COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer made waves a week ago when he announced that the Buckeyes' starter at tight end for the past two seasons, Jake Stoneburner, is now meeting with the OSU wide receivers. But the move may have been more a formality than anything else.
Don't expect to see the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Stoneburner lining up out wide at flanker or split end for the Buckeyes. As both Meyer and OSU wide receivers coach Zach Smith have explained, the fifth-year senior isn't quite finished with his responsibilities as a tight end.
"It doesn't matter whether he's a tight end or a wide receiver, it is more of who he meets with and where he is day-to-day," Smith explained. "Obviously a kid like that is a mismatch problem for other teams."
Stoneburner's always been a bit of a 'tweener' since he arrived at Ohio State as an early enrollee in the winter of 2008. A wide receiver throughout his career at Dublin Coffman high school, he spent a season practicing with the OSU wideouts, but was officially moved to tight end after redshirting in 2008.
Smith said that due to both his size and set of skills, it's hard to define what Stoneburner's natural position actually is.
"He's a kid that can play wide receiver and be efficient in the throw game and also be an effective tight end is a kid that we want to utilize," Smith said. "To say we have plans for him, obviously we do."
Regardless of where he's lined up, the Dublin native's receiving abilities have always been evident.
In his first year of action, Stoneburner saw some playing time as a backup to tight end Jake Ballard, but in 2010 he emerged as a pass-catcher, hauling in 21 receptions for a pair of touchdowns. Last season, he led the Buckeyes with a team-high seven touchdown receptions, which came on 14 catches.
At 245 pounds, Stoneburner's never showed the blocking abilities that are thought to be ideal in a tight end. In the run-heavy offense of the former Ohio State offense, Stoneburner at times found himself on the sidelines watching more capable blockers such as Reid Fragel take his place.
"To say he was a two-hundred and eighty, point on-the-line TE ever, we're all joking," Smith said.
But in Meyer's spread offense, that's not the type of player the Buckeyes' will need him to be. In fact, the first-year Buckeyes coach already has a template for the type of player that he wants Stoneburner to be, and it's one that has worked out for him in the past.
"He's going to be our (Aaron) Hernandez-type guy who can do some things," Meyer said, referring to his former tight end at Florida. "We'll use him as a surface tight end."
The stats don't lie when it comes to what Meyer can with a player in that role. As a junior at Florida in 2009, Hernandez caught 68 passes for 850 yards and five touchdowns.
Despite not playing the traditional tight end role, Hernandez was rewarded for his efforts with the John Mackey Award, which is presented annually to the nation's top tight end. It can't be viewed as anything but a good omen that Stoneburner finds himself on the preseason watch list for the very same award this season.
In addition to his receiving stats, Hernandez rushed the ball once for 16 yards in 2009. While Meyer has said that he'll be hesitant to hand the ball off to Stoneburner on a consistent basis, it's certainly possible that he could carry the ball from the 'pivot' position that he's been helping occupy in Jordan Hall absence.
Although Stoneburner's role for the Buckeyes in 2012 may be hard to define, it may be even harder to place restrictions on.
"Jake is a guy that is playing wide receiver right now but he can do tight end things and fullback things," Smith said. "He's always been an athletic, receiving tight end. That kid is naturally gifted in the throwing game. He has the body type and the ability level to do things in the run game. Not a whole lot changed, he's just playing more receiver right now because that's probably his strength."