Editor’s Note: This is the third in a nine-part series outlining the 2019 Ohio Football roster. The series will break down nine parts of the program in the coming weeks, with a look at who returns, what’s changed, and what’s to come at each position. The series continues today with a look at the Ohio’s wide receivers and tight ends.
This story appears in the Sunday, June 16 newspaper on Page B1.
Tim Albin knows there are going to be times during the 2019 season when any of the number of first-time starters or contributors on the offense are going to make a mistake.
Months before then, he’s already spent time preparing himself for the eventuality.
“Oh heck yes,” said Albin, Ohio’s running back coach, offensive coordinator, and 15-year stalwart on Frank Solich’s staff with the Bobcats. “We’ll be leaning on a lot of guys who don’t know what they don’t know, yet.”
Nowhere will that be more evident than at receiver and tight end, where Ohio could potentially start two freshmen, have two sophomore heavily involved in the rotation, and could see a freshman or two earn reps at TE.
“They’re going to drop a pass on third down. They’ll see a coverage and run the wrong way. There will be mistakes,” Albin said. “So we got to get them coached up.
“But there is real talent there and I think by the time the MAC gets here, we’ll have a real good group.”
In 2018, the Bobcats looked to the passing game for explosive plays. Ohio still ran it far more often than it threw it — the ‘Cats ran the ball 66 percent of the time on standard downs (27th nationally) — but uncorked big plays via the pass game at a high clip. Ohio picked up plays of 20 yards or more 11.7 percent of the time, the fifth-highest in the nation.
But now some of the pieces of that dynamic are gone. Starting WRs Papi White — a true No. 1 option — and Andrew Meyer combined for more than 1,400 yards receiving, 98 catches and 15 touchdowns a year ago. White demanded double-coverage or safety help from most MAC opponents.
Ohio’s new No. 1 will likely be junior Cameron Odom (30-418, 2 TDs). Odom served as the third WR each of the past two years, is experienced and can play any of the WR slots and run any route.
“He’s going to have to lead us there,” said Ohio WR coach Dwayne Dixon.
After Odom, youth will be served. Redshirt freshman Shane Hooks has the size (6-4), leaping ability and hands to be a game-changer. He’s also yet to snag his first career reception.
Redshirt freshman Jerome Buckner sizzled in brief appearances in 2018, and appears to be a Papi White clone with a better grasp of the slot position than White did entering his second season. Buckner, a 5-7 speedster from Gahanna, had three grabs for 104 yards and a TD in ’18.
“We have to keep him healthy but he everything you want to be potentially be a special player,” Solich said.
Fifth-year senior D.L Knock, a key contributor each of the last two years, figures to be in the rotation as well. Sophomore Isiah Cox will be a fixture after 309 yards and 3 TDs in 2018. Another redshirt freshman, Tyler Walton, will get a chance as well.
Ohio is also hoping another ‘big’ receiver can join the rotation on the outside, with sophomore K.J. Minter or junior Keevon Harris being the likely candidates.
At tight end, Ohio will have Adam and Ryan Luehrman — Athens HS graduates and twin brothers — to handle the bulk of the workload. The fourth-year juniors acclimated to the position behind last year’s starter Connor Brown. Ryan has shown more explosiveness in the passing game, but Adam nudged ahead in the rotation by the end of spring camp. Both are 6-5 and 245 pounds, which means both could be assets in the running game.
But behind the Luehrmans, Ohio will again be looking for young players to develop quickly. Redshirt freshman Alex Burton was sidelined by injury and rehab last season. Two incoming freshmen could also make a splash.
Tyler Foster, a 6-foot-6 prospect from Pickerington Central was the 2019 recruiting class’ second-highest recruit. Casey Clanton, another 3-star recruit, played for his father Jon in high school in Arizona. Jon Clanton was a former defensive lineman under Solich at Nebraska.
“Ideally you hope one or more of those guys shows they’re ready to help you right away,” Solich said. “But we like what the Luehrmans have done and been about since they’ve been here. We think they’re ready.”
