COLUMBUS - In his nine seasons as the head coach at Ohio State, Jim Tressel has been on the receiving end of more than a few acidic volleys for his conservative approach to offensive football.
"Too close to the vest" and "stuck in his ways" are frequent darts sent his way, but most coaches would gladly take the second-guessing if Tressel's overall record of 94-21, and his six Big Ten titles and a national championship with the Buckeyes were part of the deal.
Guilty as charged or not, Tressel enters his 10th season with the alpha headset on facing an interesting opportunity to tweak his army of armchair assistants, and maybe torment Ohio State's opponents at the same time.
Don't look for a paisley vest in next week's season opener, or a fake punt from his own endzone, but with tight end Jake Stoneburner in his lineup, Tressel has a player with the right hard drive to shake up the system. Stoneburner's size, speed and athleticism make him the wild card Tressel hasn't yet had up his sleeve, if he wore sleeves.
Stoneburner (6-5, 247) was a record-setting, all-state wide receiver at Dublin Coffman, who had 168 receptions for 2,751 yards and 28 touchdowns in his high school career. He was also a standout athlete in basketball and track, so this is no big, lumbering lineman out there hoping to catch a pass once in a while.
"Not at all - Jake's a great athlete who could probably play a lot of positions, and I think he's going to be an outstanding tight end for us," Ohio State senior wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said recently.
"He's not what I guess some people would call a 'traditional' tight end, because he's got great hands and good speed, especially for a guy his size. He gives us a lot more options in the passing game."
Stoneburner came to Ohio State two years ago at about 220 pounds, then was injured and redshirted in his first season with the Buckeyes. He worked behind senior starter Jake Ballard for last year's Big Ten and Rose Bowl champions. He expects to play at about 250 this year, but said he has retained his speed and quickness through conditioning and training.
"I felt like I needed to get stronger and put on a little weight so I could better handle the blocking part of the position, and I've done that, and I don't think it cost me much of my speed," Stoneburner said. "A lot of guys will put on weight and lose speed, but I feel like I've maintained it, and that's good."
Tressel won't publish any Stoneburner-based addendums to the OSU playbook, but he did say at the pre-season Big Ten meetings that his sophomore tight end gives the Buckeyes more options in an already deep and diverse offense.
"You want to design your approach based on the talent and abilities of your players, and take full advantage of what they are capable of doing," Tressel said.
"And you are always looking for ways to increase the pressure on the defense. We want the defense to be concerned about what we might do, and how we might utilize the tight end, or the option, or the running game. Your approach to that is changing and evolving all of the time."
Although the Ohio State tight ends had just 16 receptions in 13 games last season, Stoneburner and others in the Buckeyes' camp expect that figure to double in 2010. Stoneburner had three catches for 43 yards in the spring game, and said that he anticipates being a regular target for junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor when the Buckeyes open the season at home against Marshall in just a week.
"I get kind of tired of being asked if this is the year the tight ends will get the ball more, but I really do think that we will be seeing the ball more this season," Stoneburner said.
"Coach Tressel has more confidence in Terrelle and the tight ends. I know we want to throw it more this season, so I would expect that if we have 25 to 30 passes a game, at least a couple will come in my direction."
Stoneburner is backed up by Reid Fragel, a 6-8 265-pound sophomore from Michigan who is the grandson of Rossford basketball coaching legend Joe Stalma Sr.
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