Practice Insider: Battle to Replace Fragel Heating Up
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — About this time last year, Urban Meyer wasn’t sure Reid Fragel was cut out to be Ohio State’s starting right tackle.
The senior out of Michigan had done everything the coaching staff had asked him to do. He converted from tight end to offensive tackle over the winter following his junior season with the Buckeyes, bulking up to 300 pounds for the task of playing offensive line in Meyer’s new spread attack.
Photo by Dan Harker
New offensive line coach Ed Warinner was giving Fragel a crash course in pass protection, but the Buckeyes also had a talented young freshman on the roster named Taylor Decker.
The 6-7 rookie out of Vandalia Butler already had the natural ability to play the position, and it looked like Fragel might not be able to hold him off by the time the season rolled around.
“I think from day one it was a challenge, but being a competitive guy I like challenges,” Fragel said last month during Ohio State’s Pro Day.
“Just the constant push from Coach Meyer, Coach Warinner and Kirk Barton, they did a phenomenal job pushing me from day one. They helped me get to where I am today.”
Today, Fragel is a legitimate NFL prospect as an offensive tackle. He started all 12 games for the Buckeyes last season on the right side of the offensive line, and might have been their best lineman over the last 2-3 games of the season.
He was certainly one of their best, especially in the running game, but Decker had a different type of year as the backup to both Fragel and Jack Mewhort on the OSU offensive line.
“There was just a different maturity level; a different physical, mental and emotional maturity level,” Warinner said this spring.
“Freshmen usually always hit the wall at some point, and Decker kind of hit the wall right at the beginning of the season a little bit and kind of flattened out. Taylor went into survival mode and got through the season. Some guys do that. That's why there aren't many freshmen that play.”
While Fragel is headed for the NFL – he has recently met with at least five different teams who interested in drafting him as a tackle – the Buckeyes do return their other four starters on the offensive line this spring.
“It makes it easy to get up at 5:30 in the morning and come in here,” Warinner said. “I can tell you that.”
It also puts a lot of attention on the right tackle position, where Decker finds himself in another battle this spring with redshirt sophomore Chase Farris. It once seemed like a foregone conclusion that Decker would step in and replace Fragel, but now a new name has emerged as contender for the fifth starting spot on the line this spring.
“It’s between three guys right now,” Meyer said after practice Tuesday.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“It’s Chase, it’s Decker and the next guy who started surfacing is Pat Elflein. He probably wouldn’t be right tackle, but we would move someone to right tackle if he’s the next in.”
Both returning guards – Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall – have started games at tackle in their four-year careers at Ohio State. That’s probably not the ideal situation for the Buckeyes, but Elflein has the ability to play both guard and center.
The Pickerington North product is coming off a redshirt year as a rookie last season, and he was considered to be the third-team center heading into the spring behind Corey Linsley and Jacoby Boren.
“A big surprise, but I love who he is,” Meyer said. “He is a tough guy now.”
Elflein was taking some reps at center with the first-team offense in practice this week, but only because Linsley and Mewhort are getting some extra rest so Meyer and Warinner can get a closer look at some of the guys behind them.
That includes both Decker and Farris, who have been sharing reps as the first-team right tackle this spring. Decker has taken the majority of the snaps with the four returning starters up front, but Farris is a guy who Warinner actually recruited as an offensive lineman when he was an assistant at Notre Dame.
“I had always had my eye on him since he was in high school. I got here and he wasn't really in the picture on defense, so I lobbied every day until Coach Meyer had no choice to either fire me,” Warinner joked.
“He should play a lot of football for us. He has a great upside and he has a couple more years. He's very athletic. If he's not the most athletic guy we have he's one of them.”
Farris showed off that athleticism in practice on Tuesday when he speared defensive back Armani Reeves at the end of a 70-yard interception return. That’s not exactly what they’re hoping to get out of Farris this season, but the starting tackle job is still Decker’s lose at the moment.
“That’s the hardest position to make a jump,” Meyer said.
“He’s probably a little ahead of where Fragel was this time last year, but we’ll see if he makes the same strides Fragel did.”
If he does, Decker has all the tools to be one of the great tackles to come through Ohio State.
“The sky's the limit for him,” Warinner added.
“He has unlimited football ability in terms of size, strength, bend-ability, athleticism. What I'm preaching to him is technique, technique, technique.”
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