2019 Ohio Football
Starters — Cameron Odom (R-Junior, 6-1, 188), Jerome Buckner (R-Freshman, 5-7, 164) and Shane Hooks (R-Freshman, 6-4, 184)
Odom (30 catches, 418 yards, 2 TDs in 2018) is Ohio leading returning receiver and a part-time starter each of the last two years. If he’s going to take a jump and a true No. 1 threat, this seems like the time for it to happen. Buckner (104 yard on 3 catches) was explosive in short duty out of the slot last year, and has Papi White caliber quickness. Hooks (two targets last year) has the size and frame to be a matchup terror. Experience will be an issue, however.
Gone — Papi White, Andrew Meyer and Willie Cherry.
White graduates as one of the most accomplished receivers in program history and takes the mantle of a No. 1 target with him. Meyer was a complementary burner on the outside and combined with White for over 1,400 yards receiving and 15 TDs last season. Cherry was a sophomore-to-be who transferred out prior to spring camp; He was locked in a battle with Ohio’s host of young receivers for opportunity.
Backups — Isiah Cox (R-Sophomore, 6-0, 185), D.L. Knock (R-Senior, 5-8, 194) and K.J. Minter (R-Sophomore, 6-2, 213).
Cox was explosive as receiver No. 5 last season (28.1 average, 3 TDs) and will get a ton of reps. Knock is the most experienced receiver on the roster, and may see more action in the slot with White moving on. Minter has the big body, and is showing more and more blocking ability on the perimeter.
Depth — Keevon Harris (R-Junior, 6-3, 208), Darfnell Gouin (R-Freshman, 6-1, 198), Tyler Walton (R-Freshman, 5-9, 158), Tyler Tupa (R-Junior, 6-0, 196), Drew Keszei (R-Sophomore, 6-2, 191) and Bryan Long Jr. (R-Junior, 5-8, 199)
Harris hasn’t clicked yet but is close to the top of the next group looking to break in. Gouin (X) and Walton (slot) mirror well what Cox and Buckner appear to be capable of. Tupa has had two tough injury seasons, and Keszei picked up the position just this spring. Long has has some limited reps as a special teamer and backup slot receiver.
Walk ons — Hunter Edwards (R-Sophomore, 6-2, 191) and Camryn Snow (R-Senior, 5-6, 155)
Excluding Knock and Long, Ohio has seven other walk-on receivers trying to make an impact. Edwards, a Nelsonville-York graduate, looks to be at the top of that list and could push for some playing time with a strong fall camp. Snow has had flashes, but is playing a spot (slot) where Ohio has great depth.
Starters — Adam Luehrman (R-Junior, 6-5, 245) and Ryan Luehrman (R-Junior, 6-5, 240)
The twin brothers exit spring camp established as the top two TEs currently on the roster. Former top targets of LSU QB Joe Burrow at Athens HS, the duo has been able to add size and strength over their college careers and barring the emergence of a freshman in fall camp will be in line for the lion’s share of reps in 2019.
Gone — Connor Brown.
Brown wasn’t targeted much (14 times for eight catches) last season but he was physical at the position and an asset as a blocker. Both Luehrmans offer up more potential as pass-catching threats, but it remains to be seen if they can match Brown as a quality blocker.
Backup — Alec Burton (R-Freshman, 6-4, 228)
Burton is next in line but injury kept him from having a strong developmental 2018 season or spring camp. It’s an open book on who will end fall camp as part of the rotation.
Depth — Dante Ruozzo (R-Freshman, 6-3, 210), Chandler Dietz (R-Sophomore, 5-10, 204), Jalen Spears (R-Junior, 6-2, 240) and Ryan Grooms (R-Senior, 6-2, 225)
This entire quartet is made up of walk-on entries. Ruozzo didn’t practice much in 2018 (injury), while Dietz and Grooms appear to offer potential little impact at the top of the lineup. Spears showed well in the spring, especially in the contact portions of spring practice.
Incoming — Tyler Foster (Freshman, 6-6, 225) and Casey Clanton (Freshman, 6-3, 240)
Ohio is hoping one, or both, of the newcomers can help the position in the fall. Foster was the second-highest rated recruit in the class, and the Pickerington North graduate has been labeled a ‘can’t miss’ prospect in the MAC. Clanton is along further physically as a blocker, but he too was rated a three-star prospect and had eight offers coming out of Phoenix.