Offensive Line Finding its Footing After Uneven Spring

By Kyle Rowland on April 17, 2014 at 9:15a
20 Comments

After Ohio State eked out a 14-point victory over UAB in 2012, Urban Meyer put on a happy face for his team, the fans and media. But it was all a façade. In reality, Meyer knew there were issues.

“I walked in front of the podium deep in my gut knowing we’re horrible,” he said last week. “We had a horrible football team. But I couldn’t tell the media that, I couldn’t tell the public, ‘Oh, by the way, we’re God awful. We have a major problem at Ohio State.’ So we kept working and kept working.”

Eventually, they’d finish undefeated. A loss wouldn’t arrive until 25 games into the Meyer era.  A reshaped offensive line with Ed Warinner’s signature on it provided Ohio State with the foundation for a record-setting offense.

When Meyer steps into the third-floor interview room in the southeast tower at Ohio Stadium Sept. 13, he could have similar feelings. On that afternoon, the Buckeyes host Kent State, an opponent that should be easily dispatched. And they might be. But four new starters on the offensive line leaves open the possibility of a slow start.

In Saturday’s spring game, Jacoby Boren, Billy Price, Antonio Underwood and Darryl Baldwin showed they can bridge the gap. They also made fans long for four departed seniors who will sign NFL contracts in May.  

The defenses combined for five sacks and eight tackles for loss, while the offenses only mustered 170 yards rushing on 38 carries, an average of less than 4.5 yards per touch. The longest run was 21 yards – and it came from the third-string quarterback.

“The offense line, we have a lot of work to do,” Meyer said after the game. “We’ve got to really go from here. You’ve got [right guard] Pat Elflein and our left tackle, Taylor Decker, and everyone else is wide open. There are no other spots taken.”

Two years ago, all but one spot on the offensive line was decided in the spring. That was because the competition at right tackle was between a converted tight end and true freshman. In 2014, the mystery surrounding three offensive line positions is due to inadequate play.  

Fifteen practices weren’t able to provide a picture that left Meyer and Warinner satisfied. It’s a dramatic difference from the unit Meyer referred to as “one of the best in the country” and a group he’d put up against any opposing defensive line. He’s not brimming with the same confidence as the 2014 season looms.

“Last I checked, Ed Warinner is still the offensive line coach.”– Tom Herman

“I saw Jamarco Jones [at the spring game], Demetrius Knox is coming in, Brady Taylor. Those are three bodies that are going to be coming in in June, and I looked them right in the eye and said, ‘You’re not redshirting; you’re playing.’” Meyer said. “That’s hard for an offensive lineman, so that’s an area that we have to get back maybe not where we were, but close.”

All three are talented and among the top offensive line recruits in America. Starting as true freshmen is a long shot, though. Underestimating Meyer’s ability to motivate players should not be overlooked. The University of Cincinnati graduate owns a degree in psychology and galvanizing has been a hallmark of his coaching career. 

So throwing out names of three true freshmen at a position difficult to master acts more as a stern warning than demotion. Still, the players whose statuses remain uncertain took the message seriously. They’ll proceed with caution and gusto.

“I feel we’re a work in progress,” Underwood said. “Obviously, we have a lot of things we need to work on. We’re still getting better, but we’re nowhere near what we need to be or nowhere as good as last year’s offensive line. That’s the main goal – to be better or as good as last year’s offensive line. This is an offensive line-driven team.”

That belief – or fact – can be found in every direction. Meyer’s spread offense is predicated on a power run game. Carlos Hyde’s 1,500 rushing yards and nine consecutive games of at least 110 yards wasn’t solely because of superior skills – the offensive line contributed. Even Barry Sanders needed an effective line.

Producing 500 yards of offense on Saturdays is made easier with talented skill players. But it’s possible because of grandeur along the offensive line.

“I’ve been saying all along that guys are just inexperienced, and with the O-line, it takes a lot of time to develop, more so than any other position,” Decker said. “But I think we’ll be fine. Coach Warinner is a great coach and we’ll get it going. But there’s a lot of work to do this offseason.”

Decker thinks the ongoing competition will spur more improvement among the unit because of a lingering sense of urgency. May, June and July will consist of few off days when starting jobs are on the line – literally.

For offensive coordinator Tom Herman, the concerns end at Warinner’s feet.

“I’d be a lot more concerned if I didn’t believe the talent was there, and I didn’t believe in Ed Warinner,” Herman said. “This group of O-linemen, whether we like to say it or not, is much farther ahead than the group of O-linemen our first spring. Ed Warinner basically took the weakness of the offense and within 24 months turned it into the absolute, hands down, not even close, strength and backbone of the offense.

“Last I checked, Ed Warinner is still the offensive line coach.”

20 Comments

Comments

OSUpawn's picture

"In Ed we trust"!

I believe the SEC players put their pants on one leg at a time like we do.

+11 HS
buckeyeEddie27's picture

The last line.   Sleep easy Buckeye fans, sleep easy.

I know there's a game Saturday, and my ass will be there.

+8 HS
buckeyestu's picture

I always sleep easy.

+1 HS
The Rill Dill's picture

Herman meant to say---'last time I checked, Ed Warriner is still the offense line coach.'

