And now we need to go on the road and play better than we’ve played on the road. We head to Minnesota and it will be the first time for any of us on our team to ever have seen the stadium let alone play in it, so that will be exciting for us. And it’s an evening primetime game, and our guys will get excited about that. So now we’ve got to go back to work and understand that we’re facing a veteran quarterback in Adam Weber. We had him in youth camp. I thought he was outstanding then, and 10,000 yards later I think he’s still outstanding. And I think the school career passing record for us is a little over 7,000 and he’s got 10,000, just to put it in perspective what he’s been able to accomplish and he’s a heck of a player. He’s a competitor. He’s a senior. You can just hear in his comments that he doesn’t want to hear about coaching transition or this or that, this is still the 2010 Minnesota Golden Gophers and still the same team it was at the beginning of the year who has a passion to get some good things done, and through his leadership, you can be sure that they’ll never stop, and that’s the kind of leader that you want to have. And he leads a young group of receivers who I think are getting better and better and they’ve done a good job of giving you a lot of different formation looks, a lot of different personnel groupings.
Over on their defensive side, they were very young when they began, now they’re eight or nine games into it and they’re no longer — you no longer talk when you talk about a team of so and so had this many starters returning because that’s irrelevant now because they’re going into this point in the season.
And they seem to have dialed up a little bit more of their pressure package in this last game or so than they did earlier in the year. They did a similar amount against us a year ago, so it’s not like we haven’t seen it. It’s not like it’s anything brand new, but they are bringing good pressure. I think they’re playing a little bit loose and getting just excited to go out and hit somebody and see if they can create turnovers and so forth, so it will be a great challenge for us.
Special teams, we always say, is the key when we go on the road and I think if anyone has an interest in Big Ten football and doesn’t think that the special teams had maybe the biggest impact on last weekend, Wisconsin’s fake punt was probably the turning point in that game. Michigan State’s fake punt was probably the turning point in that game. I think Iowa missed a field goal, which was big, and an extra point, perhaps. The Cleveland Browns, I didn’t see it, but the little reverse pass or whatever they did was huge in their game, and on and on and on. Missouri, I think, didn’t they bring the opening kickoff back?
So special teams is something that we’ll never stop talking about and you’ll never be able to convince me of its relative impact on the emotion of the game, and football is an emotional game. And so we’ve got to make sure that despite the fact that we’ve had to go with a lot of different lineups due to injuries in the linebacker and DB areas, we’ve got to get better at special teams, especially on the road. It’s a huge impact. Purdue found that. Go full circle, Purdue found that out, coming over here, you can’t make two big special teams mistakes and think you’re going to win in someone else’s stadium.
I apologize. It was disguised as a pooch.
This is only the second time (in 121 years) that Ohio State has named six captains.
They are seniors: Brian Rolle, Cameron Heyward, and Ross Homan on defense; Bryant Browning, Dane Sanzenbacher, and Brandon Saine on offense.
This team has a helluva lot of quality senior leadership (they couldn’t pick just four), and with plenty of other upperclassmen in the wings for support (Boren, Larimore, Brewster, Chekwa, Pryor, Moeller ect. ect.) solid team leadership is just another reason for such lofty expectations this year.
If nothing else, as ElevenWarriors points out, it gives us an intimidation advantage at the coin flip, even though Heyward can probably handle that duty on his own.
Fall camp always seems to produce the juiciest news of the year and this year has been no different. For the next couple weeks I will be scouring the Buckeye-sphere for all the interesting tidbits to share.
So far there has been almost nothing but good news coming out of the WHAC. Obviously the loss of Duron Carter plus the confusion regarding TE Nic DiLillo’s situation stings a little, but everything else has been overwhelmingly positive thus far. Let’s take a look.
As I mentioned previously, the spring game is not a preview of the upcoming season. However, you can learn some things from it. Here are a few things that I learned about the offensive line.
Mike Adams will be the left tackle this year.
If the spring depth chart missing any indication of competition between Adams and Miller wasn’t enough, or all the talk about Adams being leaner and stronger during practice didn’t convince, the spring game erased any doubt in my mind about who the starter will be at LT.
That is not to say that I think Adams will be dominant or finally live up to the Orlando Pace comparisons. I just think that he has clearly separated himself as the best left tackle on the roster.
