As we rapidly close in on the top five, The Lantern continues its countdown of the top 10 most important Buckeyes for the 2014 Ohio State football season.
No. 6: Jeff Heuerman, senior tight end
Every season since Ben Hartsock’s 2003 departure, Buckeye fans across the state have been saying “this is the year” an OSU tight end becomes a key part of the passing game. Over time, after repeated underwhelming displays of production from the position, that statement has become a question.
Is this the year?
After years of failure, 2013 was a step in the right direction.
In 2004 and 2005 it was Ryan Hamby’s chance. He’s best known for a dropped touchdown against Texas in 2005 that could have won the game. From 2006 to 2008 it was Rory Nicol’s chance, but he never managed more than 13 receptions.
In 2009 Jake Ballard proved to be a solid player and had a key reception in OSU’s Rose Bowl win against Oregon, but he was not key to the offense.
Jake Stoneburner broke through with 21 catches in 2010 and seven touchdowns in 2011, but he was more of an oversized receiver and still didn’t ooze production.
After Stoneburner’s departure in 2012, this past season was finally Heuerman’s chance to shine.
Heuerman tallied 26 receptions for 466 yards and four touchdowns –– easily the best tight end production OSU has had in a decade –– and proved to be a valuable safety valve for then-junior quarterback Braxton Miller.
In 2014, Heuerman’s importance to the team will go well beyond his number of catches or his trips to the end zone. The most important thing will be when those catches occur.
Miller is now a senior with another offseason under his belt, but he missed all of spring practice with a shoulder injury. He is expected to be set to go for the season opener, but that injury, and his injury in 2013 that caused then-senior quarterback Kenny Guiton to step in and attempt 109 passes, served as a wake-up call for coach Urban Meyer and his staff.
For this team to be successful, Miller must be healthy, and Heuerman can do a lot to ensure he stays that way. Not only is he a strong blocker on the edge, Heuerman’s ability to bail Miller out in tough situations can prevent the signal caller from running as often as normal.
Miller is certainly a runner first, but that might have to change of OSU is to be successful, and having the frame of Heuerman on the field gives him a near sure thing to check down to.
Heuerman checks in at 6 feet, 5 inches and 255 pounds. He is an imposing presence on the field and the Buckeyes should hope to –– and expect to –– see a jump in his production for 2014.
So is this the year? Does it really even matter?
Heuerman put up great numbers last year, and as long as he continues his production and elevates his game, even more balls should be headed his way.
OSU’s first game of the season is scheduled for Aug. 30 when the Buckeyes face Navy in Baltimore, Md.