This is the fourth in a series of previews, which will cover nine Ohio position groups ahead of the 2018 season. The Bobcats start the season Sept. 1 at Peden Stadium against Howard. For more, check The Post in the coming weeks.
Today’s position: Tight ends
Projected starter: Connor Brown (redshirt senior)
Key backups: Ryan Luehrman (redshirt sophomore), Noah Hoffman (sophomore), Adam Luehrman (redshirt sophomore), Chandler Dietz (redshirt freshman).
Newcomers: Hoffman (transfer from Fullerton College), Alec Burton (freshman), Mason Bernhardt (freshman), Dante Ruozzo (freshman).
Breakdown: Perhaps this speaks to the juggernaut that is the Ohio offense, but tight end might be the team’s weakest position on this side of the ball.
In the Frank Solich playbook, a tight end is a position that can solidify his offense. They are an extra body as a blocker, which he likes to use in two-end set. There usually isn’t a true standout at tight end on the roster. It's a position that helps the passing game; it's not a necessity.
Last year, the Bobcats didn’t struggle to put points on the board — averaging 39.06 points per game — in large part to the play of tight ends Troy Mangen and Mason Morgan. Both are gone now due to graduation; Mangen plays for the Atlanta Falcons.
The two combined for 219 yards and four touchdowns on just 18 receptions. That’s the most touchdowns scored by Ohio tight ends since 2012, when Jordan Thompson and Troy Hill combined for four, too.
“At tight end, we’re going to miss our two seniors,” offensive coordinator Tim Albin said at the Bobcats’ media day. “Connor Brown has kind of played in their shadows. He had a good offseason and was bothered back a back injury but he's tough and is our kind of guy.”
So, the question is, will Brown and company be able to fill the shoes left vacant by Mangen and Morgan?
Brown has played 10 career games but has caught just one pass for seven yards back in 2016. He’s best suited to be a lead blocker for a running back in the two-end set. He won’t provide a spark in the passing game, but he will be on the field for most running situations and will make an impact.
Throughout camp, Noah Hoffman seemed like the most passing game savvy of the bunch. He caught multiple balls running up the middle of the field and seems to have a knack for getting past linebackers and the size for knocking over cornerbacks. It’s his first season with Ohio — he’s a recent junior college transfer product. If there’s a guy who can be a go-to receiver, Hoffman will likely be the one Rourke can look for on third down inside the red zone.
Ryan Luehrman grew up watching the Bobcats play on Saturdays. An Athens native, he’s one of the vocal leaders inside the tight end room and the one who has more on the line when it comes to a Mid-American Conference title. He remembers watching the losses in Detroit as a kid and experienced one as a freshman in college. If there’s a hybrid between Brown and Hoffman, it’s Luehrman. He’s played in just four career games, but that will jump this year. He grew up as a Bobcat, and that should be obvious on the field this season.
Ryan’s identical twin, Adam, and Chandler Dietz will round out the five-man rotation that will play at tight end. Adam and Dietz will likely be used sparsely but should be effective substitutes.
Best-case scenario: Brown and Ryan Luehrman replace Mangen and Morgan in the two-end set Solich loves. There isn’t any seasonable learning curve, as the Bobcats’ rushing attack seems primed to pick up where it left off. Hoffman assimilates well in his first season and can become the first true tight end in years who grows into an offensive weapon.
Worst-case scenario: Brown doesn’t stay healthy as old injuries pop back up. Ryan Luehrman still has a positive season, but it shows that Hoffman isn’t made to be a blocking tight end. It forces Adam Luehrman or Dietz to step up, but neither winds up being ready for the job.