Heuerman's role at TE no joke

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jeff Heuerman has jokes.

Such as, where do the tight ends rank among the numerous weapons in Ohio State’s dangerous spread offense, led by the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year?

“First,” a smiling Heuerman said. “Ahead of Braxton [Miller].”

Heuerman has pranks.

His position coach spent a panicked afternoon worrying about a potential arrest after a story was concocted with a pair of staff members about a late-night incident for Heuerman, who then strung Tim Hinton along straightfaced for an extra 10 minutes before pointing out it was April Fool’s Day.

Heuerman also has size, strength and the ability to handle a wide variety of assignments on the field.

And it’s that blend of a fun-loving attitude and mismatch-producing athleticism that has had some Buckeyes comparing the junior to the tight end who made that combination famous in the NFL.

So, is Heuerman really the second coming of Rob Gronkowski?

“Oh, geez,” Heuerman said. “That’s not hard to live up to or anything.”

That standard might be a bit tough to match, and Heuerman has his roommate and former Ohio State tight end-turned-right tackle Reid Fragel to thank for publicly comparing the two and dialing up the hype heading into spring practice. But the Buckeyes do have greater expectations on offense heading into their second season in the spread, and the versatility Heuerman provides is among the biggest reasons why.

At 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, Heuerman was seemingly born to block in the running game and has proven he can handle that job in the Big Ten. But he also has strong hands and perhaps underrated speed as a target in the passing game. The coaches have kept an eye in his receiving skills in the spring, and that could lead to a larger role in the fall coming off a season that included just eight catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.

That doesn’t necessarily mean his numbers will be jumping to Gronkowski levels, particularly since the Buckeyes have another valuable option at the same position and with similar skills in Nick Vannett, not to mention Miller and one of the most effective rushing attacks in the country. But Heuerman does appear to fit the blueprint Gronkowski has helped provide and Ohio State wants to use with its tight ends -- using a multi-talented athlete who never has to leave the field regardless of the situation.

As long as they stay out of trouble, real or imagined.

“He’s a little bit of a jokester,” Hinton said. “But he almost died [that day]. Coach [Urban] Meyer almost had to kick him off the team because I was ready to kill him.

“Needless to say, he didn’t play at all in the scrimmage.”

Hinton got even a bit by returning fire with his own joke about playing time, but the reality is Heuerman and Vannett will be on the field plenty thanks to the options they provide for the rushing and passing games.

Heuerman has already been used plenty for the former, but after taking a bit of a backseat to Jake Stoneburner last season as a receiving threat, it’s the latter that should allow him to make a more noticeable impact this fall. And while his one-liners, ability to pull off a prank and his position might have started the conversation, it’s the production that will truly determine whether he’s following in those famous footsteps.

“Gronkowski, he’s a great, great player,” Heuerman said. “I don’t really know all his things off the field, but I hear he likes to have fun.”

Heuerman already has that part nailed.