Ohio State Spring Football Preview: Tight ends

COLUMBUS — With spring football right around the corner, the time has come to preview the Ohio State roster.

After looking at the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, we turn to a group of tight ends with an alpha dog and some intriguing second and third options.

Here is a breakdown of the situation for new tight ends coach Keenan Bailey:

Returning starter: Cade Stover

Next in line: Gee Scott Jr., Joe Royer

Also in the mix: Sam Hart, Bennett Christian, Patrick Gurd, Zak Herbstreit, Jelani Thurman

Stover is a team leader who figures to become a two-time captain this fall.

His decision to put off the NFL draft for a year could pay huge dividends to the team as tight end has evolved into the fulcrum of the offense, proving to be a key cog in both the passing and running games.

“He’s got some things to work on, he’d be the first one to tell you,” Bailey said. “And he could go down I think as one of the better tight ends to come through this place, which is certainly something to be said about that.

“We talk a lot about legacy, and from the day you’re recruited, and you come in here, we have goals, and we did not hit those goals last year. And for a guy from Ohio to not hit those goals as as the starter is huge. I think we all know what those goals are. I don’t need to get into that, but I think that helped Cade coming back.”

Departed senior Mitch Rossi was the only other tight end to play more than one third of the team’s snaps, and he also played some H-back and fullback. How the Buckeyes fill that role remains to be seen, though Herbstreit (a third-year walk-on from Tennessee and the son of Kirk) is among the candidates.

“I think each year in college football, you gotta cater your offense to your personnel, and Mitch gave us tremendous value in a unique skill set,” Bailey said. “So we kind of catered things there. We’ve got some guys that could be that fullback role. We’ve also got some other guys who could play a receiver-tight end.

“Look around the NFL, whether it’s the Niners or the Dolphins or the Rams, you see more position-less players who could do a lot of things. I think our tight end room is full of versatile guys.”

Scott, a senior who began his career as a receiver, was the team’s third tight end last season and could be ready to blossom in a larger role while offering a more dynamic option as a receiver.

Unlike Stover, a former linebacker, and Scott, Royer and Hart were recruited as tight ends out of high school, and one of them stepping up to be ready for a larger role this year could be very beneficial for the Buckeyes.

Christian also could make a leap after seeing very limited time as a true freshman last fall while Thurman is a four-star recruit who enrolled in January and brings a huge upside as a top-100 national recruit.

“It’s a deep room full of versatile guys, starting with Cade, right?” said Bailey, who has worked more behind the scenes for the Buckeyes over the past five years but will become a full-time, on-field coach this year. “I don’t think I could have hand selected a better leader for my first year of being a unit leader to have as my foundation. To have a guy like Cade, who does things right on and off the field is going to make my job a whole lot easier, And then they all just follow in line.

“We’re Ohio State so the sky’s the limit for all those guys. I can’t wait to see just how they work from a day-to-day standpoint.”

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