Can A True Freshman Really Start On The Offensive Line At Ohio State? 'You Hope You Would Not Be In That Situation'

By Eric Seger on May 25, 2016 at 8:35 am
It's not likely that a true freshman will start on the offensive line at Ohio State.
Michael Jordan

Urban Meyer needs just a single finger to identify the number of offensive linemen he has coached throughout his career good enough to start as a true freshman.

"I’ve had one lineman come and start as a freshman. His name was Maurkice Pouncey," Meyer said last month. "He just came in and was different. He was so mature and so strong."

Pouncey was an integral part of what Meyer built at Florida, turning in three terrific seasons from 2007-09. He and the Gators won the BCS National Championship in 2008 and Pouncey earned All-American honors the following year. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected him 18th overall in the 2010 NFL Draft and when healthy, has never missed a start in the NFL.

So yeah, Pouncey is certainly different.

Michael Jordan is a true freshman from Canton, Michigan, that enrolled at Ohio State in January. His name became a popular one this spring (no, not because of the Crying Jordan meme) but because reporters saw him taking snaps with the first-team offense. His head coach admitted Jordan's performance surprised him.

"He doesn't know if it’s right or left sometimes, but at this point, we don't care," Meyer said of Jordan at the end of March. "Come in for extra work, enjoy the game, enjoy the practice — he's done all that. Really impressed with him."

That's all well in good, but can Jordan really start on the offensive line at a place like Ohio State? The program's recruiting classes annually sit among the nation's best, so it is not like there is a lack of talent up front.

“Michael Jordan, right now, is running with the ones. You hope you would not be in that situation.”– Urban Meyer

"Michael Jordan, right now, is running with the ones," Meyer said. "You hope you would not be in that situation."

New line coach Greg Studrawa told reporters this spring he can't remember starting a true freshman up front over a career that spans 18 years. The last person to do that from the start of his career at Ohio State? A guy named Orlando Pace, arguably the best college offensive lineman ever and a 2016 NFL Hall of Fame inductee.

Alex Boone, Rob Sims, Nick Mangold, Mike Brewster, Mike Adams and Korey Stringer all also made dents as freshmen either due to injuries or lack of depth, but none locked down a starting spot from the get-go like Pace.

So what does this mean? Clearly Jordan is in the conversation to play in 2016, but it also means the older guys at his spot — Demetrius Knox, Evan Lisle and Matthew Burrell — have some serious work to do or risk being passed over.

"They’re all working and they’re all talented guys. It’d be easy to say, ‘Hey, here’s the best five let them go,’ but it’s not," Studrawa said. "We’re not close to that and that’s good because that shows that you’ve got depth. That’s what you want, you want to build a starting five that’s a great group but you also want to build depth and have guys that can go in there."

The Buckeyes also welcome junior college transfer Malcolm Pridgeon to campus in early June. There are three more linemen in the 2016 recruiting haul, bringing the total to five. Jordan, however, is a cut above the other freshmen, standing at 6-foot-7 and 305 pounds.

Ohio State returns starters Pat Elflein and Billy Price at center and guard while Jamarco Jones solidified himself as starting left tackle in spring practice. Isaiah Prince is "close" to locking down the other tackle slot, according to Meyer.

There is one guard spot still up for grabs and Jordan did all he could to put himself in the conversation to take it. Other freshmen can make an impact at different positions, but it isn't easy to start early as a true freshman offensive lineman in a high-profile program.

"I think it's difficult at times," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said Feb. 3. "I think the biggest difference in the high school game to the college game has got to be in those big positions, whether it's a defensive lineman, whether it's an offensive lineman."

Hyping up true freshmen as contributors in the fall helps us pass the time prior to the season. The Buckeyes must have production from young guys in order to win games this year, and a player like Pridgeon with two years of eligibility gone is expected to play immediately.

So it's not impossible for Jordan to earn a starting spot. It's just not likely.

"We have a junior college player coming in June who may stir up things for us," Meyer said. "The line is not set, but Michael Jordan will play for us this year."

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