I observed Adams getting beat off the ball without even getting a hand on his man on at least one occasion. I also watched as the scarlet team ran the ball almost exclusively to his side on a scoring drive.
The flashes of greatness combined with Andrew Miller failing to impress makes Mike Adams the clear starter at LT going into the summer. I am not the only one to think this.
In my last update I briefly looked at the defensive line. To summarize, they are really good.
As it turns out, Oregon’s rushing attack is pretty good as well, which is going to make the battle between Oregon’s offense vs. Ohio State’s defense a hot topic in the weeks to come.
Well, I made a few pretty charts to look at this battle of strengths, and since games are won in the trenches (and I am trying to make the point that Ohio State’s biggest advantage in this game is going to be the offensive and defensive lines), I narrowed my look to just rushing offense versus rushing defense.
Side note: these stats aren’t complete, as this weeks games aren’t factored into the rankings yet, but I just couldn’t wait to start looking into this, and I figure one extra weeks worth of stats for a few teams isn’t going to change things all that much.
Okay, so here is my first chart. The blue line represents how many rushing yards Oregon had in each game. The red line represents how many yards their opponent gave up on average each game. Finally, the rank of each opponents rushing defense is in parenthesis.
So, my nifty little chart shows a couple of things. First, the toughest rushing defense Oregon faced was last night against Oregon State at 13 (even though that will probably go down after last night) and second, Oregon consistently rushes for more yards than the opposing defenses usually give up.
Okay, on to the next chart. Same idea, only this time I charted how many yards Ohio State’s opponents averaged rushing this year (red line) versus how many yards they gained against the Buckeyes (blue line). Once again the opponents offensive rushing rank is in parenthesis.
Ohio State has held every team they have played against (except Minnesota??) to significantly less than their usual production on the ground, including Navy with their 3rd ranked rushing attack.
The unstoppable force versus the immovable object. A top 10 rushing offense versus a top 5 rushing defense. I’m willing to call it a wash. Even though Ohio State has a better defense than Oregon has played against all year and I have my personal bias that would lead me to say that Ohio State is going to smash Oregon in every way, what the hell, let’s just call it a wash.
The match up between Oregon’s offense and Ohio State’s defense really isn’t what I am interested in however, and I just did those graphs for fun (also because I really don’t want to write my finals papers).
The match up I am most looking forward to is Ohio State’s rushing attack versus Oregon’s defense. I mentioned in my look at the defensive line that the offensive line has been kicking some serious ass lately, well here is a graph to show that ass kicking visually.
Same set up as before, but just so no one gets confused, Ohio State rushing in blue, what the opponent averaged giving up on the ground in red.
The chart shows that Ohio State had mixed success at the beginning of the year (shocker), but after the Purdue game (bleh) Ohio State has been doing some serious work on the ground, with the crown jewel being the performance against Penn State’s 10th ranked rushing defense.
And now for Oregon’s defense.
It’s not quite as pretty as the OSU defense, is it? With a few exceptions at the beginning of the year, the Oregon D has been allowing apposing offenses to rush for pretty close to their season averages.
The crown jewel of this chart is Stanford’s #11 ranked rushing offense and the 236 yards they gained on the ground against Oregon, which of course led to a 51-42 defeat of the Ducks.
The good and still improving #17 rushing offense (198.92 ypg) against the #40 rushing defense (130.64 ypg) that gives up basically whatever the offense wants to take.
Sounds good to me.
Establish the run game, keep the ball out of Oregon’s hands (even though our D is probably going to slow them down significantly anyways), and get that W.
That’s the game plan.
But enough with numbers and charts, its time to talk about the players.
I already went over who will be shutting down Oregon’s rushing attack, so here are the big fellas that will be establishing our rushing attack.
What a trip it has been. From the uncertainty of the preseason, to pleasantly surprised after USC, to ‘what the hell is going on here’ after Purdue, to confidence and anticipation heading into the Rose Bowl. Those have been my basic feelings regarding the offensive line this year.
Despite the ups and downs, things are definitely up right now for the offensive line(did you see the chart? no?? go back and look, I spent a lot of time on that) and they couldn’t have picked a better time.
We’ll start, once again, at left tackle. Not only is it one of the most important positions on the line, it is also (somewhat frustratingly) the one that has the most question marks surrounding it going into the bowl game.
