Unity the Goal for Ohio State's Offensive Line

By Kyle Rowland on March 11, 2014 at 9:15a
38 Comments

In the years preceding Urban Meyer’s arrival at Ohio State, the offensive line underwent a series of growing pains, never quite becoming the strength envisioned. Success was always close by, but a void still existed in an area where the Buckeyes had achieved so much throughout their storied history.

Names like Orlando Pace, John Hicks, Jim Lachey, Korey Stringer and Jim Parker dot Ohio State’s past. Once Meyer strode into Columbus, he and Ed Warinner zeroed in on the offensive line and resurrected the floundering unit.

Throughout the past two seasons, which included a school-record 24-game win streak, the Buckeyes relied on one of the best offensive lines in the country. They created unprecedented production, fueling 1,083 points and 12,252 yards of total offense, averages of 41.6 points and 471.2 yards per game.

Now comes another rebuilding project, a search to identify and restructure the foundation of a national championship contender. 

“We definitely have some big shoes to fill, but we’re capable of it,” sophomore guard Pat Elflein said. “We have good chemistry, a good culture on our offensive line. Some guys have to step up big time, and we definitely have the talent to do that.”

Carlos Hyde is gone. Bradley Roby is gone. Ryan Shazier is gone. All three replacements are under the microscope this spring. Can Ohio State duplicate its vaunted run game? Will the pass defense improve? What about the linebackers, is there finally hope?

Instead, attention should be squarely on the competition to replace Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall. Elflein and Co. say they aren’t worried about who was lost, only who’s listed on the current roster.

“We’re just focused on getting better every day,” he said.   

Junior center Jacoby Boren conveyed a similar tone – praising the past but pointing toward the future. It’s become abundantly clear that the Buckeyes are keyed on restoring their supremacy.

“When you lose guys like that – Jack, Marcus, Corey and Norwell – those are freaking awesome players, hands down. You can’t deny that. We definitely miss them, no doubt about it,” Boren said. “But it’s something that we’ve got to pick it up and run with it.”

Taylor Decker, who it seems like yesterday was the rookie of the offensive line, is now the elder statesman and the lone returning starter. The junior will move from right tackle to left tackle. And he doesn’t just have a different position, there’s a new-look clean-cut hairstyle. Joining Decker is Antonio Underwood at left guard, Boren at center, Elflein at right guard and Darryl Baldwin at right tackle. But challengers remain in hot pursuit.

“We have a lot of guys pushing each other,” Boren said. “It’s going to be a good competition throughout the whole offensive line. It’s going to make the unit better.”

The most competitive position battles are at center and right tackle, where Billy Price – the strongest player Mickey Marotti’s ever coached – and Evan Lisle are pushing the presumptive starters. Competition often leads to a rise in on-field production. For Ohio State, there will be no shortage of pressure.

And expect it to rise along with the temperature in the summer months.

“I think there’s a definite sense of urgency,” Decker said. “Guys are flying around trying to make a good effort and make a good impression on the coaches. That’s good to have, guys working hard giving it all they have every play.”

Warinner doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to put pen to paper and finalize a starting lineup. He laughed when the subject was brought up after the Buckeyes’ second spring practice.

“It’s a fluid deal,” Warinner said. “We’ll let everybody have their shot and kind of let it sort itself out. We don’t have to know who the starting O-line is until about 10 days before the first game. You guys are going to want to know by the end of spring. We could know sooner, maybe later.”

Offensive coordinator Tom Herman gave a similar response when asked about his impressions, chiding the sports information director for trotting out Warinner and the offensive line after two days of practice without pads.

“I don’t know what they are,” Herman said. “They go really hard. I think the competition has made for some increased intensity. But we won’t know till we get pads on and guys are flying around. I know Taylor Decker can play. That’s about it.”

Meyer prefers position battles conclude with the end of spring practice. But it comes with the notion that a clear winner be decided. In Meyer’s first season, the starter at right tackle was unknown until August. He and Warinner won’t rush the process.

It’s possible, though unlikely, that highly touted freshmen Jamarco Jones and Demetrius Knox nudge their way into the conversation when they report to fall camp. Kyle Trout and Marcelys Jones, are already on campus for spring drills. Columbus native Brady Taylor, a late addition to the 2014 recruiting class, also will enroll in the fall.

“Marcelys Jones, wow,” Warinner said. “He’s got some ability. We’ve got some good ones coming in that will add depth. We’ll see, maybe one of those young guys can add some depth.”

Ohio State averaged better than 275 yards rushing the past two seasons. Sure, Hyde was a factor. But so too was the offensive line. That group also kept Braxton Miller upright more often than not. The injury-prone quarterback hopes that trend continues.

It would be easy to forget that at one time, the group that made up the Buckeyes’ accomplished line was nothing more than unheralded recruits who were miscast and changed positions with the movement of a revolving door. They would develop into a giant boulder that stampeded through the Midwest.

