Shugarts Injury Could Force Buckeyes to Re-think Right Tackle
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — J.B. Shugarts was walking around gingerly after Ohio State’s 34-20 win over Indiana Saturday. He was able to celebrate the victory with his teammates at midfield, but hobbled slowly to the locker room, dragging his right leg up the ramp.
Ohio State’s starting right tackle was helped off the field midway through the third quarter after an apparent injury to his lower right leg. Shugarts tried to stand after an 8-yard run by Carlos Hyde was called back for a hold, but he crumpled over to the Turf.
Trainers rushed to his side and had to help the 6-7, 300-pound senior off the field. He spent some time on the trainer’s table talking to former Ohio State guard Bryant Browning, but was not carted to the locker room for testing; which is a good sign for Shugarts.
“J.B. got a little banged up but nothing serious,” classmate Michael Brewster said after the game.
“He’ll be good to go. It was a physical game.”
After the game, the injury was being called a right knee sprain, although Head Coach Luke Fickell said he did not yet know the severity. Shugarts had his right knee brace removed and was replaced by freshman Antonio Underwood.
“He’s young and I think he’s going to be a really good player here,” Brewster said.
“I told him, ‘Stick to your fundamentals, make sure you take the first step and just listen to me.’ I made sure to tell Jack (Mewhort), ‘Tell him the call because I know his head is probably going a thousand places.’”
It probably was.
These were the first meaningful snaps of Underwood’s career. The Shaker Heights product has only been on campus since June, but he held his own over the last quarter-and-a-half against the Hoosiers.
“He did a great job for the situation,” said senior left tackle Mike Adams.
“I was excited for him to get in there and get a chance to play. You just have to pick those guys up and bring them with you. You just got to get them going and instill the confidence in them. I think that happened and he played a great game.”
Underwood entered the game on the fourth play of a drive late in the third quarter with the game tied at 20. This was not mop-up duty. This was getting thrown into the fire. The Buckeyes could have used redshirt sophomore Marcus Hall, who started the first five games at right guard, but the Ohio State coaches wanted to see how Underwood would respond.
“I think he did pretty good,” Offensive Coordinator Jim Bollman said.
“He's been working every day and it's been more of a situation where Marcus has been working on the left side and Tony has been working on the right side, so that the first thing we did was put a guy in there that's practiced it probably the most, and he did pretty good.”
That drive ended with a 20-yard touchdown run by Braxton Miller off the right side. Underwood was also out there for Hyde’s big 47-yard run in the fourth quarter, which also went over the right side.
“I think for being thrown into the fire he did a great job,” Brewster added.
That doesn’t automatically mean Underwood would get the start if Shugarts had to miss any time because of the injury.
“We'll rethink it,” Bollman said.
“There's a lot of different things that can happen.”
Despite battling chronic foot problems, Shugarts has made 32 starts at right tackle in his career. That includes 24 consecutive starts dating back to the 2009 game against Iowa on Nov. 14.
The starting right tackle in that game was Marcus Hall, then a true freshman, but Andrew Norwell also saw plenty of time on the right side as a freshman last season while Shugarts was still battling his foot problems.
“You want to know who could play right tackle,” Bollman asked rhetorically.
“Marcus Hall could play right tackle, Jack Mewhort could play right tackle, and Andrew could play right tackle, so there's four guys right there (including Underwood).”
Norwell and Mewhort are already starting at the two guard positions. Both of them have already made position changes this year—Norwell from left tackle to left guard and Mewhort from left guard to right guard.
“What changes does that cause within the line? We've got to look at all that kind of stuff, what's the most efficient thing,” Bollman added.
“What we're playing against, what we expect from Purdue, all those kinds of things. We don’t have to make a decision at the moment, but will we examine that thoroughly, certainly.”
If they decided to go with Underwood, that would say a lot about the future of the 6-3, 305-pound tackle.
“For his age, he has a very fine ability to be a good pass blocker,” Bollman said.
“That takes a lot of time for guys to develop, not that he's where we want him to be or he wants to be, but he's got some really good natural ability to do that and be effective.”
He might be asked to do it full-time next year as the Buckeyes will need to replace both starting tackles.
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