Ten thousand years ago, in 2004, Ohio State was suffering through a middling season. There was a lot of blame to go around, but one area of particular complaint that would last until the end of the Jim Bollman Era was the constant underachievement of the offensive line. Superstar recruits like Alex Boone and Mike Adams never lived up to expectations, and success stories like Mike Brewster were far too few.
Then a mysterious man on a pale push sled rode into town. A man with the drive, and the know-how, and above all, the basic coaching skills to turn very good offensive line prospects into very good offensive line players.
Enter Ed Warinner.
The Offensive Line in 2013
Last season's offensive line had one of the best seasons that any of Ohio State's offensive line units have had since the 1990s. Buoyed by several starters with years of experience, including Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley, and Marcus "Birdman" Hall, the offensive line was able to open holes for Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde all season long. The Buckeye rushing attack amassed over 308 yards per game, good for fifth in the nation, and Hyde, Miller, and company ended up averaging 6.8 yards per carry, easily best in the nation.
At the heart of the unit was captain and left tackle Jack Mewhort. Mewhort was a rock last season, turning in outstanding performances in almost every game he played, and he was rewarded with a second round draft selection by the Colts. He was the clear leader and mentor to a group of players who weren't nearly as highly regarded as in years past, but was able to outperform them all.
And Ed Warinner was the driving force behind it all. Norwell, Linsley, Hall, and Mewhort are all gone, which is sad. But the coach that helped them to greatness remains.
Asked whether he was confident that the starters would be ready for the opener, Warinner didn’t hesitate.
“Oh, for sure,” he said. “Absolutely. Just making sure it’s the right ones. I’m confident we’ll be where we need to be Aug. 30, and then continue to develop.”
I guess I'm just sad that I don't get to make Hall-flipping-off-entire-stadiums-in-a-moment-of-beautiful-rage jokes anymore.
So who's left? Well, we'd be remiss if forgot about Taylor Decker. The lone remaining starter from last season is back, and he's moving over to left tackle from the right side to step into Mewhort's really, really big shoes. That'd be alarming, but on the other hand, Decker is six foot seven and utterly terrifying so there won't likely be as much drop off as people might expect.
The only other position that we can be reasonably sure about is right guard. Sophomore Pat Elflein did a great job after being thrust into the spotlight last season, but it's important to note that he's not as green as you might think; this is his third year with the program, and he should be more than capable of clearing out d-lineman, linebackers, and various defensive debris in front of any of the fifty billion running backs that OSU might decide to have play.
|76||BALDWIN, DARRYL||6-6||307||SR||Solon, OH|
|50||BOREN, JACOBY||6-1||285||JR||Pickerington, OH|
|68||DECKER, TAYLOR||6-7||315||JR||Vandalia, OH|
|66||DODSON, KYLE||6-6||310||SO||Cleveland, OH|
|65||ELFLEIN, PAT||6-3||300||SO||Pickerington, OH|
|57||FARRIS, CHASE||6-4||300||JR||Elyria, OH|
|61||GASKEY, LOGAN||6-4||295||SO||Long Grove, IL|
|51||HALE, JOEL||6-4||310||SR||Greenwood, IN|
|64||JONES, MARCELYS||6-4||345||FR||Cleveland, OH|
|74||JONES, JAMARCO||6-4||306||FR||Chicago, IL|
|78||KNOX, DEMETRIUS||6-3||302||FR||Fort Worth, TX|
|56||LINDSAY, CHAD||6-2||302||SR||The Woodlands, TX|
|75||LISLE, EVAN||6-6||300||FR||Centerville, OH|
|54||PRICE, BILLY||6-4||305||FR||Austintown, OH|
|69||PRUNI, MICHEIL||6-2||315||FR||Dover, OH|
|73||TAYLOR, BRADY||6-5||293||FR||Columbus, OH|
|71||TROUT, KYLE||6-6||300||FR||Lancaster, OH|
|73||UNDERWOOD, ANTONIO||6-3||303||JR||Shaker Heights, OH|
Here's where things get a little dicey; the other three spots on the offensive line are in big time flux, and even the next few weeks may not determine the ultimate fate of who ends up starting for the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes.
Of the remaining spots, right tackle is likely the most "determined" so far. Senior Darryl Baldwin looks like he has the inside track on the starting job, but he'll be pushed throughout camp by some younger players like Chase Farris. Look for him to win the job, especially given his seniority, but if he struggles in games early he could be given the hook.
The battle for the center position should be really interesting. Junior Jacoby Boren is, well, a Boren, and given his experience he probably has the edge on Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay. Most people will probably be rooting for Boren here because of his brothers, but as a semi-serious sportswriter I cannot deny the gigantic appeal of a storyline involving Lindsay getting some kind of revenge on Nick Saban for keeping him on the bench for years.
Left guard right now is like looking at an M.C. Escher painting upside down and backwards. Junior Antonio Underwood, redshirt frosh Billy Price, and senior Joel Hale... wait, what?
"Joel hadn't played a lot on offense before moving over. He's really starting to get comfortable there," Warinner said. "I like his demeanor, his energy and how he attacks things."
Look, I had Hale tabbed as a d-lineman all the way when he came to OSU. But athletic guys move around all the time, and Underwood, Price, and Hale all have a decent shot at getting the starting job. Like Baldwin, any or (hopefully not) all of these guys could get canned if they don't gel quickly. Warinner is an excellent coach and has some great talent to work with, but time is short.
The 2014 Ohio State offensive line isn't going to be as good at the 2013 version. They've lost too much experience and cohesion to repeat their performance from last year, but to be fair, that might've been a once in a decade group.
With that said, I think that there are the makings of that kind of group present. It's just going to require Warinner to draw that out of guys like Baldwin and Elflein while encouraging Taylor Decker to be the kind of leader that Mewhort was last season. The overall inexperience of the line will likely require Urban and company to be far more vanilla than they'd like to be for at least the first few games, but if they can find a solid starting five, in the second half of the season this could develop into a very dangerous group.
“Offensive line is the one (area) that we gotta really go. We gotta really go from here,” Meyer said after the Spring Game Saturday. “That’s an area that we have got to get back where … maybe not where we were (last year), but close.”
And he's right. For all the flash that Ohio State has at the skill positions, it's the offensive line that makes this train roll.
- Other players to look out for include Evan Lisle, Demetrius Knox, Kyle Trout, Jamarco Jones, and Marcelys Jones
- Taylor Decker is a zoology major and interned with the Columbus Zoo recently
- Baldwin, Decker, and Boren are all really smart dudes who routinely appear on Scholar-Athlete rolls and honors
- This is Chad Linsday's only year of eligibility with OSU, and he's already got his degree in Communications from Alabama
- It's kind of crazy how many of these dudes have bounced around from offense to defense and back again. That could be a plus or a minus, depending on how you look at it