At the beginning of the year, LT was a two way battle between Mike Adams (SO #75) and Andy Miller (RS JR #55). Several injuries and a flu bug or two later and journeyman Jim Cordle (RS SR #64) somehow found his way into the conversation at LT.
I would imagine that Cordle will be the starter for the bowl game, but I would also think that both Miller and Adams (if healthy) would receive playing time as well. The upside of the frustrating lack of consistency at LT this year has been lots of game experience from three players who are all serviceable.
Miller started at LT against Navy, USC, Toledo, and Illinois.
Adams started at RT against Illinois and at LT against Indiana, Wisconsin, and Purdue.
Cordle started at RT against Navy and USC, and at LT against Minnesota, New Mexico State, Penn State, Iowa, and Michigan.
So yeah, not much consistency, but lots of experience at least.
It seems that the resurgence of the running game has coincided with Cordle moving to LT, so that looks like a good thing.
Cordle graduates after this year, so it looks like it could be a two way battle between Adams and Miller for the starting spot again next year.
On the other hand, there is a very real possibility that all world high school phenom Seantrel Henderson could be making a debut at LT for the Bucks next year, so stay tuned for that.
But for now, it looks like Cordle is the man at LT for the Rose Bowl.
Cordle (remember him) started the year at RT, but an injury caused him to miss some games, allowing J.B. Shugarts (SO #76) to step in and he never looked back, which, coincidentally, allowed Cordle to move over to LT.
Shugarts has started at RT in every game since week 5 against Indiana (minus the Iowa game due to injury) and he has done very well to say the least. RT looks to be in great shape for the next few years.
Backing up Shugarts at RT is true freshman Marcus Hall (#79). It looked liked Hall was going to take a red shirt this year, but apparently the coaches were so impressed with him in practice that they couldn’t keep him out of the game (it also didn’t hurt that the injury bug hit the line in the middle of the year).
Starting in week 5 against Indiana, Hall has been getting game time at RT, and he even got the start against Iowa.
I think ultimately Hall will end up sliding down to guard before his time in Columbus is over, but where ever he ends up, he is pretty damn good and provides valuable depth along the line.
So I am going to clump these three positions together.
(RS JR #65), Mike Brewster (SO #50), and Bryant Browning (RS JR #70) have been the starters from left to right on the inside for basically the entire year (minus an injury here or there) and they have also performed at or above expectations for basically the entire year.
Apparently there were some communication issues along the line early in the year (culminating in the disaster at Purdue) between Brewster and the rest of the line, particularly when it came to pass protection schemes, but it looks like things have been sorted out and as I have mentioned previously, things are looking good.
There are also some backups at these positions, but all three of the killer B’s are coming back next year and I have been writing for a long time, so I will just leave it at that.
So that does it for the offensive line. They have been giving Pryor time in the pocket, they have been opening up running lanes to the tune of 200+ yards per game, and they will be facing on Oregon team whose defensive line lacks first round draft talent (unlike the previous three years’ bowl games).
Oh, and did I mention that four of the five lineman are coming back next year, along with practically the entire offense.
Yeah, things are looking pretty good for the Rose Bowl and beyond.
It is that time again, time to go back and look at the offensive line. Hoorah!
At the beginning of the year the offensive line was a serious question mark for this team, particularly the offensive tackles. Now, heading into our week 5 match up against the mighty Hoosiers, it is safe to say that I feel… uh… better. That being said, there is still much room for improvement, but I am optimistic that the line can continue to improve each week, they are still young and relatively inexperienced after all.
It has been an interesting ride for the line (and the fans) to get to week five. # 75 Mike Adams (who I tagged to win the starting left tackle job in the preseason) was suspended for the first two games, leaving the job open for #55 Andrew Miller. Now Adams is back from suspension, got the first start of his career at LT against Illinois, and there is a magical OR on the depth chart between Miller and Adams heading into this weekend. I expect both Adams and Miller to continue to get playing time and to spell one another. Basically we are right back where we were at in the preseason.
On the other side of the line, #64 Jim Cordle won the starting job at right tackle, suffered an ankle injury somewhere around the USC game and will be out of action for at least a few more weeks, leaving the position by default to #76 J.B. Shugarts (who I also tagged as the starter in the preseason, making me wrong on both accounts). When Cordle comes back from injury, I would guess that the RT spot will get the magical OR on the depth chart as well, reverting the competition at RT back to the preseason as well.