Two years later, Warinner is faced with a similar scenario, though he believes the current assembly of linemen is further along than his previous group.

“What we lack is experience,” he said. “But I think we’re going to have enough talent. I know we have a good work ethic. They’re tough. They train hard. We just have to get them up to speed. Experience comes from playing.”

Said Decker: “The biggest thing is they just need to develop confidence in themselves. They can do everything. They just need to realize they can do it play after play after play and be consistent with it.”

At the top of that list is Elflein, who filled in for Hall in the Big Ten Championship Game and performed with the knack of a veteran. He referenced that situation as a confidence booster and contributor in easing the transition.

“It should help a lot for this year,” Elflein said. “It’d be a little different [if I hadn’t started]. Having that experience under my belt is good.”

In the offseason, Ohio State’s offensive line nearly lost something more valuable than its four departed seniors: Warinner. The longtime assistant was a frontrunner for the Army head-coaching job, but the Cadets ultimately went in another direction. The big winner is the Buckeyes.

“Coach Warinner never takes it easy on us. That’s what I love about him,” Boren said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re jack Mewhort or whoever; he’s going to ride you every single day and make you better.”

The proof lies on the stat sheets from Ohio State’s past two seasons. 

38 Comments

Comments

d1145fresh's picture

For all the praise the coaching staff gets (and well deserved) Ed Warinner might be the most underrated coach. He has done a tremendous job with the O-Line. Also I am excited to see the growth of Decker. From him getting abused by Mack when OSU played Buffalo to being a solid component of the line by the end of the season is a pretty big jump.

+8 HS
OSUStu's picture

I agree.  But, in all fairness to Decker, a lot of blockers got abused by Mack this year.

If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.  ~ Bruce Lee

+4 HS
GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

Yea, I'm not too worried about that showing. It was early in the season, and Khalil Mack is basically James Harrison playing college football. Mack will be a stud for years in the NFL. Decker looked like he got better each week, and by seasons end he managed to sort of blend in with the other 4 guys. I think Decker will be very good.

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

+2 HS
Mortc15's picture

"Mack is a more consistent, hard working player than Clowney," according to Chris Mortensen's recollection of words by NFL execs. I think we should all give Decker a slight pass in getting abused by Mack in his first collegiate start.

Buck-I4Life

+1 HS
d1145fresh's picture

Completely agree... however I remember many on this site who were calling for him to be expelled from school after that performance. Luckily things got better.

+2 HS
DannyBeane's picture

Guilty. I'll take my serving of crow now. Poached please.

+5 HS
dan_isaacs's picture

I think this year, if the O-Line is dominating, then there will be no question he's the best coach on the staff.  :)

Dan Isaacs

TMac's picture

While the O-Line has to work together as a unit, I think they really have untill November 8th to work out any kinks, but they have to be rock solid by then. 

Nutinpa's picture

I understand your point, TMAC, but if I read your post correctly, there is an underlying assumption that the Bucks run the table until that game at Sparty. While they may be FAVORED every game....to think this team...with all of its ??? will waltz into East Lansing undefeated is a big and I fear, erroneous assumption. They'll need to find they A game as early as August 30th.  Navy won't lay down against this Offense and VaTech sure as hell won't either. 

TMac's picture

I do think they go to East Lansing undefeated. They have talent, coaching, & I believe they'll be motivated. What they won't be in August is experienced, which they will be by November. Kinks are just kinks, but they'll Play in August! 

KLF Buckeye's picture

I hope we can keep Coach Warinner for as long as possible. That guy really impresses me and the things his players say about him speak volumes.

+3 HS
dubjayfootball90's picture

Foegive me if I missed a skully or another piece where this was mentioned, but what was the context for this quote?

The most competitive position battles are at center and right tackle, where Billy Price – the strongest player Mickey Marotti’s ever coached –

Did Price do something that just wowed Marotti? Again, sorry if it was discussed earlier. Been very busy the past three weeks and have not be on here a lot. But that will change. ;)

You can feed a bobcat all the chili it wants. That don't mean it's going to crap out diamonds.

+1 HS
Kyle Rowland's picture

Warinner said Marotti told him Billy Price is the strongest player he's ever had in his strength program anywhere. The comment came after winter conditioning. 

dubjayfootball90's picture

well i definitely missed that comment. But damn, that is some high praise.

Thanks, Kyle.

You can feed a bobcat all the chili it wants. That don't mean it's going to crap out diamonds.

+1 HS
JTACbuckeye's picture

wasn't it Billy Price who beat John Simon in a tug of war conditioning drill? Or am I mis-remembering?

The strong will stand, the weak will fall by the wayside.  100% and then some!

JTACbuckeye's picture

nevermind...  it was Joel Hale!

The strong will stand, the weak will fall by the wayside.  100% and then some!

+1 HS
GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

I really am hoping Underwood bounces back. I'm really curious to see if Baldwin can hold down the RT spot.

