As the saying goes, games are won in the trenches. Cliche or not, a dominating offensive line can take a team to the next level. See: Wisconsin.
With three senior returning starters to anchor the line, Ohio State has the makings of domination in 2011.
Unfortunately, we haven’t reached the point in these ‘way too early’ previews where I don’t have to mention suspensions. Mike Adams, the returning starter at LT, will be serving a suspension to begin the year.
Scratch one of the senior anchors… at least for a few games.
The suspensions go a bit deeper than that for the offensive line… indirectly. With a new QB, inexperienced receivers, and a deep and talented backfield, the trenches will become even more important than usual for the Buckeyes.
Whether it is protecting an inexperienced QB for an extra second or opening holes for dynamic young runners, the offensive line will be the crucial group of players that can get the team through the suspensions without a loss.
Here’s a look at those players.
6’5″ 293 lbs.
A lock to be a captain in 2011, Brewster will be a leader of the offensive line, the offense, and the entire team. A rare four year starter, Brewster passed up a sure fire draft spot to return for his senior season.
A pre-season favorite for multiple conference and national honors, Brewster returned specifically to be a leader and to take his game to the next level at center. He is the leader of the most important group of players on the team. Needless to say, Brewster will be a huge part of Ohio State’s run at a title in 2011.
6’7″ 297 lbs.
A two year starter at right tackle, Shugarts is another senior anchor on the line. He just might not be the anchor at right tackle in 2011. With what has been described as ‘inflammation’ and ‘bad feet’ by Jim Tressel, Shugarts’ future may be at guard due to possibly chronic foot problems.
In Shugarts’ own words:
“It’s tough when you have to redirect and plant on it a lot,” Shugarts said. “In the run game, it’s really not that bad, moving forward. It was just hard in the passing game.”
Guard is the natural position for someone who struggles with pass protection. See: Bryant Browning.
Foot problems or no, Shugarts will be a starter next season. He may even continue to be the starter at right tackle. To stay at tackle, however, he will have to hold off the talented young duo of Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell.
6’5″ 321 lbs.
After a redshirt year in 2010 to take care of some academic issues, Marcus Hall will be back in the mix for a starting spot in 2011. He pushed for playing time as a true freshman in 2009 and will be the favorite to replace Adams at LT during his suspension.
Once Adams returns things will get interesting. Marcus Hall is clearly one of the best five lineman on the team and finding a place for him will be a necessity. Where that place is will be the big question.
No matter where at, the return of Marcus Hall to the line will be a huge boost for the Buckeyes in 2011.
6’5″ 308 lbs.
Like Marcus Hall before him, Andrew Norwell received significant playing time last season as a true freshman and looks to be a rising star on the line.
Norwell filled in at RT in 2010, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see if there again in 2011 if Shugarts does move down to guard. If not, I would be surprised if he doesn’t find a starting spot somewhere else (possibly at guard).
The competition to fill the vacated starting positions will be intense this spring, but if the coaches are looking to get their five best lineman on the field, it is a good bet that Norwell will be of them.
6’8″ 300 lbs.
Facing a suspension, Mike Adams will obviously not be a factor at the start of 2011. Regardless, his return, whenever that may be, will make a strong line even stronger.
Injuries and other off-the-field issues kept Adams from reaching his significant potential early in his career. He put that in the past in 2010 and had a solid season, going toe to toe with players such as Adrian Clayborn and coming out on top more often than not.
Adams still had the occasional missed assignment, but when he returns from suspension in 2011 it would be a huge surprise if he failed to regain his starting spot at LT.
6’6″ 288 lbs.
Jack Mewhort is the early favorite to earn the open spot during Adams’ suspension. While he has the frame and athleticism to play on the edge, thus far in his career Mewhort has been used primarily at center and guard.
Mewhort will receive plenty of playing time in 2011 during the suspensions and beyond. Once the ‘Brew Crew’ graduate, he will be one of the anchors that the 2012 line will be built around.
6’2″ 298 lbs.
Along with Mewhort, Corey Linsley is another early favorite to earn the open spot during Adams’ suspension.
He could see time at guard in 2011, but a more likely scenario will be staying on the second team at center. Linsley is the center-in-waiting behind Brewster, and the coaches will want to get him the most experience possible at the position before he joins the starting five in 2012.
During the suspensions, I will go with the starting five of: Hall, Mewhort, Brewster, Shugarts, and Norwell from left to right.
Post suspension, Adams will bump Hall down to guard, giving us: Adams, Hall, Brewster, Shugarts, and Norwell from left to right.
I reserve the right to change my predictions pending news out of spring practice.
Also, there is a reason Ohio State loaded up on lineman in 2011. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see some freshman getting early playing time next season, particularly given the losses to graduation.
I am extremely excited about the potential of the line in 2011 and can’t wait to begin hearing news out of spring practice. With true freshman in the two deep depth will be a minor concern, but the starting five could be the best line Jim Tressel has ever had.