A good offensive line can be compared to a chain – a resilient object made of five individual links.
Ohio State’s offensive line, which includes four returning seniors, still has a question mark in place of its fifth link.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Sophomore Taylor Decker hopes he’s the answer.
The six-foot-seven, 315 pound lineman out of Vandalia is the leading contender to be that last remaining link, but as he well knows, the right tackle spot won’t just be handed to him. He’ll have to earn it.
“I have high expectations for Taylor,” offensive line coach Ed Warinner said. “I’ve seen an improved player, a player with more confidence, a very talented player. I mean, he’s got physical skills now. He can bend, he can move, he’s developing his strength and his toughness.
“What we need to see from him is consistency day-in and day-out.”
Warinner wouldn’t commit to Decker being the starter, but did say he holds the advantage.
“They have to earn their way to be my guy. Three days is not quite enough yet,” he said. “Right now he’s in the lead at that spot and we’ll go from there.”
Decker battled well into fall camp last season for the same spot, only to be eventually beaten out by tight end-turned-lineman Reid Fragel.
This time around, it will likely come down to Decker or redshirt sophomore Chase Farris, though Warinner did say others were in the mix as well.
But just earning the starting spot isn’t enough for Decker. He wants to be on equal footing with the rest of the line, and not perceived as the weakest link.
“That really is driving me right now,” he said. “I don't want to be detrimental. I want to be an asset to this team.”
After enrolling early in March of 2012, Decker played in all 12 games for the Buckeyes last season, but mostly on special teams. He appeared on the line in four games, playing a career-high 22 snaps against Illinois.
Warinner said Decker’s inexperience was what held him back as a freshman.
"He was a freshman, he was young, and he didn't come from the highest level of high school football so the level of competition was something he had to adjust to.” Warinner said.
Coming back for his second spring, Decker knew he had a shot at landing the starting job, but said he didn’t live up to his own expectations.
“I just wasn't playing up to my ability,” he said. “I know what’s expected of me. I haven't lived up to those expectations yet and I'm not as good as I need to be yet.”
Despite his own perceived shortcomings, his teammates had only praise to offer.
Left guard Andrew Norwell, a first-team Big Ten honoree a year ago, said Decker has looked good so far.
“He’s coming along great,” Norwell said. “He’s improved a lot since spring ball. He’s gotten stronger and faster over the summer. I have no problem with him playing at right tackle, I think he’s going to do great for us.”
But Norwell isn’t going to make things too easy for Decker. With a line comprised of four seniors, a little bit of rookie hazing had to be expected.
“We like to push his buttons. We gotta mess around with him a little bit,” Norwell said. “Usually calling him ugly or saying something about his hair, but it’s all good fun.”