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Last updated: 04/20/2011 4:24 PM

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Football
Around the-Ozone Water Cooler -- Which of the Young Buckeye Offensive Linemen is Set for a Breakout Season?
By The-Ozone Staff

The Buckeyes are replacing two senior offensive linemen in guards Justin Boren and Bryant Browning this year, and for the first five games of the season they'll also be replacing left tackle Mike Adams.

Clearly, the offensive line is going to be a major focus this season, and how well they perform will go a long way in determining whether this season, amidst all of its drama and dilemma, will be a success or not.

Boren and Adams were both first team All-Big Ten last year, so the Ohio State coaching staff won't be looking for just anybody to replace them. They'll be looking for players who will allow the offense to avoid a drop-off in the trenches, and they'll be looking for players to take that next step and become mainstays themselves.

Fortunately, there are a handful of candidates who fit this bill, though you may not agree on who most fits this bill.

So, with all of that in mind, we ask:  Which of the young Buckeye offensive linemen is set for a breakout season?

Brandon Castel -- With two (and a half) spots open on the starting offensive line this off-season, there are a number of talented young guys competing to be on the field this fall. They only have 11 linemen in camp this spring, including three walk-ons and a true freshman who enrolled early, but the other seven are all pretty solid players. I wouldn’t be surprised if all seven of them started multiple games for the Buckeyes this fall for one reason or another.

One reason at least six of them will start at some point is the fact Mike Adams will miss the first five games of the year because of the NCAA suspension.

That means three spots are up for grabs this spring, and the guy who has really jumped out at me is Andrew Norwell. He is big and strong and is only going to get stronger. It’s hard to believe this is his first spring practice in Columbus. He already looks like a tree trunk, much thicker than guys like Adams and J.B. Shugarts did early in their careers.

He stepped in so easily last year when Shugarts’ feet were giving him problems that it was hard to even think of Norwell as a freshman. He has natural instincts that I’m not sure any of the other younger guys have when it comes to pass blocking. He has long arms and does a great job getting his hands on defenders, pushing them wide and out of the play. He seems to play with an attitude, but that doesn’t detract from his technique.

Norwell may not even be in the starting lineup on opening day, depending on what happens at the left tackle spot, but he will be in there at some point.

We knew he could play right tackle based on what we saw last year, but Norwell has shown some unexpected versatility this spring by working at both left guard and left tackle.

Regardless of where he ends up this year, I would expect Norwell to be in the starting lineup to begin next season. By the time he leaves, he may end up being better than either of the current starting tackles.

Tony Gerdeman -- In general, I've always felt that the redshirt sophomore year is when you can fairly expect a quality offensive lineman to emerge. As true freshmen, only the elite are ready to play, and most of them don't truly come into their own until their third year anyway.

Just look at Mike Adams. He entered 2010, his junior season, battling Andrew Miller for the left tackle spot that he shared in 2009. Not only did he win the spot last year, but he was All-Big Ten as well.

Even though he earned All-Conference accolades, it took him three seasons to finally begin to live up to his hype. Now here we are, just a year after wondering if Adams was ever going to emerge, and we're wondering how the Buckeyes are ever going to manage without him.

But the truth is, Ohio State has three tremendous young linemen to choose from. Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall both played extensive minutes at tackle as true freshmen, and either would be a good bet to break out as sophomores.

But whoever wins that left tackle spot to start the season, will almost assuredly be losing it after five games. That's why I'm going with the guy who will probably be too busy elsewhere to win it--Jack Mewhort.

Mewhort enrolled in the winter of 2009 and participated in spring ball as a true freshman, but still redshirted. He started out at center, and has branched out wider and wider each year.

He can now play all five positions on the offensive line, and play them well. Because of this, it's no surprise that he's repping everywhere on the line this spring.

Mewhort will likely win one of the two open guard spots this season, and won't have to move anywhere when Adams returns. Instead, he will grow into his position and make it his own, and by the end of the year he will be one of the most talked about offensive linemen on the Ohio State team.

The versatile Mewhort is a Jack of all trades, and could quite possibly become a master of a few of them as well. 

John Porentas: I'm not as smart at Tony or Brandon (just ask them) but I do get around a little, and that's why I'm the one that really knows which young lineman is going to have a breakout year this year.

One of the places I get around to on a regular basis is Hershey, Pennsylvania. I go there every year for the Big 33 All-Star game.

Hershey is a long way from Columbus, over eight hours away by car. The Big 33 game is played in the evening. Due to the long drive back, we always stay the night after the game and drive back the next day, and that is one of the reasons I know who the breakout lineman will be.

A few years ago the Ohio All-Stars beat the Pennsylvania All-Stars in a game that featured an impressive number of offensive line recruits headed to Ohio State. One of those offensive linemen was Marcus Hall.

I'd like to be able to tell you that I watched him play in that game and knew right then and there that he was going to be a good one. I'd like to tell you that, but I'd be lying, because as I said earlier, I'm not all that smart.

What I can say, however, is that getting around is often enlightening, and in this case, getting around, and getting back home, was extremely enlightening.

We left for Ohio around mid-morning after spending the night in Hershey after the game. Before hitting the highway, we stopped for gas. As I gassed up Ozzie (the-Ozonemobile) I noticed that the car on the other side of the pump had Ohio plates, then I noticed that the guy pumping the gas was wearing a Big 33 t-shirt.

"In town to see the game?" I asked.

"Uh, not really," the guys said. "I've been here all week. I was an assistant coach on the Ohio team."

"Really," says I, "what position?"

"Offensive like," says he.

Jackpot. I get to talk to somebody who REALLY knows about these guys.

"Looked like they all played pretty well," said I. "Did any of them stand out to you?"

The man never hesitated.

"Marcus Hall," said he.

"What was it about him?" was my brilliant and penetrating follow up question. "His size, his strength, his technique, what?"

"Well is big, and he's strong, really strong," said he, "but he's also really raw. His technique is surprisingly undeveloped, but that will come, but what really sets him apart is that he plays every play like he's mad; really, really mad."

"Surely those other guys were fired up too," said I. "They seemed to play well."

"Yeah." said my fellow gas pumper "but fired up and mad are different, and Marcus plays football like a guy who is just plain angry, and he didn't do it just in the game. He did it practice too. I'm telling you, there were some very good linemen there, but of the bunch he stood out because of that angry streak."

Later that summer I ran into Jim Bollman and told him that story. Bollman didn't say anything, but a very tight, wry little smile came to his face, and he looked at me out of the corner of his eye. It was the kind of knowing look that said "Well, I'm really not going to confirm that, but I'm well aware of what you are talking about, and we're really excited about Marcus."

I wasn't surprised when Marcus earned playing time as a true freshman, not because I am smart, but because I get around a little and talk to some people who are smart. If you want to put this all together with a nice red ribbon, go back and read the first installment of Around the-Ozone Water Cooler. In that one we talked about the toughest senior to replace, and my guy was Justin Boren because he was the one who brought the angry attitude to the OSU offensive line. Well guess what. Marcus Hall is a guy who can bring that very same attitude, and that's why he is going to be the standout young offensive lineman this season.

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