There is no doubt the 2013 Ohio State Buckeye football team has all the tools to be something special. Sixteen starters return from last season under the best coaching staff in the nation. This year’s recruiting class adds a speed aspect to the game that was lacking during the undefeated 2012 campaign. The defense returns some of the best play makers in the conference. The offense is led by the B1G Offensive Player of the Year at quarterback. The Buckeyes are ranked as the #2 team in the nation.
Yet one major question still surrounds this team as we head into the first game of the season. Which players will step into the role of team leader?
Urban Meyer knows the answer.
The bottom line to success in 2013 begins and ends up front on the offensive line.
80 starts return to a front five that improved drastically throughout last season. Led by team captain Jack Mewhort, the Buckeye offensive line led the offense to 242 rushing yards per game and 37 points per game. Marcus Hall, Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, and Corey Linsley bought into what coach Ed Warinner was selling.
And now, Ohio State’s run game coordinator believes that this unit is one of, if not the best in the nation.
“That’s the challenge for us,” said Mewhort. “It’s a lot of responsibility and something that motivates us to keep working. We have our goals set and know where we want to go. Hearing stuff like that is cool, but we do a good job of not letting complacency set in. We always are going to keep working.”
And work is what they put in in 2012. Andrew Norwell and Marcus hall both played in 827 of the team’s 837 offensive plays. Norwell and Jack Mewhort have started in 25 consecutive games. Mewhort believes their success is based on the simple adage of one play at a time.
“Our coaches and core leaders do a good job of taking it one day at a time. We don’t look too far down the road because that’s when the little things start to slip. We take it one day at a time, making sure everyone has their heads on straight and we do it the right way.”
Urban Meyer has stated many times that an Ohio State team’s proper identity can be found up front. This season, that’s where most of the team’s experience comes from. And after a 12-0 season, the best way to repeat success is for the rest of this team to put their helmets down and go to work.
Most importantly, it’s all about understanding responsibilities, assignments, and filling the role placed upon each player. Jack Mewhort and the rest of the offensive line understand that it’s their responsibility to protect #5.
“I think it’s our responsibility is to make sure Braxton has the time to make plays with his feet and with his arm,” said Mewhort. “If he is being talked about or does something to win the Heisman that’d be a big accomplishment for the offensive line, the offense, and the team as a whole. It would show how hard we’ve worked.”
Replacing Reid Fragel
It will be hard to replace the leadership and versatility of tackle Reid Fragel. Part of what made last year’s senior class so special was their sacrifice to winning. Part of that was the former tight end making the move to right tackle. Now, thanks to that sacrifice, Fragel finds himself in the NFL. And The Buckeyes are stronger at the right tackle position, with Taylor Decker adding a year of football experience under his belt.
Now the 6’7″ 315 pound sophomore has caught the eyes of his coaches and teammates. O-Line coach Ed Warinner has glamoured about what he has shown in fall camp. Decker brings a special skill set to the team, and adds to his talent a moxie that blends well with the current starting four. Some people say that Decker looks like a WWE superstar. I say he gets his style from left guard Andrew Norwell, who hasn’t cut his hair since making his way to campus.
Alongside Decker for the battle of the only open spot on the starting line is 6’4″ 300 pound sophomore Chase Farris. Decker has the definitive edge, but it’s great to see that there are two young players battling for a starting spot.
This experienced group is the key to a successful 2013 season. It’s more than just numbers and performing as well as they did at the end of the season last year. In order for Braxton Miller to evolve, he’ll need the time in the pocket possible to make plays down the field.
Early in the season, the young running back corps without Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith will need the best blocking possible to help get them in rhythm.