It's Buckeye Week on the Big Ten Network, and it has been enjoyable to watch telecasts of exciting games from earlier this decade. Last night's replay of the 2003 contest between Ohio State and North Carolina State jogged my memory in concern to a number of facts. But the thing that stood out most to me was how well the Buckeyes used the tight end in that game. Ben Hartsock finished with 7 catches for 65 yards and a touchdown, and even the oft-mailigned Ryan Hamby snared a big touchdown pass in overtime. Pretty impressive stuff!
Obviously, the past few seasons have seen the tight end become little more than a glorified extra offensive tackle, as has been well documented in numerous articles as well as thousands of barroom discussions. But its not like Tressel has never employed the tight end, as the NC State game proves. So, why is it that OSU has thrown so sparingly to this position over the past 4-5 years?
1. Weak Offensive Line Play - Certainly the o-line has sprung some big leaks in recent seasons, and there have been some times when the tight end was desperately needed for pass protection.
2. Lack of Talent at Tight End - No doubt about it, OSU has missed out on a number of big name tight ends and hasn't been as stocked at this position as they would like. And, one guy the staff thought would be an excellent receiver, Louis Irrizary, got kicked out of school. However, you can't convince me that Jake Ballard didn't have good hands. On the rare ocassions the ball came his way he did a good job of bringing in it. He may not have been fast, but Jake could definitely catch the pigskin.
4. Quarterbacks Who Don't See the Whole Field - It is possible that the past couple quarterbacks have not had the best grasp of the entire field, and have not been good at locating a secondary receiver? Again, a quarterback with limited vision prevents the tight end from being involved a great deal.
Choose any or all of those suggestions - and it is probably a combination - the fact is, Ohio State needs to start using the tight end more often if they are to progress from being a mediocre offense to becoming a potent one. Is this the year that it will happen? Cynicism aside, there are reasons to believe 2010 might be the season JT and company reemploy the use of the big guys in the game plan.
My cautious optimism is based on four truths: 1) Terrelle Pryor is now a third-year starting quarterback and should have a better grasp of the offense. As the game slows down for him and he gains more confidence, TP should relax, go through his progressions, and begin to find his second and third option more often; 2) Jake Stoneburner has speed and pass-catching ability unlike anyone in scarlet and gray since Rickey Dudley. He is the real deal, and his friendship wtih Pryor is an added bonus; 3) The offensive line is better than in past seasons. I say that with crossed fingers, but the talent and depth is in place for this to be the best line of the past seven or eight years; and, 4) There is no proven depth at wideout. The lack of a solid third receiver, means Stoneburner is an even more attractive alternative.
Indeed, the tight end has been an enigma at Ohio State the past few years. Maybe, just maybe, 2010 will be remembered as the season the Buckeyes rediscovered this vital position.