Ohio State Tasked With Building A New Offensive Line
By Matt Natali
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Positive offensive production is only as good as the offensive line that anchors it, and Ohio State boasted one of the best in college football last season.
During their careers, four veterans combined for 135 starts. Ohio State rushed for 4,321 total yards, averaging 308.6 yards per game last season, ranking at top of the Big Ten and No. 5 nationally.
The Buckeyes also led the conference with 361 first downs. They set school records with 637 points scored, 87 touchdowns and 38 touchdown passes while scoring 45 rushing touchdowns, the third-most in program history.
But since the veterans' departure, Ohio State is left with four very large holes to fill.
“It’s a big concern," said offensive coordinator Tom Herman during Tuesday's press conference. “I’d be a lot more concerned if I didn’t believe that the talent wasn’t there and I didn’t believe in [offensive line coach] Ed Warriner. This group of O-linemen [...] is much farther ahead than the group of O-linemen our first spring [in 2012]. Ed Warriner basically took the weakness of the offense, and within less than 24 months, turned it into the absolute, hands-down, not-even-close strength and backbone of the offense.
In the fourth installment of a six-part series, we take a look at the offensive line for Ohio State during spring practice. We'll examine all the pertinent information surrounding the position during preparation for the 2014 season.
Offensive tackle Jack Mewhort saw time in 49 games and had 39 starts for the Buckeyes in his career. As a fifth-year senior, Mewhort was a first-team All-American selection by ESPN.com. He was selected to the All-American second team by Sports Illustrated and the Football Writers Association of America. He is rated as one of the Top 10 offensive tackle prospects in this year’s NFL Draft by most draft services and outlets.
Corey Linsley entered Ohio State as an offensive guard/tackle but transitioned to center when head coach Urban Meyer took over in 2012. For the last two years, he started every game at center, totaling 26 games, and earned all-Big Ten Conference honors both seasons. Most draft services and outlets rated the fifth-year senior as a top center prospect for the upcoming NFL Draft.
Guard Andrew Norwell played in 50 games and started 39 during the last three seasons. Norwell wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in February, but he could be a late-round selection in May’s NFL Draft.
Guard Marcus Hall may be remembered most for saluting fans in "The Big House" with double birds, resulting in his ejection from the 2013 edition of "The Game." But Hall also was a vital cog in the offensive line from 2010-13. He started 31 games, including 25 starts during the Buckeyes winning streak that lasted 24 consecutive games.
Top Returning Players
After starting all 14 games last season, junior Taylor Decker is the only remaining starter in the offensive trenches. He will move from right to left tackle.
“This is a talented group of guys who just need to get some experience,” Decker said in an Ohio State Athletic Department press release. “I'm trying to be that person to lead them, encourage them and help them in any way I can.”
Guard Pat Elflein was forced to sit out the entire 2012 season with a foot injury. However, the redshirt sophomore took over the field after Hall's indiscretion during the Michigan game, earning him a starting spot in the Big Ten championship game. Meyer confirmed that Elflein has "earned" the right guard position this spring.
Elflein embraces the opportunity.
“The talk of inexperience on the offensive line is motivation,” he said in an Ohio State Athletics Department press release. “We’re not worried about who we lost but who we have now."
Ohio State has nine other scholarship players battling for positions this spring including: senior Joel Hale, who is moving over from the defensive line to the offensive line; senior Antonio Underwood; fifth-year senior Darryl Baldwin; redshirt juniors Chase Farris and Tommy Brown; junior Jacoby Boren; redshirt sophomore Kyle Dodson, and sophomores Billy Price and Evan Lisle.
New Faces In New Places
Like Herman, Meyer understands the enormous task of building a completely new offensive line. He admits that it is a work in progress and doesn't have "enough depth yet.”
The Buckeyes signed five offensive linemen from the 2014 recruiting class this February.
Marcelys Jones (Cleveland, Ohio / Glenville) and Kyle Trout (Lancaster, Ohio / Lancaster) enrolled early and are participating in spring drills. Jones was a three-star prospect, according to 247sports.com, and was a first-team Division II, all-Ohio selection as a senior. He was one of three fellow Ohio State signees from Glenville to participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January. Trout was a four-star prospect and a first-team Division I all-Ohio selection as a senior.
Jamarco Jones (Chicago / De LaSalle Institute) and Demetrius Knox (Forth Worth, Texas / All Saints Episcopal) are two more four-star prospects in the class. Jones earned Illinois Coaches Association Class 6A first-team all-state honors as a senior and participated in the Under Armour All-American Bowl in January. Knox was part of two consecutive undefeated seasons in high school, winning two Southwest Preparatory School championships. He was also a U.S. Army All-American Bowl participant while earning the Rotary Lombardi “Chip Off the Old Block” award that recognizes outstanding play and community service.
Local product Brady Taylor (Columbus, Ohio / Bishop Ready) rounds out the offensive line signees. He is a three-star prospect and was a first-team Division VI all-Ohio selection as a senior. Taylor was named to the U.S. Under-19 national football team and played in the International Bowl against Canada in February.
“Of the five, the two that I see the maturity in are Jamarco Jones and Demetrius Knox,” Meyer said on signing day. “Typically you don’t put freshmen in there early, but these guys have got mature bodies and they are mature young men.”
Next week we'll take a look at the Ohio State running backs and receivers.