TE Stoneburner Could Miss Gator Bowl
By Brandon Castel
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Buckeyes were hoping to finally have their offense intact for the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2, but they may be missing a key component when they take the field against Florida at EverBank Field.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner—who led the team in touchdown catches during the regular season—could miss the bowl game after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery following the regular season.
“He obviously won't be able to play a ton,” Ohio State’s interim head coach Luke Fickell said Saturday.
“He's not in shape to be able to get in there (every play). But we're still hoping there are some situational things we can use him on.”
Stoneburner was dominant force early in the season when the Buckeyes were in desperate need of a playmaker on offense, but his production dropped off dramatically late in the season.
He tied for the team-lead in receptions (14) with Corey Brown during the regular season, but caught a total of four passes over the final seven weeks of the season. The 6-5, 245-pound junior out of Dublin Coffman caught one pass for 36 yards in the season-ending loss at Michigan, but has not practiced much since his surgery a month ago.
“He didn't do much of anything back in Columbus,” Fickell said.
“He did a little bit today. We'll have to see how it holds up. We have to try to figure out, “Is what he can do best for the team?'”
With tailback Boom Herron in the lineup, along with receivers DeVier Posey and Corey Brown, the Buckeyes are finally inching closer to having the offense they were hoping for at the beginning of the season.
When healthy, Brown gives the Buckeyes a vertical passing threat—much like he did at Michigan—and Posey has the ability to beat any defensive back in man-coverage. That could potentially open things up over the middle for Stoneburner, who garnered a lot of attention from opposing defenses after his three-touchdown performance in the season-opener against Akron.
He has excellent speed for a tight end when he’s healthy, but the injury will likely slow him down in the bowl game, assuming he is able to get on the field much, if at all, against the Gators.
“I'm kind of curious myself,” Fickell said.
“We saw him run around a little bit out there. I don't know how available he'll be.”
If Stoneburner can’t go Monday, or if he is limited to a handful of plays, the Buckeyes will use a heavy dose of Reid Fragel at tight end. There have been rumors of the 6-8, 280-pound junior moving inside to play tackle in Urban Meyer’s offense, but Fragel has seen plenty of playing time at tight end this season.
A native of Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., Fragel caught five passes for 64 yards during the regular season, but was also an excellent run-blocker for the Buckeyes, who will want to establish a ground game against an undersized Florida defense.
Fragel was going to see playing time either way in the bowl game, which means Stoneburner’s reps would actually go to freshman Jeff Heuerman, an impressive young tight end out of Naples, Fla.
The 6-5, 240-pound rookie did not catch a pass during the regular season, but he did see some playing time early in the season. An early enrollee from the class of 2011, Heuerman impressed the coaches—and everyone else—during spring practice.
His development could be instrumental in allowing Fragel to move inside, if that is what the new coaching staff chooses to do.
Smith Remains in Limbo
Fickell was not interested in spending much time discussing the situation surrounding Rod Smith, the young tailback who missed the team’s charter to Jacksonville this past week.
“We're going to focus on the guys we have here,” he said Saturday during his press conference.
“We're not going to focus on those we don't have.”
Smith, apparently, will remain in Columbus and is unlikely to rejoin the Buckeyes before the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2. Without more information, it is unreasonable to speculate on his future with the program.
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