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Buckeyes borrow NFL playbooks to unleash Jeremy Ruckert

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Jeremy Ruckert brings NFL potential to Ohio State at tight end. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

Buckeyes borrow NFL playbooks to unleash Jeremy Ruckert

COLUMBUS — Out of high school, Jeremy Ruckert was a known commodity as a pass-catcher.

But there was certainly room for improvement to become a more complete tight end at Ohio State.

In his first season, Ruckert had his hand in the dirt for the first time and learned the basics. He never did that in high school. Last season, Ruckert began to put everything he knows and learned together to become a weapon for the Buckeyes. He threw blocks that led to touchdowns in the run game, caught passes out of a three-point stance and split out wide. He never did that in high school.

With another offseason of training and learning, could Ruckert be due for a true breakout season for the Buckeyes? He has the potential to be dominant. He certainly did that in high school. And he can do it for Ohio State, too.

“I knew if I came here, I wouldn’t be able to get on the field if I didn’t learn how to pass protect and run block,” Ruckert said. “I think learning how to do those two things the last couple years has been crucial in developing me as a player.

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Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert can be a bonus in the passing game. (Sammy Silverman/Lettermen Row)

“I mean, the goal was obviously to make it to the next level. And if you’re a one-dimensional player, there’s only so many things you can do. So, with all the cuts they have and the small rosters they have [in the NFL], I think coming to a place like this to develop into a complete tight end was the best option for that.”

Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said last offseason that Ruckert has the most potential of any of his tight ends — and he’s right. The 6-foot-5, 253-pound junior has all the tools and playmaking ability to be a big-time contributor for the Buckeyes, who have one of the best quarterbacks in the country on hand to throw to Ruckert.

But when Lettermen Row did projections of tight end production, Ruckert only was marked down for 21 catches, 241 yards and six touchdowns. That’s not a dominant stat line. Ruckert has what’s needed to surpass those numbers, even in an offense that is full of playmakers at every position.

He’s still building to be better. The physical tools aren’t questioned. Ruckert is now working on the nuances.

“I think the main thing I’m trying to look at this year is really understanding defenses, coverages and fronts and all that,” he said. “When I get out there, I kind of know the offense now, being in my third year. I’m starting to get the techniques down. I want to, this year, take a step forward and ID the defense and know what I’m seeing before the play and even during the play.”

In the offseason Ruckert studied the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, two teams who use their tight ends exceptionally well, learning how they get those guys in favorable situations. Ruckert and fellow tight end Luke Farrell both have NFL potential, so learning how to use them from the pro game is a good start.

And it’s a good indicator that the tight end might be featured more in the Ohio State offense this season.

One thing the Buckeyes see from the film is running the tight ends over the middle for big gains. Ruckert has noticed how successful it can be in the NFL. And it might become a big play for the Buckeyes, especially with Ruckert’s big body as the beneficiary.

“In the NFL, the biggest play they always convert on is the tight end over the middle,” he said. “I could see that being more of a play that they call down the road. We’ve been working at it. Seeing it in the NFL, [George] Kittle really, and it’s the play [Rob Gronkowski] used to make his money on was just over the middle running, being big over the middle and possessing the ball.”

Ruckert knows a thing or two about possessing the ball. It’s what made him the No. 1 tight end in the country for his recruiting class.

Once the blocking in the run game and understanding of concepts was learned, possessing the ball might make Jeremy Ruckert a big playmaker with production unseen from a tight end in the Ohio State offense.

Spencer Holbrook

Spencer Holbrook covers Ohio State football and basketball for Lettermen Row. A graduate of Ohio University's Scripps School of Journalism, he's in his second year covering the Buckeyes. He was previously the sports editor at Ohio's student newspaper, The Post, where he covered Ohio University football and men's basketball.