COLUMBUS, Ohio — The question is asked every year at Ohio State, and it’s grown louder the last two seasons.
Is this the year Ohio State uses its tight ends? (Depending on your point of view, the question could be framed, “Is this the year Ohio State’s tight ends put up numbers?”)
Lack of tight end production has been an annual complaint in Columbus in recent years, with the lament more justified some years. Over the last two years, the stats from that position group have been especially barren. In catches, yards and touchdowns, the tight ends have struggled to account for even 10 percent of the team total since offensive coordinator Tom Herman left following the 2014 season.
Ohio State tight end usage, 2012-16
|Year||Catches (% of team)||Yards (% of team)||TDs (% of team)|
|2016||28 (10.98%)||296 (10.64%)||2 (7.69%)|
|2015||21 (10.29%)||194 (7.90%)||0 (0%)|
|2014||37 (14.23%)||429 (11.57%)||8 (19.05%)|
|2013||34 (14.29%)||546 (19.18%)||5 (13.16%)|
|2012||33 (20.50%)||486 (22.31%)||5 (29.41%)|
Despite recent issues, there’s reason for optimism this year. Ohio State has a new offensive coordinator and tight ends coach, with Kevin Wilson taking over both duties from the departed Ed Warinner.
In 2008, when Wilson was Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, Jermaine Gresham put up 66 catches for 950 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Sooners made the BCS title game, losing to Florida, and Wilson won the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach.
In addition to what looks like an upgrade at offensive coordinator, every Ohio State tight end is back from last season. Furthermore, the talented true freshman class has a year of experience under its belt after redshirting. Fifth-year senior Marcus Baugh missed spring practice while recovering from surgery, freeing up younger players to get more reps.
The Buckeyes have an encouraging young core. Sophomore A.J. Alexander had a good spring, and redshirt freshmen Luke Farrell and Jake Hausmann look like future stars.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said during spring practice that the tight ends looked like the most improved position group on the team. According to Wilson, though, there’s still plenty of room to grow.
“Luke started straining and competing,” Wilson said. “He’s got a ways to go to be as good as we need him to be. He’s on track. A.J. started coming through more consistent. I’m excited to see what Marcus is going to be. Jake Hausmann was doing well. Got an ankle sprain that limited him a little, but that’s a good group right now.
“It improved, but it’s not where I want it to be and it’s not where it’s going to be. We’re going to get that group stronger.”
If Baugh is healthy, the Buckeyes will have a dependable first option and a quarterback who has been throwing to him for four years. There also are solid candidates in the battle to become the second option.
The passing game needs a number of factors to coalesce to be successful. The offensive line has to hold up, the quarterback needs to be accurate, the pass catchers need to get open, and the correct play needs to be called at the right time.
For now, though, Wilson is working to get the tight ends to control what they can as they strive to become a bigger part of the offense.
“I kept telling the tight ends, we need hundreds of good days,” he said. “And I don’t need you to do better; I want this day again. And I want another good day and another good day, and I’d just like to see our offense keep stacking up good days, to have the momentum that an offense has, to have the swag.
“And to me there’s just a little energy that you bring, and I just want to kind of keep building the energy as we go through the summer and preseason.”