the Buckeyes land somebody out of the transfer portal, however, then all of this may need to be revisited. The same can be said if Cade Stover ends up back on offense as well.