Stoneburner Thrilled by Familiar New Role
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The 2011 season started off with a bang for Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Then a junior in his fourth year with the Buckeyes, Stoneburner hauled in four passes for 50 yards and three touchdowns in Ohio State’s 42-0 win over Akron in the season-opener.
It was exactly the kind of start Stoneburner was hoping for in his second full season as Ohio State’s starting tight end. He was on pace for the biggest year of his career, and while that part proved to be true, it wasn’t exactly what he was hoping for.
Now Stoneburner is back in a familiar place, playing a brand new role for the Buckeyes in Urban Meyer’s new spread offense.
“Jake Stoneburner is now, we officially moved him out with the receivers,” Meyer said Sunday during Ohio State’s fall media day.
Photo by Dan Harker
“He meets with the receivers. He’ll practice (with the tight ends) at times, because we’ll use him as a surface tight end, but we have two very good tight ends in (Jeff) Heuerman and (Nick) Vannett. So he’s going to be our (Aaron) Hernandez-type guy who can do some things.”
Now in his third year with the New England Patriots, Hernandez was originally a standout pass-catcher for Meyer when he was at the University of Florida. As a true freshman in 2007, he appeared in 13 games for the Gators, starting three.
He would start 11 of 13 games the following year, in place of the injured Cornelius Ingram, and finished the season with 34 receptions for 381 yards and five touchdowns.
From 2007-09, Hernandez hauled in 110 passes for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. His breakout season came in 2009, when he caught 68 passes for 850 yards and five touchdowns as a junior.
Hernandez won the John Mackey Award that season as the nation’s best tight end, and he was also recognized as a first-team All-SEC performer and first-team All-American. Stoneburner is hoping for similar success, especially considering the lack of established weapons around him this fall.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“It’s like a dream come true,” the fifth-year senior from Dublin Coffman said.
“You want to come to an offense where the tight end is almost the focal point. I wouldn’t say we’re the focal point, but we’re definitely going to get the ball a lot.”
Like Hernandez, Stoneburner was a wide receiver in high school. He converted to tight end early in his career, and now he is a 6-5, 245-pound weapon with enough speed to create separation from any linebacker, or even safety.
Stoneburner led the Buckeyes with seven touchdown catches, and somehow managed to tie for the team-lead with 14 receptions, despite missing the Gator Bowl with a damaged MCL in his right knee.
His catches dropped from 21 to 14 and his yardage also took a dip from the previous season, when he was clicking with former OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Stoneburner did not have the same chemistry with freshman Braxton Miller a year ago.
Photo by Jim Davidson
A big part of that was the fact Ohio State finished last in the Big Ten and 115th in the country in passing offense a year ago. Stoneburner also had a few big drops he would like to forget, but all of that is now in the past with Meyer taking the reigns in Columbus this off-season.
“I didn't watch much, to be honest with you, and I think Coach Meyer has said the same thing,” said new offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who also has a history of developing tight ends.
“I think I watched maybe one or two games to kind of see the returning players and their ability level on gameday. But the system as a whole wasn't paid any attention to because, in all honesty, it doesn't matter. We are who we are right now.”
The new offensive system has created new opportunities for guys to move around more into spots that better fit their skill set. That’s certainly true with Stoneburner, who did spent much of the spring working with the wide receivers.
He sat in on receiver meetings with coach Zach Smith and even worked on receiver drills during practice. He worked to become a better blocker over the years—something he had to do to stay on the field in OSU’s smash-mouth style—but this transition has been a welcome surprise for a guy who simply loves to catch the ball.
“The blocking is a little less demanding now than it was last year,” Stoneburner said.
“Last year we were a power offense running off of the tight end, behind the tight end. Now it's reading a defensive end, or zone block off of someone. So it's not as physical up front.”
Meyer and his offensive line coach, Ed Warinner, will still ask for a lot from both the tight end and the H-back. Part of moving Stoneburner to receiver is making room for fullback Zach Boren in the new offense, but it’s also a product of what Meyer has seen in both Heuerman and Vannett this fall.
“He is one of the most improved players,” Meyer said of Vannett, a redshirt freshman from Westerville Central.
“He’s going to be right in the middle of this thing. I didn’t see that at all in the spring. If you notice, I didn’t even bring his name up because he wasn’t a real functional guy for us. That guy got real busy about studying the playbook and learning the game.”
Vannett and Heuerman are both 6-5 or 6-6 targets who can give the Buckeyes another weapon in the passing game, especially if they show they can catch the ball consistently during camp.
“A lot of people say this is the best offense in the country for the tight end,” said Heuerman, a sophomore out of Naples, Fla.
Stoneburner’s presence in the receiver room should also help younger guys like Evan Spencer.
“It’s good to have him in the room because I have somebody I can talk to,” said the sophomore out of Vernon Hills, Ill.
“He’s a hard worker and I know he expects a lot out of himself. It’s good to bring that kind of atmosphere into the room.”
The Buckeyes plan to move Stoneburner around on offense. They aren’t ready to hand him the football just yet, but they are going to get creative with ways to use him in the passing game, especially while Jordan Hall is out.
“If you're a playmaker, he'll get you the ball,” Stoneburner said of his new head coach.
“I think he wants to be able to find that, and if I can go out there and prove that I'm a playmaker, and he feels that I am, I feel comfortable that he'll have confidence in me to get me the ball.”
Now he just has to catch it. No pressure.
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