Most Important Buckeyes: No. 8
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It's not often that an offensive lineman is also tied for fifth on the team in career receptions entering the season, but that was the case in 2012 for right tackle Reid Fragel. With 14 receptions for 185 yards and a touchdown to his credit, Fragel was one of the few Buckeye pass catchers who actually had experience catching passes.
Photo by Dan Harker
Moved from tight end after the 2011 season, Fragel finally got to stop playing a glorified tackle and got to try his hand at the real McCoy. Turns out it fit him pretty well.
Some positional moves are educated guesses or experiments, but this was a move of necessity for both parties. Ohio State needed a tackle, and Fragel's NFL potential was much higher on the offensive line than at tight end. Clearly, both the Buckeyes and Fragel benefited from the move.
The newly-girthed Fragel started all 12 games for the Buckeyes at right tackle and improved every single time out. He went from a question mark to start the season to one of the more dependable members of the Ohio State offense.
Fragel always had the ability to block, and many thought that offensive tackle is where he would ultimately end up, but to be able to make the switch in his final season and play as well as he did is as close to miraculous as football can get.
What Made Him Important
Everything. The Buckeyes went into 2012 with less depth on the offensive line than Urban Meyer would have liked, and that was with a strong close to the recruiting class with three offensive linemen in the final two weeks prior to Signing Day.
However, there was no way that Meyer or offensive line coach Ed Warinner wanted to rely on a freshman unless that freshman actually won the job. In other words, they needed Fragel to play well enough in camp to win the job because a senior on the offensive line is always more comforting than a freshman.
During fall camp, he rotated on the first team with freshman Taylor Decker. The staff had to give both players an equal shot so that the better player would ultimately win out. It wasn't always pretty for Fragel, but then that is to be expected going against the likes of John Simon in practice. Even though he was splitting snaps, he never lost his status as "1A" at right tackle.
Because of the way he took to the position, he solidified the offensive line entirely. He was the only question mark. The staff knew early on who their starters were, and the only question was whether or not Fragel would be able to hold off Decker.
With the offensive line solidified, the Buckeyes were able to become the dominating power running team that you witnessed win every game that they played this season.
What Would The Buckeyes Have Done Without Him?
They probably would have tried a couple of things. We can assume that Decker, who enrolled early and participated in the spring, would have been given an early crack at the right tackle job. If he played well, he would have had a great shot at winning the spot.
However, he still would have been a freshman and been prone to freshman mistakes during games. As a tackle, holding is a drive killer, and giving up sacks is even more dangerous. That's a lot to ask of a true freshman.
Had Decker not shown himself capable of handing the responsibility of being the starting right tackle, the next step would have likely been moving Andrew Norwell from left guard to right tackle.
Norwell can play tackle just fine because he's done it before, but if he would have had to move to right tackle, you then lose an All-Big Ten guard who paved many holes for Ohio State's inside running game. In Norwell's place would likely have been sophomore Antonio Underwood, who is a solid backup, but he wasn't ready for primetime yet.
Moving Norwell would have been a little bit of robbing Peter to pay Paul, as John Cooper used to say.
The Ohio State offensive line was the most consistent aspect of the entire Buckeye team this past season. The same five players started all 12 games, and they performed spectacularly at times. They broke wills, ran clocks, and paved roads.
How Does It Compare to Our Preseason Expectations?
Fragel was 17th on our preseason list, and looking back, we undervalued him. We made the mistake of looking at Fragel as a single individual, rather than 20% of a five-piece puzzle that would decide Ohio State's fate this season.
But it wasn't just that he made the offensive line complete, it's also the fact that he played a very good right tackle. He could have very easily been the weak link on the offensive line, but by the time conference play rolled around, he was in lockstep with the rest of his linemates and they moved in unison more often than not.
No. 9 Philly Brown
No. 10 Jack Mewhort
No. 11 Devin Smith
No. 12 Corey Linsley
No. 13 Nathan Williams
No. 14 Christian Bryant
No. 15 Etienne Sabino
No. 16 Andrew Norwell
No. 17 Travis Howard
No. 18 C.J. Barnett
No. 19 Garrett Goebel
No. 20 Kenny Guiton
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