+1 HS
Furious George 27's picture

As long as the OL is not split up during the regular season like they were in the spring game I am pretty confident that they will be fine.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

otrain2416's picture

We're definitely not going to have the road grader O-line we did last year. With the guys we have coming back on the O-line I don't see us consistently blowing teams off the ball. For us to be successful, I feel we need to bounce our running plays outside and hold our blocks so Braxton can pass the ball. 

Oldschoolbuck's picture

It's true at every level - the lines are (almost always) where games are won or lost. Pay Ed Warriner the big bucks!

+3 HS
Unky Buck's picture

As odd as it sounds, even though there is inexperience, there is confidence. With Warriner, the existing OL and incoming freshman will be ready. He's already proven what he can do with a train wreck of a line and I'm confident he can get this group up and ready by the first Saturday.

...

+2 HS
Run_Fido_Run's picture

I'm confident, too. As long as the OL can stay relatively healthy (knock on wood), I like the talent and coaching.

They don't figure to be as dominant as last season's veteran group, but with the upgrades at other units and hopefully with Braxton continuing to improve his split-second decisionmaking in the option reads and in reading secondaries, I feel that the OL will be more than adequate.

Last season, the entire team leaned heavily on the OL and El Guapo running power. That's not the only way to dominate a defense.

+3 HS
DC-town's picture

Great read Kyle, but sorry to be that guy, but you butchered "psychology degree"...

Good update that he told the 3 new guys coming in June to expect to be playing...lot of pressure on the front runners at LG, C and RT to step it up if they want to keep (get) those spots

'Piss excellence' -RB

+1 HS
CGroverL's picture

Sure...it COULD happen, but I don't see the Buckeyes losing in their first 6 games. This means that the OL has all of their normal practices together plus do not play against any real threats until their 9th week. Their schedule sets up nicely in my opinion. In the first 8 weeks, the OL can carry them to 6 wins and have 2 bye weeks to go along with it. By October 25th, the Buckeye offense should be at their peak. They can't be at their peak without a great OL. After 8 weeks of the season, I can see a dominant OL out of Ohio State.

I hate just DISMISSING opponents thinking things like, "The Buckeyes will just roll those guys". I still look at the schedule though and can't help but to think that the season doesn't really start until week #9 when the 6-0 Buckeyes travel to University Park, State College, Penn State, or whatever they want to call their place that their Nittany Lions play in Beaver Stadium for their semi-annual "white out" game. If the OL gets tough, the Buckeyes should be incredibly hard to beat though.

 

 

 

"I hope they're last in everything"

Thanks, Urb!

+3 HS
OSUMyke's picture

I am with you when it comes to the schedule. Plus you have to remember everyday in practice they are going to be going up against the best D-Line in all of college football. The D-line will give them all the experience they need leading into the tougher part of the schedule.

Mike Cutlip

+1 HS
whobdis's picture

I think Price may take that center spot..the guy was just bulldozing guys off the line. It would be nice to have position solidified for the next 4 years. And let's not forget Farris. The guy was in a head/head battle with Decker for that tackle spot last year.

+2 HS
villagebuckeye's picture

If Farris is completely recovered by Summer he will be in the thick of things for the other guard spot. Quite possibly our most athletic olineman.  Would love to see him settle in at a spot and stay there.  He has been asked to play a number of different positions(de, ot, dt, and now og).

+1 HS
OSUMyke's picture

People need not worry about the Offensive Line, Once the starters are put in place they will have to work and practice against the best D-Line in the county day in and day out. Spence, Bosa, Washington & Bennett will have that O-line ready to go come September. Mark My words they will not face a better D-Line in the country

Mike Cutlip

+1 HS
Squirrel Master's picture

I don't take anything away from how the Olines worked in the spring game. Decker, Elflien weren't playing, the talent was pretty much split so there was no cohesiveness, and...

I think it really means a lot when the QBs can actually run a true zone read. I think they were asked to throw a lot of passing plays to work on that and were told to not run on the read option. I saw many times that Cardale could have had a huge run but handed it off like he was required to. The offensive line and offense itself works better when the defense doesn't have a strong idea of what is going on. When they make the plays vanilla and predictable, the defense (especially an aggressive defense now as opposed to before) has the advantage. Plus I think Braxton not playing really affected them too. Braxton might struggle a bit in the passing game but he does help the line with their blocking by being so unpredictible as a runner.

Get Braxton, the full starting Oline and an open play book together and I believe the line will be fine! And I also believe that one of those 3 freshmen could actually be a starter. Mainly Jones or Knox. I think Taylor might need some growth still.

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

+2 HS
tussey's picture

The one coach I was the most fearful of leaving and having the biggest impact on the 2014 team was Ed Warinner.  He has been fantastic and I hope we are able to keep him on staff for a very long time.

+1 HS
2002osubuck's picture

Barry Sanders may of had bodies on the oline but they weren't functional. I sure hope our oline can come together and be a driving force next year.

Seattle Linga's picture

This explains my feelings perfectly

 

osubuckeye4life's picture

As long as they avoid the injury bug. The line will be fine by the time Fall rolls around.