Like I said, interesting ride.
Normally, you would think that open competition at both tackle positions heading into week five would be a bad thing because no one has separated themselves from the pack. That isn’t the case for the Buckeyes. I would attribute the lack of a clear starter at the tackle positions to surprisingly solid play across the board rather than frustratingly poor performances.
I think the offensive line surprised everyone with how well they played against USC in week two against elite competition. Week three was a so-so performance for the line considering they were playing against one of the worst defenses they will face all year, which was somewhat concerning.
Then last week happened. I feel like last week was a huge step forward for the offensive line and the entire offense. The Buckeyes were able to run the ball with authority the entire game despite the fact that Illinois knew we were coming at them on the ground.
I think this success can be attributed to two things. One is that the offensive line is continuing to improve each week and I would say they are definitely starting to gel as a unit.
The second reason for our success on the ground last week was schematic. Ohio State ran a large amount of their plays out of the shotgun formation and used a lot of option read plays between Pryor and the running back. This meant that Illinois had to protect the edge on both sides of the line because they didn’t know whether the ball was going one way with the back or if Pryor was keeping it and running the other way.
The confusion this caused for the defense severely limited Illinois ability to pursue from the backside and helped to open up holes along the line. Throw in the fact that we pulled #86 Jake Ballard from the TE position on quite a few of the misdirection plays (something that I can’t recall ever seeing before) and it looks very much like Ohio State has turned a brand new page in offensive game planning.
But back to the line. They played well last week and were consistently able to get a solid push up front. No matter what the schemes, if the offensive line doesn’t move people off the line the play isn’t going to work. We were able to move people last week.
To get back to the whole competition at the tackle positions going into week 5 situation, like I said earlier, I don’t think that it is necessarily a bad thing. My worst fear in the preseason was that no one would separate themselves from the pack, leading to the situation we are in now. While no one has separated themselves from the pack so far, it is not due to poor play as I had feared, but rather because everyone has played relatively well up to this point.
The combination of Miller, Adams, Shugarts, and Cordle have performed so well that the coaches have seemingly decided to redshirt all of their young guns along the offensive line in favor of using the depth at tackle to provide a rotation across the line. Take a look at the depth chart going into the weekend.
You will notice that many of the starters are also listed at backup for other positions along the line. Andrew Miller is listed as an OR starter at LT as well as the backup at LG. Bryant Browning is listed as the backup at RT as well as the starter at RG. When Cordle makes his glorious return in a few weeks, the depth and versatility of the line will only improve and allow the coaches to use veterans as starters as well as backups along the line even more.
This weeks veteran heavy depth chart is in stark contrast to the depth chart released in the first few games of the year in which freshmen Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, and Marcus Hall were all in the two deep.
Now the freshmen are nowhere to be found, indicating two things to me. First I think it shows that the coaches would prefer to redshirt their freshmen linemen (update: Tressel mentioned on his call in show today that Hall will probably see the field this weekend). Second, and more importantly, it indicates to me that the guys in the two deep now are really stepping up their game and proving to the coaches that they can handle to load along the line.
I have spent most of my time so far discussing the tackles, that is because the middle of the line has worked out exactly as I predicted with the Killer B’s (#65 Justin Boren, #50 Mike Brewster, #70 Bryant Browning) holding it down. While I wouldn’t call their play dominant just yet, they have been serviceable, and like the tackles, the way that the interior line played against Illinois has me feeling good about the future.
So in summary, on the edge Miller and Adams are still rotating at LT, Cordle (when he returns) and Shugarts will most likely still be rotating at RT as well, and when Cordle and Miller aren’t on the field at tackle they will be providing depth on the interior. All of the tackles are playing well and it looks like they are getting better each week.
On the interior the Killer B’s have been consistent and look to continue to get better as well.
Basically, what looked to be a major question mark at the beginning of the year has proved to be a pleasant surprise (at least for now), and the line looks like they will only continue to improve.
I mentioned this previously, but Ohio State has a favorable schedule until the trip to Happy Valley and it should give the line plenty of time to continue to gel and get better as a unit and individually. It looks like the Buckeyes are in pretty good shape along the line heading into week five.
After thinking it over for a bit, I have decided to break down the interior offensive line (the guards and center) next in what is becoming an ongoing series of posts for me. I truly believe that improved play along the entire offensive line (in particular at tackle, as I mentioned in my last post) is one of the top three things to look for as an indicator of how the 2009 season will go.
