In many ways, the legacy of the 2011 Ohio State football team lives on.
Even more remarkable than the depths to which the program fell that season was the massive turnaround Urban Meyer and his new staff engineered only a year later. At the heart of it all: the offensive line.
It was rightfully maligned for a poor 2011 performance, rating as the worst in the country by one metric. Many of the same players from that team returned the following season and ushered in a complete renaissance for Ohio State line play. Meyer owes much of that success to offensive line coach Ed Warinner, whose presence is a relief during this year's overhaul.
Even with one of the best assistant coaches in the country, Meyer – unprompted –expressed concern over one position on the offensive line.
"If I had to say 'where's all the focus?' To me, it's that left guard. What are we going to do at the left guard? Left guard, left guard," Meyer said, for emphasis. "I see a good defensive line, a good group of backers, long safeties that were corners and moved inside. We're faster on the perimeter than we've been, I like our tailbacks. But, left guard."
Ohio State's head coach made those remarks at a press conference following the first day of fall camp. Since that point, nothing and no one player has eased those worries.
"You see the progress and you see the potential for that position to be solid. It's just got to continue to develop."– Ed Warinner
"Until we get further along in camp it's still a concern because one or two practices in pads or one scrimmage doesn't mean it's all solidified," Warinner said, Sunday. "You see the progress and you see the potential for that position to be solid. It's just got to continue to develop."
Meyer and Warinner both referenced three guys who are, at the very least, showing some promise – Joel Hale, Billy Price and Antonio Underwood. Hale and Price took reps with the first team, Saturday, according to Warinner.
In a pair of moves that are not without precedent, both Hale and Price converted to the offensive line from the opposite side of the ball. Hale played on the defensive line in all 14 games last season, and, throughout his career, appeared in 30 games at that spot. Shortly after playing in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson, Hale requested a switch to offensive line.
"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."
Unlike the senior Hale, Price doesn't have to deal with the pressure of switching to the offensive line after three years on defense. Price converted during the 2013 fall camp, shortly after committing to Ohio State as a four-star defensive tackle and a Divison-I co-player of the year at Austintown Fitch.
Now a redshirt freshman, Price is arguably Ohio State's most versatile lineman. In addition to left guard, he is competing with Jacoby Boren and Chad Lindsay at center.
"Playing offensive line, you absolutely have to be able to know how to do everything," Price said. "I don't have a preference, but if I get on the field, whatever I can do to help the team I'm interested in doing."
While Price didn't explicitly reveal which spot he thinks he's better at, he might have offered a hint.
"I feel more natural at guard, I'll say that," he said. "At center, you have to be the quarterback of the offensive line. It's a lot more [responsibility], which can slow me down in some cases."
Underwood is the third contender at left guard. However, he missed the entire 2013 season while rehabbing a knee injury and had to take a medical redshirt. That may be the reason why Underwood is not receiving as much hype as Hale and Price.
The Shaker Heights native has one thing Hale and Price can't match, however.
"Tony Underwood is a fourth-year guy, a veteran who knows the position," Warinner said. "Although he's coming off the knee injury, he's coming along, as well."
Even with so many questions surrounding the offensive line and, in particular, at left guard, Price doesn't want anyone to panic.
"Things are OK," Price said. "Fans, we're going to be OK."