Ohio State might have more starting-caliber offensive linemen than it has starting spots available on the offensive line this upcoming season.
While competition will continue at multiple spots in fall camp, the Buckeyes’ starting five up front appears to be fairly set coming out of spring. Thayer Munford is in line to take over for Jamarco Jones at left tackle, Brady Taylor is the leader in the clubhouse to replace Billy Price at center and left guard Michael Jordan, right guard Demetrius Knox and right tackle Isaiah Prince are expected to retain their starting spots from last season.
Those five offensive linemen, however, aren’t the only offensive linemen who Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa have said they expect to see the field this season.
Fifth-year senior guard Malcolm Pridgeon earned playing time this spring, said Meyer, who named him as one of the team’s most improved players this spring. Fourth-year junior left tackle Joshua Alabi had a "tremendous spring," Studrawa said, demonstrating the improvement needed in his fundamentals to make his own push for playing time.
Fellow fourth-year junior Branden Bowen, who started the first six games of last season after right guard before suffering a season-ending injury, is expected to move to right tackle upon his return from injury but is another player who Meyer said is "going to be playing a lot."
Redshirt freshman center Josh Myers is expected to continue competing with Taylor for the starting center job in fall camp, while guard Wyatt Davis is another redshirt freshman whose talent could make him tough to keep off the field. And incoming five-star freshman Nicholas Petit-Frere is talented enough to earn playing time as soon as he arrives on campus.
There doesn’t appear to be an available spot in the starting lineup, though, for any of those players.
That’s certainly a good problem for the Buckeyes to have. Injuries can happen at any time, so having more starting-caliber players than actual starters is a luxury every team wants to have at every position.
Coming out of the spring, Meyer believes the Buckeyes have the most depth on the offensive line that they have had since he arrived at Ohio State.
"It’s the first time I feel like we can have a solid two-deep in the offensive line where if everybody does what they’re supposed to do this summer, two-deep across the offensive line, that’s not been that way around here," Meyer said.
Studrawa also felt good among the Buckeyes’ offensive line depth coming out of spring.
"We set out, just like any other spring, you set out to do two things: develop guys fundamentally, and develop some depth," Studrawa said. "And I think we accomplished both of those things unbelievably."
With players like Pridgeon and Alabi proving to their coaches that they deserve playing time, though, in addition to the players who have proven they should be starters, it still begs the question of how the Buckeyes actually can get all of those offensive linemen on the field.
As has been the case in past years, the Buckeyes should substitute their second-team offensive linemen into games where they take commanding leads. The second-team offensive line appears likely to consist of Alabi at left tackle, Pridgeon at left guard, Myers at center, Davis at right guard and Bowen at right tackle.
The Buckeyes’ depth also makes it possible, though, that they could rotate offensive linemen in and out of the lineup with their first-team offense instead of having a set five who plays every snap.
"You really want to be able to rotate guys if you can," Studrawa said.
Because of the importance of chemistry and cohesiveness for an offensive line, it’s typically not a unit where teams regularly rotate players. That said, Ohio State wouldn’t be the first major college football team to employ a rotation up front. One team that has frequently used an offensive line rotation in recent years has been Clemson, playing up to three tackles, three guards and two centers – even in close, competitive games – in order to keep its starters fresh.
It still seems unlikely that Ohio State will implement a true offensive line rotation, as Studrawa acknowledged he will probably avoid taking his starters off the field in competitive game situations unless one suffers an injury or otherwise needs rest.
"You have to get a cohesive unit working together, too," Studrawa said. "I don’t want to just pull guys out for the sake of pulling them out."
Studrawa is confident, however, that in situations where a starting offensive lineman does need to come out of the game, the Buckeyes will have backups who can step in without weakening the unit significantly.
"The ability to have depth when a guy gets a break, when a guy gets dinged, which happens just about every game; to put a guy in there and know you’re not going to drop off a level of play, that’s outstanding," Studrawa said.
Because of the depth the Buckeyes feel they have up front, they won’t be able to start all of the offensive linemen who they believe have earned playing time. Studrawa still wants those offensive linemen, though, to prepare like starters in knowing that they could be called upon at any time.
"Obviously you can only start five, so some of these guys that are really good aren’t going to start," Studrawa said. "But if they have a role to go in there and play, and they’re needed at a certain time, that keeps the depth, that develops the cohesiveness, that’s all the things that you want."