As a brief side bar here, I think the top three indicators of how the season will go are: play along the offensive line, play along the defensive line (games are won in the trenches and all of that) and Pryor’s progression as a passer. If the Buckeyes can improve in these three areas I expect big things. But anyways…
Where improved play at the tackle position is still somewhat of a question mark, I think it is pretty safe to say that play along the interior of the offensive line will be improved from last year. The reasons I think this will become pretty clear as I go through the two deep, but first I would like to talk about Jim Bollman for a little bit.
Just kidding, here’s the two deep.
It all starts in the middle. If that isn’t a saying for the offensive line I am making it one now. Ohio State has had a remarkable steak of tremendous play at center, from LeCharles Bentley (consensus All-American, Rimington Award winner in 2001) to Nick Mangold (All-American and Rimington Award finalist in 2005) to Doug Datish (Rimington Award finalist in 2006), the Buckeyes have consistently had one of the best players in the country snapping the ball.
Looking to continue the tradition of excellence is true Sophomore Mike Brewster (#50).
Brewster took over at center last year as a true freshman when the line was reshuffled following an injury to starting LG Steve Rehring. After breaking into the starting lineup, Brewster never looked back, ultimately starting in 10 games and earning first team freshman All-American honors from several publications.
While Brewster performed admirably as a true freshman starter, he admits that he relied heavily on his athleticism and made quite a few mistakes last year. With almost an entire year of experience under his belt and a better understanding of the playbook and audibles, considerable improvement from Brewster in year two is not hard to imagine. I am not sure if you can call Brewster an improvement over Jim Cordle (Cordle started at center in 2007 and the beginning of last year) at this point, however. Brewster certainly has a higher ceiling and has the potential to be better than Cordle, and I think that potential is ultimately why Brewster is staying at center and Cordle is being moved around.
Another factor to consider if you are still wondering why Brewster is replacing a returning starter at center is the leadership role that the center plays along the offensive line. The center is responsible for calling the audibles for the entire line and is the natural leader along the line. Brewster has a knack for leadership that has been on display even before he put on a scarlet and gray uniform. The much heralded class of 2008 (possibly Tressel’s best recruiting class to date) was spearheaded by Brewster committing early and personally contacting and befriending many of the top players in the country that would eventually become Buckeyes (Terrelle Pryor was one of them). For this reason, some people affectionately refer to the 2008 class as the “Brew Crew”. Recruiting stories aside, the point is, Brewster is a leader and has an established chemistry with the starting QB as well as several of the other players looking to start along the line this year (namely, Adams and Shugarts).
Given his obvious physical abilities as well as his natural gift of leadership, Michael Brewster looks to be the perfect anchor for an improved offensive line in 2009.
Providing depth at center is fifth year senior Andrew Moses (#66), who brings solid experience at the very least. Also providing depth is Jim Cordle (#64) who is a pretty obvious choice to move back to center if the need arises.
Gone is long time starter at LG Steve Rehring (31 career starts), and that may not be such a bad thing. While no one will ever say that Rehring wasn’t a bruiser (he checked in at 6’8″ and 335 lbs. at least) his conditioning was always an issue and injuries limited his affectiveness for most of last year. For these reasons, improvement at LG is a strong possibility, especially given who the replacement is.
That replacement goes by the name Justin Boren (#65).
Even though Boren suffered a knee injury last week and will miss some practice time, he is expected back in plenty of time for the first game, and when healthy, he is still the unquestioned starter at LG. Boren has probably recieved the second most pubilcity this offseason behind only Terrelle Pryor. The reason for this is twofold. First, the whole transferring from TSUN issue (have you seen this? have you heard about this?) which I won’t go over here. The second reason is that from all accounts Boren has been absolutely tearing it up during practice and has recieved rave reviews from just about everyone on the team.
While this may surprise our friends up north, who reasoned that Boren transfered due to laziness and an inability to handle the new super intense workouts (you know, the ones that produced a 3-9 season) of the Rodriquez regime, it now appears that a side effect of consuming too many sour grapes is an inability to recognize talent (obligatory swipe status: complete).