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

Kyle Rowland's picture

Underwood is definitely an interesting piece of the line. I was surprised he made it back this quickly from ACL injury, especially someone his size. But Warinner said he's right on target and 100 percent. 

Stoicpaisano's picture

It was very speedy, Underwood could've played late last year in a pinch...he was on the 70-man travel squad for all three November road games. They don't waste those slots on guys who are physically unable to play. Fortunately, the line stayed healthy and Underwood just used 2013 as a redshirt year. 

FROMTHE18's picture

Love the guys we already got in Columbus, but really excited to see what Knox and Jamarco bring to the table. 

+1 HS
dubjayfootball90's picture

Also, great to hear the positive reviews on Marcelys Jones

You can feed a bobcat all the chili it wants. That don't mean it's going to crap out diamonds.

+2 HS
BroJim's picture

Ed Warinner is amazing, I hope he is around for many years.

I season my simple food with hunger

+2 HS
RBuck's picture

Man, I am so glad Bollman is not coaching these guys.

"It's just another case of there you are". ~ Doc (1918-2012)

+2 HS
JakeBuckeye's picture

But it hurts to think that a Bollman coached team beat us in the biggest game of the year...

buckeyeradar's picture

I've seen Knox play down here in Texas.  We are getting the real thing.  I'm hoping that he will be remembered with Pace and yes I know he hasn't taken a snap yet but the kid has the talent.

Buckeye in Texas

+4 HS
Meechy77's picture

Thank you 

Angry staff, Angry team. The Ohio State

+3 HS
osubuck57's picture

One I hope makes a leap , and hope  cracks the 2-deep this year is Dotson. Remember when we flipped him. Know he was recovering from injury at the time, but haven't heard him mentioned too much.

SCOTTC.

Squirrel Master's picture

"Dodson" is basically the backup to Decker. He was in the two deep last year but he was behind Mewhort who never came out, hence why he is not being talked about much. I guess they moved over Decker because Dodson isn't ready or something, not sure, but I wouldn't count him out yet. It will be tough though being behind a guy who will probably start another 2 years and having guys like Jamarco and Trout right behind you.

 

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

osubuck57's picture

Thanks for looking out Squirrel!!

SCOTTC.

zhamilton05's picture

Has Orlando Pace ever thought about coaching? It may not be his thing, but just imagine having him teach technique to the O-linemen and get out on the recruiting trail as one of the greatest college and pro offensive tackles of the last 20 years! Please, Urban, make a call to Orlando and at least put the idea in his head - we'll need someone to replace Warriner if he takes a HC job.

+2 HS
keep_it_down's picture

That's a tall order, I remember watching Pace play. He was just so athletic for a guy his size and did so many things that you just can't coach. I'm sure he has picked up a lot of experience and technique but often times great players make bad coaches (and yes I realize there are exceptions) because they just do stuff that others can't. Keep in mind Pace is one of my all time favorites and I would love to see him come back in some capacity.

Defending the boarder

+2 HS
Arizona_Buckeye's picture

I remember one of Pace's best pancakes ever - it was against Iowa and he was running down field for what seemed like 40 yards and just crushed a defender at the 5 yard line and he didn't land until the goal line... just plain awesome!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

sk4664's picture

Should have added Chris Ward as a 1st rd OL......

RedStorm45's picture

That group also kept Braxton Miller upright more often than not. The injury-prone quarterback hopes that trend continues.

Maybe I'm forgetting something here - but wasn't Braxton complaining about all the hits just a few months ago?

And, technically, yes "upright more often that not."  Taken literally, that means Braxton was upright on 50.1% of his plays.  /trolling attempt over

Ahh Saturday's picture

It would be easy to forget that at one time, the group that made up the Buckeyes’ accomplished line was nothing more than unheralded recruits who were miscast and changed positions with the movement of a revolving door.

Although it's true that many of the players on that line changed position while at OSU, it is also true that that is very common along the OL.  What is absolutely NOT true is that the above group was unheralded.  Norwell, Mewhort, Linsley, and Hall were all 4 star recruits according to 247 composite.  By contrast, the recently inked '14 group only has two 247 composite 4 star recruits, J Jones and Knox.  I'm not saying the '14 group can't excel, but I am saying you can't say the guys who just left were unheralded. Much was expected, and under Wariner, finally, much was delivered.

+2 HS
BeijingBucks's picture

Shugarts. 5*. Juss sayin

 

 

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

TUNBUCK89's picture

Ed Warriner is argubly the best hire Meyer's made since he took the reins at tOSU. As an O-line coach, he is far from "underrated" as he was named O-line coach of the year in 2012. However, he may be underrated as an OC. You just need to look at what he accomplished as an OC while at Kansas for 3 years (2007-2009) where he finished with the 3 best offenses in terms of total yards & passing yards.

Phoenix824's picture

We keep hearing about a "NEW O-Line" but with Warriner as coach I am not real worried about he line for some reason. 

+1 HS