Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert expanding route tree in spring practice

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert makes a touchdown catch against Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal on Jan. 1. Last season, Ruckert had 13 receptions for 151 yards and five touchdowns in eight games.

Tight end Jeremy Ruckert has proven to be a receiving threat in recent seasons at Ohio State.

In returning for his senior season, he might see his involvement in the Buckeyes’ passing game expand.

Speaking with reporters on a Zoom call on Wednesday afternoon, Ruckert said he has worked with the coaching staff in spring practice to add to his route tree, potentially increasing his role in the offense.

“It's kind of the same stuff we've been doing,” Ruckert said. “It's been in before, but we're really focusing on it a lot more now and getting more opportunities. I think the biggest thing going into this year is just trying to give us more opportunities in the passing game because we've proven that we can produce and help this team in any way, especially in the passing game.”

In last fall’s pandemic-shortened season, Ruckert gave quarterback Justin Fields a big red-zone target.

The 6-foot-5 tight end grabbed all five of his touchdown passes while the Buckeyes’ offense sat inside the 20-yard line. They were among 13 receptions for 151 yards in eight games. The previous season, he caught 14 passes for 142 yards and four touchdowns.

Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert catches a pass against Alabama linebacker Christian Harris during the national championship game on Jan. 11. Ruckert made a similar one-handed catch in the Big Ten championship game in 2019, that one for a touchdown.

Tight ends have rarely been featured heavily in the Buckeyes’ aerial attack. Over the past decade, the most passes snagged in a season by any player at the position were the 28 by Marcus Baugh in 2017.

But with the potential for more routes to run, Ruckert believes his role could grow as long as he builds chemistry with the team’s next starting quarterback.

Three freshmen — Kyle McCord, Jack Miller and C.J. Stroud — are competing to take over for Fields.

Ruckert thought this spring was an important step in establishing trust between the tight ends and passers.

“I just tell them that whatever they need, we got you,” he said. “We'll be your security blanket. Whatever you want us to do, we'll do. I think the biggest thing this offseason is just being there for them and really showing them that they can trust us and just work on our timing.”

As well as being a sure-handed target, Ruckert has also made a share of acrobatic catches in the past couple of seasons, most notably his one-handed touchdown catch in the Big Ten championship game in 2019.

Ohio  State tight end Jeremy Ruckert runs over Clemson cornerback Derion Kendrick during the College Football Playoff semifinal on Jan. 1.

It stands to reason that few Ohio State tight ends have demanded as many looks as Ruckert.

“He's one of the best that's ever come through here,” said Corey Rau, a walk-on tight end, “and we're trying to give him the ball a whole lot more. He can do a lot of great things when the ball is in his hands.”

A bigger role as a receiver for the Buckeyes was discussed with coaches as a reason for Ruckert to hold off on entering the NFL draft.

But it was not a condition for his return.

“I'm not one to just come back and say I'm only going to come back if this happens,” Ruckert said. “It's a two-way street. If I want more catches to come my way, then I need to put more work in during the offseason and enhance that part of my game.”

Following a loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship game in January, Ruckert felt as if he had some goals left to achieve and more effort to give toward the program.

The feeling spurred his decision to remain in school and give a big lift to the Buckeyes’ offense.

“I knew I had more to give,” he said. “I wanted to just give everything I had, and I feel like I didn't want to just leave on that note and explore opportunities past this. I wanted to make the most of it here and let everybody know I have more to give to this and I'm going to do everything I can for this year.”

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

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