What many (including myself) are most excited about Boren is that he brings an intensity and nastiness (if there is a picture of him smiling, I have yet to find it) to the line that has seemingly been lacking for some time now. In the fall media guide, Boren claims that if he had a superpower, it would be to knock down walls. While I am not sure if that is actually a super power or not, here’s hoping that Boren knocks down any defender that gets in his way this year.
Providing depth at LG is redshirt junior Connor Smith (#77).
Smith was a five star recruit out of high school and billed as one of the top lineman in the midwest. To say that he has failed to live up to expectations would be a bit of an understatement. He has earned letters in each of the past two years (2007, 2008) after redshirting in 2006, so he does have game day experience.
It is my personal opinion that Smith lacks the killer instinct needed to excel along the line in college (by all accounts he is a nice guy, which is great anywhere outside of the gridiron), so hopefully Boren can inspire Smith to play with a bit of nastiness so that he can finally live up to the lofty expectations that accompanied him when he came to Ohio State.
Gone is Ben Person, a two year starter at RG (22 career starts) who was consistantly unspectacular and is perhaps best remembered for his habit of jumping offsides. So once again, improvement here should not be too hard to accomplish.
Leading the charge to improve the play at RG is redshirt junior Bryant Browning (#70).
You may remember Browning from his time at RT last year, where he started in all 13 games. Browning is described in the media guide as a ‘powerful run blocker’ but as last year made pretty clear, pass blocking is an area that needs improvement. Fortunately for Browning, the fans, and Pryor, pass blocking from the guard position is not nearly as difficult as pass blocking on the edge as a tackle (you don’t have to look much further than this fact to understand why Browning was moved over).
I look for Browning to benefit greatly from his move inside and to utilize his just-a-touch-too-slow-for-the-edge speed to become a very affective pulling guard. With the pass blocking problems minimized on the inside, I expect Browning to be a moderate to significant improvement at RG.
Providing depth at RG is (according the the media guide depth chart) redshirt junior Evan Blankenship (#68) who’s career thus far has been unremarkable to the extent that I can’t really say anything about him. He is a good singer though, so that has to count for something, right?
Also looking to get in the mix and provide depth at guard are several incoming freshman that I have previously covered in my tackle breakdown. Jack Mewhort is actually listed at guard on the media guide depth chart which I attribute mostly to the fact that he enrolled early for spring practice. I also expect Marcus Hall to get a look at one or both of the guard positions.
That wraps it up for my look at the interior offensive line. Like I said up top, I think the play at guard will be improved from a year ago, and the play at center will almost certainly be better than last year as well (better than 2007 is still up in the air) given that Brewster will get better in his second year as the starter.
While tackle is an area of the offensive line that has me slightly nervous going into the year, the interior line is an area that I am fairly certain will be a strength (at the very least it will be improved over last year). I will be looking with anticipation for the line to flatten defenders rather than just getting in their way.
In my last post, I looked at the linebacker situation at Ohio State. Talking LB’s is one of my favorite topics and I think Ohio State’s linebacker tradition stacks up against any team in the country (I’m looking at you Penn State).
While it is fun to envision our LBs running around laying the smack down on some hapless Big Ten offenses, the position that will have the largest impact on the outcome of the upcoming season is offensive tackle.
Unfortunately for Buckeye fans, play along the offensive line has been lackluster for several years now, and in particular the play at the tackle positions has been a huge liability. Whenever the Buckeyes played against a top defense with highly regarded ends (Florida, LSU) chaos in the OSU backfield was sure to ensue.
I would even go so far as to say that less than stellar play at tackle has been the #1 cause of Ohio State’s recent big game woes and was the #1 contributor to the premature end of the Todd Boeckman era at quarterback. Once Beanie went down, teams could tee off with the pass rush and our tackles were helpless to stop them. The results of this unfortunate situation was less than ideal for poor Todd Boeckman,who’s inability to get rid of the ball quickly didn’t help matters.
Now it is time to turn the page as both tackles from a year ago have moved on. LT Alex Boone has moved on to the west coast (undrafted free agent to San Fran) and RT Bryant Browning has made a slightly shorter move west to RG. While it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Browning will find his way back to tackle, I think it is safe to say that he will spend the rest of his time in Columbus comfortably away from open space on the inside.
That means that both tackle positions need to be filled sometime before the start of the season. How well the new players step in and perform at tackle will go a long way towards helping or hindering the development of a guy named Pyror (maybe you’ve heard of him?). While Pryor is clearly more mobile than Boeckman could ever dream of being, running for his life the entire season is a less than ideal situation for both Pryor and the team, which means that improvement at tackle despite the turnover is a must.
