Heading into the new year and offseason workouts, BuckeyeNation will look at some holes left by the departing Ohio State veterans and potential candidates to fill them.
- Who: The transformation into the ultimate mismatch didn’t quite materialize after Jake Stoneburner moved from tight end to wide receiver, and he wasn’t able to equal his dynamic red-zone production from his junior season during his senior campaign with Ohio State. But while Stoneburner went through some rough patches and perhaps didn’t give the Buckeyes everything they might have hoped for after moving him around the formation, he was still dangerous at times as a target with 16 catches and four touchdowns and leaves a 6-foot-5 hole to fill on the perimeter. And even when his own statistics weren’t all that impressive, Stoneburner still found ways to make an impact by throwing around his 245-pound frame and improving as a run-blocker to help the Buckeyes explode on the ground.
- By the numbers: Not exactly known for his speed, Stoneburner still tied for the longest reception of the season after darting down the middle of the field for a 72-yard touchdown that effectively sealed a road victory at Penn State in October. That huge strike offered a reminder of the big-play ability Stoneburner brought to the position, which prompted the move in the first place. It was maybe also somewhat bittersweet for the Buckeyes, who might have liked to see it more often — that dash against the Nittany Lions represented 27 percent of his yardage for the season.
- Job description: The Buckeyes need somebody capable of stressing coverage in the middle of the field, keeping defenses honest against both the threat of the run and allowing Devin Smith and Corey “Philly” Brown room to operate on the outside. Ohio State had few problems putting up points and obviously finished with a perfect record, but the offense could potentially become even more prolific if it can tap into some space across the middle of the field with a big, fearless target who can offer a reliable set of hands for quarterback Braxton Miller and the ability after that to do something extra with the football in his grasp.
- Top candidates: Given his responsibilities previously when exclusively at tight end or the diverse package of duties he had as a senior, it might take a combination of guys to fill Stoneburner’s void. At tight end, the Buckeyes already know what they have in Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman and have plenty to feel good about there. Chris Fields flashed in a limited role as Stoneburner’s official backup at the “H” wide receiver, but Michael Thomas could be an option to watch after breaking into the rotation more regularly at the end of his freshman season. The rising sophomore has a good relationship with Miller and the kind of size at 6-foot-2 that combines with impressive athleticism to make for a difficult defensive assignment, which gives him a shot at becoming the No. 3 option statistically.
- One to watch: Evan Spencer won’t exactly be emerging from nowhere after finishing fourth on the team with 12 catches during the perfect season, particularly after finishing strong down the stretch with the majority of his production coming in the final five games. That late burst offered a glimpse at the kind of weapon Spencer could be in the passing game, and while he obviously doesn’t have the same body type as Stoneburner, he should still be able at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds to chip in some blocks for the run game and win his share of matchups after another offseason to build his game.
Continue Reading: Next up: Replacing Jake Stoneburner