It all starts up front.
I always anticipate great things from the offensive line before the start of each season. Unfortunately, I have been disappointed once the games are underway more often than not over the past decade .
This season brings renewed hope that my preseason expectations for greatness will be met. Most of that hope centers around what new line coach Ed Warinner can bring to the table.
While it may take a few years to successfully make the transition to a new system and truly see domination, I am once again expecting big (or at least better) things up front in 2012 thanks to the injection of attitude and a new philosophy from the staff.
Here is a look at the OL depth chart heading into the first game.
Freshman tackle Taylor Decker looks ready to start on the right side.
- LT – Jack Mewhort was a solid contributor at RG last year and is possibly the best lineman on the team- as you would expect from the LT. His ability to handle an elite pass rush is a slight concern considering this will be his first year at the position, but he locked this spot down at the beginning of spring ball and hasn’t looked back.
- LG – Andrew Norwell began last season at LT before sliding down to LG when Mike Adams returned from suspension. He was very highly regarded out of high school and has the chance to excel under the new coaching staff. Norwell and Mewhort should make the left side the strength of the line.
- C – Corey Linsley is one of the players that benefited the most from the new coaching staff. The increased energy they brought to the team allowed him to completely change his attitude and outlook during the offseason. He quickly became one of the most improved players on the roster, impressed coach Meyer, and earned a spot in the starting rotation. This will be his first season playing center, but with his experience and explosion off the line (something he has been known for since HS) he should be more than capable of handling whatever is thrown at him.
- RG- Marcus Hall is another player that has benefited greatly from the new coaching staff. After a promising freshman year in which he played nine games at RT including one start, he has struggled to stay focused enough to see the field ever since. This could be the year that he finally puts it all back together, thanks in large part to the new staff. The best case scenario will be if he can once again show the talent that allowed him to make an impact as a true freshman.
- RT – Taylor Decker is still battling with Reid Fragel to lock down this starting spot, but I think Decker will ultimately win out. Although he is only a true freshman and will likely experience some growing pains, he is a natural tackle with a bright future in Columbus. I say get him on the field as soon as possible.
Two things jump out to me when looking at this group as a whole.
The first thing (and I apologize for jumping ahead, but hey, no bowl game) is that barring any surprises this entire group returns next season. That would be a very solid foundation for an offense with a year of experience running a new system that returns basically everyone.
The second thing that jumps out is that two Tressel era tackles (Norwell and Hall) are now playing guard and one Tressel era guard (Mewhort) is now playing tackle. You can see similar moves on the second string as well (Underwood and Brown).
To me, this highlights the change in philosophy that came with the new coaches. I, for one, am extremely happy to see the Buckeyes going in a new direction after so many disappointing seasons in the past.
It is easy to envision improved performances and much improved recruiting and depth in the near future.
Speaking of depth…
Former TE Reid Fragel added weight this offseason to play tackle. Starter or not, he makes RT the deepest position on the line.
- LT – Darryl Baldwin was recruited to play defense and is a newcomer to the offensive line. It is hard to know what to expect from him this season, which makes it somewhat scary that he is the second string LT right now.
- LG – Antonio Underwood played in four games last season as a true freshman which included one start against Purdue. He is still young and it is hard to say where his ceiling is, but he seems destined to be a solid depth guy at least and possibly even a future starter at guard.
- C – Jacoby Boren came in to spring practice as a true freshman and moved up the depth chart at center almost immediately (which probably directly led to the transfer of Brian Bobek). Despite missing time this fall due to injury, he has remained firmly entrenched as the back-up center. He obviously has good family genes, has impressed the coaches early, and looks to be the future here once Linsley graduates.
- RG – Chase Farris is another crossover from the defense which once again makes it hard to say what he can do as an offensive lineman. The coaches are looking for more athletic linemen that can move in space, so with his defensive background, he should have that covered, at least.
- RT – Reid Fragel or Taylor Decker will be in this spot and whoever it is will be the best player on the second team. I put Fragel here mainly because I think the transition to tackle will be more difficult for him than it will be for Decker to adjust in his natural position at the college level.
Three players converted from other positions and a true freshman on your second team is way less than ideal.
Underwood is really the only player that isn’t an emergency measure to address depth problems. OL depth along with linebacker and cornerback depth are my primary concerns this season.
Much will be expected of Kyle Dodson in the future, but how much he will see the field this year depends on how fast he can learn the playbook.
- LT – If Kyle Dodson had enrolled early for spring practice with Taylor Decker he would likely be further up on the depth chart at LT or possibly even competing for the RT spot. However, he was not able to do that and started from scratch at camp. As a highly touted true freshman, he is expected to be a major factor along the line in the years to come, but due to his fall start, the contribution he can make this season is up in the air.
- LG – Tommy Brown seems to have quite a bit of work to do to crack the two deep after redshirting last year. The fact that several converted defensive linemen are ahead of him on the depth chart is not the most encouraging sign for his future. Brown is still young though, and he very well could move up with the right work ethic and attitude.
- C – Eric Kramer is a walk-on competing with two true freshmen for this spot. Those freshmen are Joey O’Connor and Pat Elflein and both have been held back by injuries during camp. With Boren ahead of them, I hope to see O’Connor and Elflein move over to guard at some point once they are healthy… although the staff may keep one at center for depth purposes. Either way, it seems unlikely that they will see the field outside of mop-up duty this season.
- RG – Ivon Blackman is another walk-on that has been in the program for a few years. This seems like a possible destination for a healthy O’Connor or Elflein.
- RT – Ben St. John is yet another walk-on playing on the third string. Given the roster, there are pretty much no other options here until the 2013 recruiting class arrives on campus.
Three walk-ons playing on the third string is a pretty good indication of what kind of depth was left over from the previous staff.
Kyle Dodson and Joey O’Connor are both highly touted players and potential starters down the line. Pat Elflein was not highly touted out of HS, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make some noise as well.
As mentioned, it will take the 2013 recruiting class and probably the 2014 one as well before the depth issues here are fully addressed.
It is not hard to summarize the line this season. The starters have the potential to be very good but the depth is a major concern that will be a severe problem if the injury bug hits.