While I have no doubt that the Buckeyes can win a majority of the games they play this year based entirely on Pryor’s ability to scramble, for Ohio State to finally get over its funk and win its biggest games (see USC, Penn State), Pryor needs to be able to sit in the pocket and pass the ball. Not only will this keep opposing defenses from committing everything they have to stopping the run, it will also make Pryor’s ability to scramble even more lethal when other teams drop back to defend the pass and see a 6’6″ blur of scarlet and gray fly past them.
So, who is going to step in to the most important position for improvement on offense and hold the fate of the upcoming season in their hands? Below I will look at the two main candidates competing to play at each tackle position and then briefly go over some dark horse candidates.
Left tackle is the most important position on the offensive line and behind the quarterback is probably the most important position on the entire offense. The left tackle protects the QBs blind side, and when they don’t do a good job, bad things happen.
[insert picture of Boeckman getting sacked that none of us really wants to look at]
Alex Boone manned the LT position for the last four years at Ohio State (’05-’08, 36 starts), and while his off the field issues prevented him from ever reaching his potential (I contend that he was no better as a senior than he was as a true freshman), he at least brought consistency to the position and even earned First Team All Big Ten honors last year. Despite his status as a four year starter and All-Big Ten tackle, Boone was also consistent in getting man handled in bowl games against the SEC. For proof of my hypothesis that tackle play was one of the largest contributors to our big game letdowns, look at the results of bowl games in which Boone played well (Notre Dame, Texas) compared to the ones in which he got burned (Florida, LSU).
Fast forward to this year. It has been a two horse race to see who will replace Boone at left tackle, Mike Adams (#75) and Andy Miller (#55) have been battling each other since Spring ball to earn the spot, and they will continue to battle into fall camp (hopefully a leader emerges before too long).
I am looking for whoever emerges to bring increased athleticism and focus to the position and to compete at a high level against even the best DE’s in the country.
We’ll start by looking at Miller, who could be considered the underdog in the competition to start. He came to Ohio State as a tight end in 2006 and has bulked up enough to be moved to tackle. He is currently a redshirt Junior and is listed at 6’6″ and 280 pounds. Miller has played sparingly in his career thus far, but he did play significant minutes at guard last year in the USC game when starter Steve Rehring went down with an injury.
While it is entirely possible that Miller is capable of handling the starting spot at left tackle, I almost feel bad for really hoping that he doesn’t win the job. Miller is the type of hard working team player that all fans love to root for, but if he ends up starting, that probably means that Adams is failing to live up to his massive potential, and that is not a good thing for Ohio State.
So that brings us to Mike Adams, who was compared favorably to Orlando Pace coming out of High School (see what I mean about massive potential?). At 6’8″ and around 300 lbs. Adams has prototypical size for a tackle and has been the heir apparent at LT since he committed to Ohio State.
The fact that he was unable to separate himself from Miller during spring practice may be cause for concern. Throughout the spring there were reports floating around that Adam’s didn’t play with the type of tenacity that you typically like to see from your offensive lineman, and that is what was holding him back.
The explanation for his lack of separation from Miller may have been due more to physical limitations rather than psychological ones, however. It is a very real possibility that Adams was rusty during the spring after shoulder and foot injuries limited the amount of playing and practice time that Adams was able to get his freshman year (he only played in four games). Adam’s himself seems to subscribe to this belief, saying (when speaking of his injuries last year and the time he lost):
“That really set me back,” Adams said. “I feel like that was a time where I really could’ve come into myself.”
Now it appears that Adams is back 100% and he is saying all the right things.
When asked how badly he “wanted it” at media day, he had this to say:
I wish I could say, but it might not be appropriate for the newspapers.
Sounds good to me.
Additionally, Adams has apparently been hitting the gym as well.
Adam’s said he’s playing at about 300 pounds, losing 40 pounds from a year ago and then putting a little weight back on in a healthier way.
“I feel faster,” Adams said. “I can move better all around. It was something I decided to do for me, just try to get my body ready and help my chances of playing more this year.”
Oh, and about that tenacity thing, Adams has been listening to the criticism and has this to say:
“One thing that makes you more aggressive is knowing what you’re doing,” Adams said. “I definitely know the plays better, and that allows me to play better and play harder.”
