COLUMBUS — Ohio State was back on the practice field on Tuesday for its sixth practice of the spring. Following the practice, head coach Ryan Day met with the media to discuss his team’s progression as the Buckeyes near the halfway point of spring practice.
Perhaps most notable to the media contingent on hand at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to observe the early portions of practice was yet another position change for junior Cade Stover. After coming to Columbus as a heralded linebacker recruit in the 2019 class, Stover spent time in the defensive end room early in his career before being moved to the other side of the ball as a tight end in 2020.
However, as Ohio State searched for linebacker depth late last season, Stover was moved back to his natural linebacker position and played well, recording six tackles in their Rose Bowl win over Utah to close the season. Looking to build off a strong finish — and a little bit of stability — Stover appeared to have found his home as he opened spring practice still working with the linebackers.
Tuesday’s practice suggested otherwise, however, and Day confirmed Stover is back with the offense following the practice.
“Cade always saw himself as a linebacker growing up and when he came here, and then he put a whole year of work into playing tight end,” Day said. “And the way it played out in the Rose Bowl was we were down some linebackers. I think when he got over there, he realized that he loves being over there at linebacker because he can play with that edge.”
However, Day said the conversations with Stover about potentially switching back to tight end have been taking place since the Buckeyes returned from Pasadena. Ultimately, Day said the decision was left to Stover, as was the case with other players switching positions such as Steele Chambers’ move to linebacker, and he believes Stover saw the potential impact he could have on offense.
“We want guys to own it, and I think he saw that moving forward, he has a huge ceiling at tight end,” Day said of Stover. “I think when you look at the work he’s put in the last year and his skill set, he’s got a chance to be a really good tight end. I think the thing he would tell you is he wants to bring that same defensive mentality to the offense, and he can do that. He’s strong, he’s powerful, athletic, has really good ball skills … he’s had a good couple of practices.”
In addition to Stover’s ceiling at the position, the path to playing time seems slightly less muddled at tight end as Ohio State works through the spring. With new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles primarily deploying a 4-2-5 base package that features only two true linebackers, the push to see the field as a linebacker figures to be highly competitive heading into fall camp.
On the other side of the ball, however, Day and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson will need to identify a replacement for tight end Jeremy Ruckert, who figures to be an early-round draft pick in next month’s NFL Draft. With Mitch Rossi, Ohio State’s most experienced returning tight end, sidelined this spring, a great opportunity has been presented to Stover and others looking to climb the depth chart this spring.
“I think they’re all getting better,” Day said of the group’s progression. “It’s still only six practices in, but really, it’s the same group as we had last year … the younger guys have to continue to step up and build depth in there. And then we have to get a starter in there and get Cade going, get Joe (Royer) going, get Gee (Scott Jr.) going, and see how they can fit into this thing.
“But we’re not there right now in terms of packages. We’re more about just trying to develop individually and trying to figure out what their skillsets are. And then as we start to go and move closer to the preseason, we start to put those packages together based on the teams we’re playing.”
Heading into his fourth year in the program, Day acknowledged the need for Stover to be able to settle into a position if he’s going to find a permanent role on the team.
“He needs to focus on something for a while in order to be successful. We can’t keep him bouncing around,” Day said.
Of course, as has been the case with Stover since his arrival at Ohio State, Day wouldn’t completely shut the door on another position change down the line.
“You never say never, and that’s what I told him. But he’s focused on tight end for now,” Day said.