Ohio State senior Jeff Heuerman has gone from a little-targeted tight end to the best at his position in the Big Ten in the past year.
Heuerman (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) always has been a solid blocker, but he emerged as a weapon in the Buckeyes' passing attack last season and should play an even bigger role for Ohio State this season.
"He's a real weapon, and three years ago he wasn't," coach Urban Meyer told the Columbus Dispatch. "Everyone asked me why he didn't play more as a sophomore. He'd be the first to tell you because he wasn't as good.
"He's really a good player now, and we've got to take advantage of that."
Heuerman had nine catches in his first two seasons with the Buckeyes, then saw that number jump to 26 (for 433 yards and four TDs) last season. He remains a good blocker, but proved he can get deep last season. With Michigan's Devin Funchess moving from tight end to wide receiver this season, Heuerman now is the best tight end in the conference.
Heuerman runs well -- he has been timed as fast as 4.68 in the 40 -- and told the Dispatch he is in the best shape of his career. He also said his body-fat percentage dropped from about 8 percent last season to "something like 6.9 this year."
He missed all but one day of spring practice with a foot injury that required surgery -- a teammate stepped on his left foot -- but he said that might have been a blessing.
"It was a nice little break from your body, to give you some time off," Heuerman said as preseason camp began. "Three years of college football ... all the pounding in spring ball and the season ... it's a grind. So it was nice to have a little bit of time off."
Heuerman attended the Big Ten Media Days event, and he said there that another benefit from the injury was the time he spent watching video.
"I spent a lot more time in the film room than I would have if I was healthy the whole time," Heuerman said. "It gave me a little bit more time to study the game and study upcoming opponents."
When Meyer has had athletic tight ends, he has used them in a variety of ways, even on jet sweeps. That might not be in Heuerman's future, but he does seem to be a guy who will be targeted often this fall. Senior Devin Smith likely will be quarterback Braxton Miller's No. 1 receiver, but Heuerman -- who was third on the team in receptions last season -- has 40-catch potential. He averaged a team-leading 17.9 yards per catch last season, and as with all high-level tight ends, he is too fast for most linebackers and too big for corners and safeties.
He looks to be one of the top two or three senior tight ends nationally, thanks to his "dual-threat" (talents as a receiver and blocker) abilities. He's not the only Heuerman who could make a splash this fall, either; his younger brother, Mike, could be the No. 2 tight end at Notre Dame, where he is a redshirt freshman. Their dad, Paul, is a former basketball letterman at Michigan.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at email@example.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.