Once again, check and check next to the things I would like to hear Mike Adams say.
So, it seems like Adams is doing and saying all of the right things this offseason, now we just have to wait and see if it translates on the field. In the end (especially given all of the quotes I just quoted) I expect Adams to win the starting job and to perform well. How well Adams handles the pass rush of elite teams will go a long way in determining what type of year is in store for the Buckeyes, so uh, no pressure or anything.
Ah, right tackle. Last year Ohio State had to replace four year starter (’04-’07) Kirk Barton, and the man chosen for the task was redshirt sophomore Bryant Browning. Browning didn’t perform terribly throughout the season (he started all 13 games) but he did not have his best games against elite pass rushers to put it mildly.
[insert picture of Browning in the Penn State game that none of us really want to look at]
So it is safe to say that it is back to the drawing board at RT going into 2009. Like LT, there appears to be two main contenders to start; 5th year Senior Jim Cordle (#64) and true Sophomore J.B. Shugarts (#76).
Cordle is a versatile lineman who has 26 career starts. He started the entire 2007 season at center and began ’08 at center before moving over to LG for the final 10 games of the season following the injury to Rehring at USC . While Cordle was at LG, freshman Michael Brewster took over at center and will continue to play there this season, leaving Cordle without a position and a candidate for the RT spot. The coaches (and fans) are hoping that Cordle’s quickness and superior knowledge of the game will allow him to play well on the edge despite the fact that he is a bit undersized for tackle at 6’4″ 300 lbs. and has little experience in space.
Football, being the unpredictable sport that it is, decided to throw a little kink into the competition at RT when Justin Boren injured his knee on Friday and will have to sit out at least a week. This means that Cordle may move back to LG (where, you’ll remember, he spent most of the season last year) to take Boren’s place while he recovers. If this move occurs, the door will be open for the other candidate at RT, J.B. Shugarts.
Like Adams, Shugarts was highly regarded coming out of high school (he’s from Texas), was slotted to play RT from the moment he arrived on campus, and was unable to play in six games last year due to a shoulder injury which also kept him out of spring ball after off season surgery. This lost time has prevented Shugarts from stepping into the RT spot that everyone assumed would be his.
While Cordle has intelligence and experience, Shugarts brings raw ability and size (6’8″ 300 lbs.) and is a natural tackle where Cordle is a bit out of position. Once again, I am rooting for the young guy (Shugarts) to win out the RT competition, not because I dislike Cordle, but because I think if Shugarts wins out the competition that gives the offensive line the best opportunity for improvement (hopefully to the point of dominance). While I think Cordle has the ability to be serviceable at tackle, Shugarts has the ability to dominate and that is what I would like to see happen.
My ideal situation at the start of the year would be to have Mike Adams at LT and J.B. Shugarts at RT, but only if they earn their spots by living up to their massive potential.
Beyond the players I listed above, there are a few more candidates for the tackle spots, but if any of them start it would be a pretty big surprise.
Jack Mewhort (#74).
Mewhort is a true freshman (listed at 6’7″ 290 lbs.) who enrolled early for Spring ball which could give him the extra experience he needs to crack the starting lineup at one of the tackle spots.
Marcus Hall (#79)
Hall is the highest rated incoming freshman along the offensive line (6’5″ 300 lbs.). He could see playing time at tackle or at guard. I would imagine that he needs to refine his footwork in order to handle elite pass rushers on the edge, so I predict that if he makes contributions this year it will be at guard. Then again, I am no expert, and I wouldn’t really be surprised if he got playing time at tackle either.
Regardless of whether or not Hall and Mewhort start or even get significant playing time this year, they are definitely guys to keep an eye on going into the future.
Another player that will probably be in the two deep at tackle is Josh Kerr (#73). Kerr is a redshirt Junior (listed at 6’4″ 285 lbs.) who has been a perennial backup and has been unable to establish much of a reputation due to injury plagued seasons in each of the past two years. He is probably the longest shot to crack the starting lineup, but I look for him to provide quality depth and experience at both tackle positions if needed.
So that’s it for my look at the tackles. All in all I think we are in pretty good shape. If Adams and Shugarts can live up to their billing than we are probably in better than pretty good shape. The real test will come on September 12th, after that game we will really know how well our play at tackle has come since last year.