New Offense is “Dream Come True” for Stoneburner, Tight Ends
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.
A nightmarish season ended with Stoneburner watching the Buckeyes lose to Florida in the Gator Bowl because of a damaged MCL in his right knee. When he awoke from the nightmare, however, Stoneburner found he had been thrust into what could be one of the more explosive offenses in the country.
“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.”
Stoneburner led the Buckeyes with seven touchdown catches, and somehow managed to tie for the team-lead in receptions, but his catches dropped from 21 to 14 and his yardage also took a dip from the previous season.
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 Urban Meyer taking the reins in Columbus this off-season.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“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 came over to join Meyer’s staff after three seasons at Iowa State.
“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.”
Meyer wanted to give every one of his new players a fresh start after what the OSU program went through last season. That was particularly important for young guys like Curtis Grant and Darryl Baldwin, but even a guy like Stoneburner would have been hard to assess after three years of playing in an offense that looked much different from the one Meyer and Herman plan to run in 2012.
“What happened or they did in the past in terms of system doesn't matter,” Herman added.
“When we went back and watched, we just wanted to see who were the returning guys, how do they play on Saturdays, what do they need work on, things like that.”
A converted wide receiver, Stoneburner has always been a threat in the passing game, but his blocking left much to be desired early in his career. He worked to become a better blocker over the years—something that he had to do to stay on the field in OSU’s smash-mouth style—but this spring 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,” said the 6-5, 245-pound Stoneburner.
“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.”
Herman and offensive line coach Ed Warinner would argue that it’s still pretty physical, but the Buckeyes are going to attack opposing defenses much differently than Ohio State has in the past.
That includes using the tight end, not only as a blocker, but also a weapon in the passing game.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“A lot of people say this is the best offense in the country for the tight end,” said sophomore Jeff Heuerman, who will likely back up Stoneburner now that senior Reid Fragel has moved to offensive tackle.
Both Meyer and Herman have had wonderful success with tight ends, but only when the guy playing the position is good enough to deserve the football. That has been Meyer’s philosophy with every position on offense since his days as an assistant at Notre Dame, and he isn’t about to start making exceptions now.
Even for Stoneburner.
“If you're a playmaker he'll get you the ball,” Stoneburner concluded.
“I think that 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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