The tale of how Ohio State’s offensive line went from a group of apathetic slobs to ferocious movers of men is one of Urban Meyer’s favorites to tell. He revels in it.
It starts with how five of them missed Meyer’s first meeting as the Buckeyes’ head coach and subsequently drew his deepest ire. The next few chapters plunge into an improbable and rapid transformation under their position coach, Ed Warinner. It ends with their personal and collective triumphs.
In two years, Meyer’s opinion of his offensive line went from one of utter and sickening contempt to this:
My guys! One of the best O-Lines in Ohio State history. Wishing my guys the best in the NFL Draft next week! pic.twitter.com/G88PATeG51
— Urban Meyer (@OSUCoachMeyer) May 1, 2014
Of course, you know the story. It’s basically folklore around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. So are the guys who were apart of it.
They were the impetus of a dominant run that saw the Buckeyes go 24-2 over the last two seasons. They were the foundation for the rebirth of a program that fell briefly on hard times.
Even in the shadow of household names like Braxton Miller, Ryan Shazier and Carlos Hyde, they’re the ones who’ve defined Meyer’s young tenure at Ohio State.
But now, he and the Buckeyes now must carry on without them. They’ve got to replace four multi-year starters in Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell — the stage managers who kept their offense's record-breaking show running smoothly.
“We really gotta go,” Meyer said after a sloppy showing from the unit during the Spring Game in April. “We really gotta go from here.”
You could feel the absence then and you can still feel it now.
“It’s a big concern,” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said in March.
Except one thing.
“I’d be a lot more concerned if I didn’t believe that 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 — less than 24 months — turned it into absolutely, hands down, not-even-close the strength and backbone of the offense.”– Tom Herman
“You wanna talk about some dudes who needed some molding and some culture. I mean, Ed Warinner basically took the weakness of the offense and within 24 months — less than 24 months — turned it into absolutely, hands down, not-even-close the strength and backbone of the offense.”
In 2011, Ohio State averaged 25 points (79th best) and 318 total yards (107th best) a game during a feeble, uninspiring 6-7 campaign that'll go down as one of the darker periods in Buckeye lore. Specifically symptomatic of an offensive line come undone was how it gave up 46 sacks (118th best) and 90 tackles for loss (109th best).
Then came Meyer. Then came Warinner.
“You look at just two years ago, Ohio State only had two returning starters (Mewhort and Norwell) on the offensive line. They were inexperienced,” college football guru Phil Steele told Eleven Warriors.
“Yet, they improved their yards per carry, they improved their yards per gain and they allowed less sacks than they did the previous year.”
The renaissance reached its height in 2013 when the Buckeyes averaged 46 points (third best) and 512 yards of total offense (seventh best). The sacks were cut in half compared to 2011 (22) and so were nearly the tackles for loss (56.)
Success didn't happen over night. When it finally did, it didn't rain — it poured.
Now, Warinner and Ohio State are charged with figuring out a way to sustain such momentum. It's non-negotiable.
“He can mold a young line,” Steele said. “It’s not like he’s dealing with a bunch of walk-ons who have never played football before.”
Instead, Warinner and the Buckeyes have been afforded the luxury of talent at the position thanks to a string of strong recruiting classes. What they’re lacking, of course, is experience.
Ohio State will sorely miss Mewhort, Linsley, Hall and Norwell. It’ll miss the uncommon bond they shared and how that translated onto the field. That's an inconvenient truth.
“Last I checked, Ed Warinner’s still the offensive line coach.” – Tom Herman
But Warinner and his welding qualities remain a constant.
“Last I checked,” Herman said, “Ed Warinner’s still the offensive line coach.”
While players shuffle in and out, success on the line still starts and ends with him.
“I think when you take a step back and have some perspective and understand the talent that’s in that room and the guy that’s coaching them, you’re confident in the future,” Herman said.
“You’re discouraged in the present or frustrated at the present, but certain that the future will take care of itself.”
And that Warinner will take care of the future.