Tight End Depth Provides Promise For Ohio Football

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During last season’s 38-31 victory over the Buffalo Bulls in Peden Stadium, Ohio saw a passing of the torch, though not quite how they wanted it to happen. Jordan Thompson, a redshirt senior and arguably the greatest tight end in Ohio University history, suffered a season-ending ACL tear, effectively ending his career as Bobcat. The injury forced a batch of young Ohio tight ends to step into his shoes immediately.

Thompson’s production at the position was unparalleled for the ‘Cats. When Ohio head coach Frank Solich overhauled the Bobcat offense at the end of the 2011 season to implement a spread style offense, Thompson flourished. In his final 19 games — the full 2011 season including the first six games of Ohio’s 2012 campaign — he tallied 353 yards and 3 touchdowns on 32 receptions. A skilled receiver and blocker, Thompson’s value wasn’t just in his skills on the field. A two-time team captain, Thompson was a leader for the ‘Cats younger tight ends.

“Jordan was a good leader and the thing that helped me out with Jordan is he was a coach on the field,” tight ends coach Brian Haines said. “He knew what he was supposed to be doing as well as everyone around him. He really brought those young guys along quickly. So we miss that part of him.”

When Thompson went down halfway through last season, then redshirt junior Troy Hill filled in nicely, along with redshirt sophomore Derek Roback. Together the pair accounted for 167 yards and a touchdown in Ohio’s final eight games of the season. Paired with blocking specialist, redshirt senior Tyler Night the three are back for the 2013 season with starting experience under their belts. The production of Thompson has been replaced, but the leadership is something the players are still trying to replicate.

“I think as a group, as a team we all have to step up and fill his position. He did a lot for us,” Hill said. “Coach Haines said he wants me to step up more and try to be a leader, try to take over the Jordan Thompson role and make a role of my own. So I'm trying to do what I can, trying to help everybody play better.”

Hill admits he’s not normally a vocal leader, but without Thompson’s guidance, the older players are all trying to step up and fill the void.

Haines says that Hill, Roback and Knight have been living up to the task, taking the younger tight ends under their wings this spring and being vocal. It’s even more important considering the injuries that have plagued the group so far.

Knight is recovering from offseason hip surgery and is still on crutches. Roback is battling concussion issues and it’s uncertain when he’ll be cleared to resume play. So to make sure the position’s production value doesn’t drop off, Haines has been turning to the younger players this spring to step up and fill the on-field roles of their elders.

As the only healthy veteran this spring, Hill is being relied upon heavily to make sure that redshirt freshman Davon Henry and John Tanner are ready to step in and continue the position’s high level of production if need be.

Haines has been pleased with the results.

“Davon and John are both sharp guys, both came to meetings last year and it's apparent that they paid attention in meetings, because with the way that they're playing they have obviously picked up on something,” he said. “Troy is really good. He's coming out of his shell a little bit as far as being vocal and helping out.”

So far this spring Henry, Tanner and Tim Edmonds, who recently moved from linebacker to tight end, have been getting serious reps at the position as they try to learn the offense and prepare for the possibility of Knight and Roback not being ready for start of the season.

Tanner said the challenge is in learning all of the different schemes, noting that in Ohio’s complex system the tight ends are relied on to add to the passing game as well as block.

Hill has been pleased with how his protégés have been performing this spring.

“So far they're doing good,” he said. “It's a lot being thrown at them, especially because they're young … I try to take some of that pressure off of them and hopefully they'll be ready to step up when they get their chance.”

Haines, too, has been pleased with their performance while acknowledging how hard it can be to learn everything. He says that in Ohio’s system, despite the number of players at the position, there is plenty of opportunity for them to shine. Though he expects Knight and Roback to be healthy for the fall, he thinks if the younger players continue to develop they should have a deep rotation at the position for the 2013 season.

“You could have tight ends in the game on third and one and we could run a power or an inside zone play where they're just beating guys up to the line of scrimmage and then the next play, no huddle, we could be two tight ends in the game and we could be running four verticals,” he said.

Tanner thinks that they all have elements to add to the ‘Cats offense and is looking forward to contributing in the fall. Hill is the complete tight end according to Tanner, with Roback and Knight being receiving and blocking specialists respectively. As for Tanner himself, he admits he’s more of a blocker, but says he’s working to change that. He’s working on his route running and will hopefully get to show it off come fall time.