Spring Forecast: Offensive Line
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Buckeyes return arguably the best offensive line in the Big Ten, so much will be expected of them as spring practice opens.
With four starters back from the conference's top run game last season, Ohio State should be able to pick right up where they left off.
Generally when camps open, the defenses are ahead of the offenses. That may not quite be the case when it comes to this Ohio State team, and it will start up front with the offensive line.
Who's Coming Back?
Aside from right tackle Reid Fragel, every offensive lineman who saw the field last season returns. First-team All-Big Ten left guard Andrew Norwell returns, as does second-team All-Big Ten left tackle Jack Mewhort.
Right guard Marcus Hall returns for his fifth season, and center Corey Linsley is back as well. Along with Fragel, this offensive line unit managed to start all 12 games last season, staying remarkably healthy throughout.
Those four returning starters are now seniors, and not only will they lead this offense forward, but they will also have to help shepherd the offensive line depth along as well.
The Buckeyes brought in five offensive linemen in the 2012 class, and four of them return this season. Jacoby Boren won the backup center job pretty quickly and he is the favorite there again this year.
Taylor Decker is the best bet to take over Fragel's vacated right tackle spot. Kyle Dodson will fight to add depth at tackle as well, and Pat Elflein will look to do the same on the interior. Third-year players Chase Farris and Antonio Underwood will each solidify the depth greatly. Tommy Brown and Darryl Baldwin also return to add further depth.
Expectations Heading Into Spring
The expectations are rather large. Not only should this be the best offensive line in the conference, but it should also be one of the best lines in the entire nation. That won't be where they are at the start of spring practice, but they should at least show Urban Meyer that they'll be there by September.
The offense will be ahead of the defense, and it shouldn't really be that close. With an untested defensive line, this very tested offensive line should control most of their matchups during scrimmages.
The veterans will perform to their expectations because they've already done it during actual games. This staff won't let anybody get fat and happy, even this generally jovial offensive line.
Best Case Scenario
The best case scenario is that the battle for right tackle is still up for grabs once spring practice is over. Not because there wasn't anybody who played well enough to win the job, rather because two players competed so well that they don't want to relegate one to the second team yet.
If all goes as planned, the two deep will become readily apparent by the time the Spring Game rolls around. That two deep may still have an "OR" at right tackle, but the coaches won't mind.
Much of the second unit is going to be starting in 2014, so Meyer and Ed Warinner have to start weeding that stuff out early on in order to get them playing time now. Ideally, the backups will play well enough this spring, which will build their confidence and springboard them into summer practices where they can then begin to fight for actual playing time.
One to Watch For
Let's go with redshirt sophomore Chase Farris. Farris moved from the defensive line to the offensive line last summer and quickly found himself as the backup at right guard. He performed well enough in practice, which built up the confidence that his coaches had in him.
He has opened this spring as the second-team right tackle, though he has also mixed in a bit with the first team. The fact that he is pushing for playing time at tackle, coupled with his experience at guard, would make him an ideal "first guy off the bench" when it comes to the offensive line.
Trending Up or Down
The offensive line as a unit is certainly trending up, and if any of the players begin trending down, they will be replaced. There are now more bodies to choose from on the offensive line than in the past, so spots will be harder to keep.
If players begin losing the spots that they opened with, it may be because they are trending down, or simply because others are trending up. As a whole, however, this unit has four-wheel drive and doesn't seem concerned with obstacles.
Having a left tackle like Jack Mewhort to protect Braxton Miller's blind side is a luxury that few teams will have this season. He is not only an All-Conference candidate, but an All-American candidate as well.
Corey Linsley got the short shrift last year from the Big Ten coaches and media, but he should receive preseason accolades from a slew of outlets this summer.
Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell were perhaps the best pair of guards last season, and will only be better with another year under Warinner.
Fans are rightfully excited about the high-scoring prospects of this Ohio State offense, but the bulk of that scoring will be made possible by this offensive line.People want to talk about the speed that this offense will possess, but it's the power that will make everything go.
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