Now that spring football is over, it’s time to look back at exactly what we just saw. We’ll go over each position group over the next two weeks with what was learned and what still needs to happen. Up next will be the Ohio State tight ends.
Quick Position Overview
Ohio State lost a couple of fifth-year guys in Luke Farrell and Jake Hausmann from last year’s team, but returns senior Jeremy Ruckert, who put the NFL on hold for one more year. Behind him is a group of unproven but talented options and how much they play this year will depend on how much they can handle. Redshirt sophomore Cade Stover is the most-experienced scholarship tight end, playing a whopping five snaps at the position last year. Redshirt freshman Joe Royer and true freshman Sam Hart have had to get bigger and stronger. Stover already has the size and strength coming over from defensive end, but it’s the rest of the game he’s still developing. Redshirt freshman Gee Scott has almost zero reps at the position following his move there this spring from receiver. Walk-ons Mitch Rossi and Corey Rau both have valuable roles on the team.
Expectations Going In
The expectation going in was that Jeremy Ruckert would be fine but that it might be a while before somebody steps up behind him. Right guard Wyatt Davis had more receptions for Ohio State last year than any of the Buckeyes’ returning tight ends not named Jeremy Ruckert. Growing pains were going to be expected, but also from those pains some actual growth would be nice. Overall, this was a young group with differing skill sets so finding their respective roles would be a process.
Reality Coming Out
The reality coming out was that Jeremy Ruckert was fine and wasn’t stressed too much in practice because of his experience and maybe things aren’t progressing so slowly behind him. Redshirt sophomore Cade Stover showed impressive athleticism and hand-eye coordination in the spring game. Redshirt freshman Joe Royer scored a touchdown on a catch and run and is nearing the size and strength needed to play on the end of the line. Gee Scott wasn’t healthy enough to participate and Sam Hart is early on in his learning process. But having five scholarship tight ends and two walk-ons who have their own specific roles is a deep group to turn to if they’re ready.
When reporters were allowed to attend a practice about halfway through camp and saw Gee Scott with the tight ends, that was definitely a surprise. It was Scott’s idea to move. On the spring roster he was listed at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, but as spring concluded Kevin Wilson said Scott was now in the low 220s now and by fall camp they want him around 230-235 pounds. There aren’t any concerns about Scott being able to handle the passing game. Instead, it is now a matter of getting him strong enough to handle what they need from the flex tight end, while also figuring out how they can best utilize his wide range of skills in the passing game. Let’s not forget, Scott was the No. 10 wide receiver and No. 66 player overall in the 2020 recruiting class, so there is definitely an intriguing set of traits here.
We still don’t know how much the second tight end will play this year. Every tight end behind Jeremy Ruckert has a differing skill set, so how the second tight end gets used may depend on the guy in the game at any time. For instance, if Gee Scott is in the game as a second tight end, he’d be flexed out and there would need to be a different tight end on the line. Cade Stover and Jeremy Ruckert can be tight on the line. Can Joe Royer be that guy yet, or is he also more of a flex option like Ruckert was early in his career? Tight ends coach Kevin Wilson will need to assess the strengths of each of his guys so that he also knows who can be paired together.
So Now What?
Now the refinement continues. Cade Stover continues his work of becoming an offensive player. The blocking will continue to be an emphasis, and as he showed in the spring game, he’s already got some hands. Joe Royer and Sam Hart will be working with strength coach Mickey Marotti to get where they need to be in order to hold up on the line of scrimmage. Gee Scott will be right there with them, but his journey to a regular role on the line of scrimmage may be a season away. Or maybe not. He’s already surprised people once this year. Jeremy Ruckert will probably be cutting a few more pounds in order to be more effective and faster in the passing game. This would lead one to think that there will be a real emphasis on using him in that role this year. Sometimes a tight end can be a terrific security blanket for a young quarterback.
The nearly complete lack of experience behind Jeremy Ruckert is the primary concern here. Even though there is talent behind him, the level of experience is a concern. The upside to this, however, is that if a second tight end doesn’t step up this year, that just means the Buckeyes will have to play more of their wide receivers. That aspect of playing time is also a tremendous motivator for the tight end room because they don’t want to see a bunch of their snaps lost to the receivers. The best players will play and with the talent in the passing game this year for Ohio State, there is no depth chart by default. Jobs can be won and big roles can be had by anybody.
Are We Sure?
Are we sure Buckeye fans are ready for this to be the Year of the Tight End?
“I think Jeremy is getting enough confidence in himself as a blocker and his strength level with coach Mick has improved that I think he’s trying to maybe be a little leaner and be a little quicker in and out of breaks to create some separation and hopefully we can get him more involved in the passing game. I think he sets up to have a great year. I think that’s a huge piece of a good offense is the tight end, because I think it connects the run game and the pass game and protection. Basically we’re playing left tackle and wide receiver. And then we lose about 30 minutes a day because we got to go to kicking meetings and kicking practice. We’ve got to do all the kicking stuff and we got to play two real positions, so it’s a lot of development. And for an elite player, I think it’s one of the qualities of our program. He is an elite player that came in and has been a great developer. And I think he’s developing himself to have a great year.” — Ohio State tight ends coach/offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson on Jeremy Ruckert.
|88 Jeremy Ruckert | Senior | 6-5 252|
|There is talk about making Jeremy Ruckert more of a priority in the progressions this year. He still only has 28 career catches (9 TDs), but could very well double that number this year.|
|16 Cade Stover | Redshirt Sophomore | 6-4 255 OR|
|Cade Stover showed his athleticism and catching ability in the spring game. He is also a more-than-willing blocker in the run and pass. His physicality will be put to good use.|
|84 Joe Royer | Redshirt Freshman | 6-5 240|
|Joe Royer will continue to compete with Cade Stover to be the second tight end in this offense. He’s grown into the tight end position and is continuing to improve as a blocker.|
|13 Gee Scott | Redshirt Freshman | 6-3 220|
|Gee Scott has moved from receiver to tight end but he wasn’t full-go this spring, which was unfortunate. He will provide some mismatch opportunities in the passing game.|
|81 Sam Hart | Freshman | 6-5 240|
|This may be a redshirt year for Sam Hart, but it’s not like the guys in front of him are established. Being here for spring ball was a good move and will give him a shot in the fall.|
|34 Mitch Rossi | Redshirt Senior | 6-0 245|
|Mitch Rossi considers himself a fullback rather than a tight end, and even though he’s a walk-on he does see time now and again on offense. He’s a stalwart on special teams too.|
|80 Corey Rau | Graduate Senior | 6-4 250|
|Corey Rau is in his second year with the Buckeyes as a walk-on transfer from SMU. He provides depth as a run blocking tight end and provides some experience in a young room.|