Tight ends were the final position group to speak to the media during Ohio State's training camp, prompting Kevin Wilson to crack a good-natured joke.
“We were the last group you bring out, right, so you guys don’t talk about us,” Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and tight ends coach said Wednesday.
Well, of all the Buckeyes’ positions, the tight ends might be the most anonymous. Part of that comes from playing that position at Ohio State. Every season, there’s speculation that this could be the year tight ends aren’t an afterthought in the passing game. Almost every season, the tight ends are an afterthought in the passing game.
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Last year, Luke Farrell had 20 catches to lead the tight ends. Rashod Berry had nine.
But being under the radar doesn’t mean being ineffective. Wilson gushes about his players, as has coach Ryan Day. All four scholarship tight ends return — Farrell, Berry, sophomore Jeremy Ruckert and fourth-year junior Jake Hausmann — and the unit should be among the most reliable on the team.
“It might be the best group I've ever coached,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he expects to play all four. Finding the right niches for each will be the key. Farrell, a junior, figures to be the nominal starter. He’s not flashy, but Wilson raved about him as an all-around player.
“He’s rock-solid and consistent, a great student and tremendous player,” Wilson said. “I think he's setting up to have a great year. There's a lot of times in practice, I'm not watching him because I know he's got his guy (handled).”
Berry, a junior who’s a converted defensive end, might have the most raw talent among the tight ends and is becoming more consistent, Wilson said.
Hausmann is emerging after being stuck on the bottom of the depth chart. Wilson credits him for sticking it out when it would have been easier to leave. Ruckert was billed as an elite receiving tight end when the Buckeyes signed him. He has gained needed strength and has embraced the blocking side of the game.
“Jeremy looks like a different player almost, physically,” Wilson said. “He is light-years from where he was a year ago.”
Ruckert hasn’t lost any speed while bulking up, and he should play a larger role as a stretch-the-field tight end.
With such depth, it would be human nature for each of the tight ends to wonder whether he’ll get adequate playing time. They say it’s a nonissue.
“I don't think we've even thought of that,” Farrell said. “How we are as a group is (to have) a common goal and just move forward with whatever the coaches want us to do.”
He knows exactly what that is.
“You're expected to run routes like a receiver,” he said, “pass block and (run) block like an offensive lineman, know the offense really well and just be reliable and consistent with doing your job. And that's what we've been focusing on.”
Wilson has coached Buckeyes tight ends since arriving three years ago. They struggled with maturity, he said, until veteran Marcus Baugh developed better practice habits late in his career. Now, Wilson said, it’s a pleasure to coach that unit.
“I walk in the room and I'm talking to men,” he said. “We're having some real conversations about how to play, how to live, how to work, and it's a fun group.”