Thursday, April 26, 2012
Spread gives Stoneburner chance to shine
By Adam Rittenberg
Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner had seven touchdowns last season -- on 14 catches.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jake Stoneburner had one of the strangest stat lines in all of college football last season.
It said as much about his potential as a tight end as it did about Ohio State's inability to maximize that potential in an offense that could kindly be described as pass averse.
"It got kind of crazy," Stoneburner told ESPN.com. "Every time I had a catch, I'd score. It's weird. Only 14 catches and seven touchdowns, but I'll take seven touchdowns any day."
The 50 percent touchdown ratio is mind-boggling when you consider Stoneburner's 14 total receptions tied for the team lead.
Stoneburner set the tone for an odd season with four receptions, three of which went for touchdowns, in Ohio State's season-opening victory against Akron. He recorded four catches the following week against Toledo, three of which amazingly didn't wind up in the end zone.
Then he went catch-less for two games. He recorded two receptions for eight yards in the Big Ten opener against Michigan State. The following week, his only reception, a 32-yarder, went for a touchdown at Nebraska.
Stoneburner finished the season with three one-catch, one-touchdown performances.
"I guess you could say I had a knack for getting in the end zone," he said, "but we also didn't really throw it that much."
Ohio State attempted only four passes in a win at Illinois. The lone completion? A 17-yard touchdown to guess who? While Stoneburner recorded only five catches in Ohio State's first seven Big Ten games, the team averaged a measly 15 attempts and 6.6 completions during the span.
Ohio State finished 115th nationally in pass offense. Only six FBS teams, including all three service academies and Georgia Tech, attempted fewer passes than the Buckeyes (245).
Those days are over. Jim Bollman has exited, Urban Meyer and Tom Herman have arrived, and Ohio State's pass offense received a spring awakening in recent weeks. The spread has come to C-Bus, and a player who never approached his ceiling in the previous system can't be happier.
"We don't huddle," Stoneburner said. "It's nonstop, fast-paced, throwing the ball everywhere, read-option, triple-option. It's something we definitely had to get used to, but I'm loving the offense."
Stoneburner should. He came to Ohio State after recording 168 receptions, including 28 touchdowns, for nearby Dublin (Ohio) Coffman High School. Unlike his predecessors, who basically served as extra offensive linemen, Stoneburner arrived at Ohio State as a big receiver who grew into the tight end spot.
Former Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel raved about Stoneburner since the spring of 2009, but Stoneburner recorded just two receptions that fall. He followed it up with 21 in 2010 but saw the total cut by one-third last season.
Coaches say Jake Stoneburner needs to improve his conditioning to be an every-down player.
Meyer's hiring changes everything for the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Stoneburner.
"He's known for spreading the wealth with the ball," he said. "Having athletic tight ends and guys who can catch the ball, it gives us more opportunities in space to get open."
Stoneburner spent much of the spring watching Aaron Hernandez, who starred at tight end for Meyer at Florida, recording 68 catches for 850 yards as a senior before becoming a fourth-round draft pick of the New England Patriots.
"Seeing Hernandez make all those plays makes someone like me pretty happy," Stoneburner said. "It's something I've been waiting for since I graduated high school, being able to go out there knowing you're going to get the opportunity to get the ball more than once or twice a game.
"It's a pretty good feeling."
Meyer identified Stoneburner and running back Jordan Hall as two potential playmakers who emerged this spring. Ohio State's lack of proven depth at receiver is no secret, and Stoneburner will be featured in the passing game.
Herman, the team's offensive coordinator, also is excited about Stoneburner's potential, although he needs to see dramatic improvement in one area.
"I see a big guy with great body control, good hands, good feet, decent speed," Herman told ESPN.com. "Jake's just got to get in better shape. Jake's a much worse player on the fifth play of the drive than he is on the first play of the drive. For him to be our bell cow in the throwing game and really doing the things we want to be able to do in the running game, he needs to be a guy that we can try to run into the ground and he keeps asking for more because he's in such great shape."
The pace of the new offense shocked Stoneburner's system. In the first 7-on-7 session of the spring, he estimates Ohio State logged 40 reps in 15 minutes.
"Just nonstop, go, go, go," he said. "The first day, I was exhausted."
Stoneburner's summer will be all about conditioning. Herman doesn't want the senior to lose weight or strength, but Stoneburner has to be an every-down player.
"The kid's not used to that," Herman said. "I'm not upset at him for it, but we've identified a problem and now it's up to him and our strength staff and his coaches and myself to come up with solutions."
Stoneburner shouldn't have trouble staying motivated. The more he stays on the field, the more passes will be thrown his way.
Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller thinks Stoneburner can eclipse 40 receptions this season.
As for the touchdown trend?
"We'll keep it going," Miller said with a smile.
Don't expect another 14-and-7 season from No. 11.
"I'll take seven touchdowns again," Stoneburner said, "but as long as I can get some more catches, I'll be happy."