At best, Ohio State solidified the center position. At worst, its added depth to a thinning offensive line.
The arrival of Alabama graduate transfer Chad Lindsay provides an unexpected but welcome boost for the Buckeyes’ inexperienced line. Departing seniors Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall appeared in a combined 187 games during their four-year careers. The double-digit list of players vying to replace them owns barely 20 starts between them.
Lindsay was part of two national championship-winning teams in Tuscaloosa and started four games last season. The former three-star recruit appeared in 20 games over a three-year period for the Crimson Tide. What he brings to Columbus is experience at a school that evaluates talent as well as any in America.
Jacoby Boren and Billy Price spent 15 practices battling for the starting center spot, but neither was able to create separation. Now, Lindsay joins the fray as the odd-on-favorite to become Braxton Miller’s shotgun partner.
The spring of 2014 was a whirlwind for Lindsay after a five-school blitz that included visits to Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma, Cal and Louisville. And Alabama wasn’t exactly opening the door and saluting his exit. The Tide toyed with the idea of center Ryan Kelly, an Ohio native, moving to left tackle and Lindsay assuming the center position. But they opted against the restructure, losing a valued piece of depth in the process.
Alabama’s loss is Ohio State’s gain.
Head coach Urban Meyer said after spring practice left tackle Taylor Decker and right guard Pat Elflein were the only offensive linemen to put their signature on the unit. Lindsay’s presence – all 6-foot-2, 302 pounds of it – adds another dimension and gives Ed Warinner a sigh of relief with summer approaching.
“We’ve had the luxury of having a very good offensive line the last two years,” Meyer said. “You were hoping some guys would step up [in the spring]. Some guys have gotten better, but not to the point where I tell you who the starting offensive line is.”
The 2013 Buckeyes set school records for points scored (637), touchdowns (87) and touchdown passes (38). They averaged nearly 310 yards rushing and 50 points per game. A quartet of senior linemen were the catalysts in every yard, touchdown and record.
That’s why there’s so much hesitancy and trepidation from Meyer, Warinner and others when pressed about the progression of the line. The unknowns are many. Coaches have stressed that it remains the biggest concern regarding the entire team, not just offensively.
“The offensive line has made a lot of improvement, but you’ve got a lot of young guys,” senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. “There’s a learning curve. But we still have a couple months to get everything ironed out. Personally, I think these are the most critical months where people make the most growth.”
Moving north to sit is not on Lindsay’s to-do list. He’s at Ohio State to play meaningful minutes, which gives the Buckeyes some options. If Lindsay is the starting center, Boren could be the backup and Price could slide over to right or left guard. Another possibility is for Price to be the backup and Boren to redshirt.
Lindsay is due to arrive in Columbus for the summer semester, and he’ll begin working with his teammates in earnest. Developing cohesion with the rest of the offensive line and Miller will be a must during the humid Ohio summer.
As Lindsay cultivates chemistry at Ohio State, Michigan deals with rejection. Lindsay’s former offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, is heading the Wolverine offense, but he still couldn’t lure Lindsay to Ann Arbor. The end result is a win-win for Ohio State and a lose-lose for Michigan.
So why did Alabama want to shift Kelly, an All-SEC player, down the line? Because in four starts and as a reliable backup for two-time All-American Barrett Jones, Lindsay displayed the skill set needed in present-day centers. Both offenses and defenses have become more complex, giving centers quarterback-type roles in recognizing defensive formations and calling out protections.
Lindsay’s displayed the proper instincts to succeed in a Meyer-Tom Herman offense. He can analyze defenses in a matter of seconds, communicate with the offense and down block on running plays. A third solid lineman should also lessen any fear Miller might have about playing behind a green unit.
A high football IQ should bolster Lindsay’s standing among the coaches. When Kelly went down with an injury last season, Nick Saban and A.J. McCarron didn’t shutter or fear the following Saturday.
“Chad has been in the program. He’s a hard worker. He’s a strong guy, very smart, understands,” Saban said before Lindsay’s first start last season. “We have a lot of confidence in Chad, that he can go in there and do the job because he's done a good job for us in the past."
The accolades flowed again after Lindsay proved on the field that he could contribute to a resourceful offense and the then-No. 1 team in the nation.
“When he got an opportunity, he was able to take advantage of it in a positive way, which was helpful to the team,” Saban said. “It was also invaluable to his development as a player as well.”
In the end, it also was of value to Ohio State.