Brains, Not Brawn, Make Decker One to Watch for Fall Camp
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Once considered too lanky to play offensive line at a major program like Ohio State, Taylor Decker is on the verge of a starting spot after just 15 practices.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The former basketball junky out Vandalia Butler has blossomed into a 6-8, 315-pound monster on the gridiron, but it’s Decker’s brains that have him in position to battle senior Reid Fragel for a starting spot on the offensive line this fall.
“He’s very smart,” said Ohio State’s first-year offensive line coach Ed Warinner.
“He’s very football-smart—smarter than anyone else in my room. He has pretty good technique for a guy that could still be in high school.”
It was Warinner who helped Urban Meyer lure Decker away from Notre Dame. That was right after the Buckeyes’ new head coach had finished snaring Warinner away from South Bend—where he was an assistant under Brian Kelly.
Meyer and Warinner knew they both liked Decker a lot—far more than the previous coaching staff in Columbus—but neither probably expected him to step on the field in April and make this kind of impact.
At least not right away.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“A lot of times, guys come in who could still be in high school at 315 pounds and they’re out of shape and they can’t run and stay up with the pace that we have,” Warinner said.
“He’s not having any trouble with that, and he’s managing school pretty well, too.”
Decker’s new teammates noticed his intelligence right away. They almost couldn’t believe how much Decker could already do the first time he put on a practice jersey at Ohio State.
“I remember the first day he came into the meeting room, he knew the whole offense,” fourth-year junior Jack Mewhort said earlier this summer.
“He had been looking at the playbook for three days. It was a little bit of a shocker, in a good way. His work ethic is incredible, so he’s going to be great here.”
The Buckeyes need him to be great.
When Meyer took over the team in November, he realized almost immediately that he was facing a crisis at the offensive tackle position. More precisely, he had none.
With seniors Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts headed to the NFL, Ohio State was left with a bunch of guys who were better suited to play inside at guard or center. That was before Reid Fragel approached Meyer about making the switch from tight end to tackle following the bowl game.
It wasn’t until Decker arrived in the spring, however, that Meyer started to feel a little bit better about the position heading into 2012.
“Without question, the addition of Taylor Decker makes the offensive line ‘functional,’” Meyer said back in April.
“I put them as non-functional in January and very functional after spring practice.”
Part of that was the transformation of guys like Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall, but Meyer was so impressed with Decker, he declared a position battle at right tackle heading into fall camp.
“Reid Fragel is in a dogfight for that position,” Meyer said after spring practice.
“Taylor Decker is right on his heels.”
That is, of course, if Decker stays at right tackle. He was playing both tackle spots in the spring and had worked his way into being the first backup on either side. That distinction suddenly becomes critical with Mewhort being suspended indefinitely.
If he misses any practice time—or especially if he is going to miss a game—Decker would likely become the first-team left tackle at the start of fall camp.
“He has a bright, bright future,” Warinner said.
“He has all the tools and it will just be a matter of how quickly it comes. He’s coming along faster than we thought he would.”
In reality, it can never be fast enough.
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