- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Standing on the practice field, the old fullback strolled by the player who took his place on offense.
Ohio State couldn't have moved the first guy to defense if it didn't feel like it had a reasonable safety net as a blocker and versatile weapon in the spread system, and the switch paid off instantly on both sides of the ball.
Zach Boren packed up and headed to linebacker, and when he got there he led the Buckeyes with eight tackles in a win over Indiana. Jeff Heuerman slid in right where the senior had left off, doubling his usual workload as a tight end by supplying critical blocks and grading out as one of the top performers for a scoring machine that doesn't seem to have any brakes.
And after happening to overhear a conversation about Ohio State's faith in Heuerman helping prompt the big switch a week ago, Boren offered his own take on why the transition ended up being so seamless on offense.
"We have the same body type," Boren joked. "That's why it's worked."
Considering Heuerman's four-inch advantage in height along with the fact Boren is listed as only five pounds lighter than the sophomore, the Buckeyes probably need a few other explanations for the success.
No matter how they came by it, though, Heuerman provided the same type of hard-nosed blocking the rushing game had come to expect from Boren and didn't miss a beat, as it rolled up 353 more yards on the ground and, at least for a week, survived just fine without the captain lined up in the backfield. If not for the development of Heuerman since spring practice ended, both as an effective target in the passing game and as a more physical presence opening up holes for rushers, Boren might not have even had the opportunity to lend a hand elsewhere.
But Heuerman and fellow backup tight end Nick Vannett have created something of a surplus offensively due to the similar responsibilities they already shared with Boren at fullback, which was particularly useful with a run of injuries and lack of depth threatening to make the Buckeyes go bankrupt at linebacker.
"That move could not have been made if you didn't have Heuerman and Vannett," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "You just couldn't do it, as much as you would want to do that. Heuerman has been coming on, he has been playing 10 or 15 plays a game, and now he played [almost] 50. Same with Nick Vannett, those guys are really coming on and the good thing is those guys are around here for a few years.
"Jeff Heuerman played his best game as a Buckeye, and I'm proud to say that. He will play more."
That's the opportunity Heuerman has been waiting for, and while he has had different roles over each of the last two games, the chance to make a bigger impact has been building lately.
In the blowout over Nebraska, Heuerman made a couple of critical catches for 52 yards and scored a touchdown. The next week, he wasn't a factor as a receiver but delivered some hole-sealing blocks that didn't show up in the box score but cemented his value to the offense moving forward. And much like the guy he's replacing, either way to contribute works just fine.
"You know, whatever it takes," Heuerman said. "Obviously he moved over there for the betterment of the team, and I had to step up and do a lot of things that Zach is really good at.
"But I learned everything from Zach and how to do all that stuff. So when he left, I just had to step up where he was and try to continue to do it just as good as he did it."
No matter who stands taller, both body types have been able to get the job done.
Sophomore tight end Jeff Heuerman stepped in and performed admirably at fullback, allowing Zach Boren to help the defense at the dangerously thin linebacker position.