Spring Position Battles to Watch: Right Tackle
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s a strange spring in Columbus from a position battle standpoint. After filling out the defense with most seniors last year, the Buckeyes will have openings all over Luke Fickell’s unit heading into the 2013 season.
That includes six spots in the front seven, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good battles to watch on the offensive side of the ball. We already spotlighted the three guys fighting for that No. 2 tailback spot behind senior Carlos Hyde this spring, but an even more important battle is taking place at right tackle.
Shoes to Fill: Reid Fragel
Photo by Dan Harker
How impressive was Fragel last season in his first and only go-around as a starting offensive tackle at Ohio State? Let’s just say Urban Meyer is planning to name an award after him. That award will go to the guy who comes basically out of nowhere to become one of the better players on the team.
Fragel did exactly that. He wasn’t really “nowhere” before Meyer got to Columbus. Fragel actually started the Gator Bowl at tight end, but he struggled in his switch to offensive tackle during the spring.
It looked like Ohio State might have to rely on a true freshman in Taylor Decker, but the competition went a completely different way in the fall. Fragel looked like a new player, and quickly went from taking half the first-team reps at right tackle to taking almost all of them.
He turned in a fine senior season and was invited to the NFL Combine last month as a monstrous 6-8 offensive tackle.
The Favorite: Taylor Decker (6-7, 313, So.)
Photo by Dan Harker
The fact Decker lost his battle for the starting right tackle spot last offseason had everything to do with Fragel and very little to do with Decker. It’s not often that a freshman can walk in off the street and challenge a senior for the starting spot.
Eventually, Fragel figured it out and the Buckeyes were better for it, but there was a feeling all along that everything would be all right if they ever had to go with Decker at right tackle.
Long term, this kid is probably going to be Ohio State’s replacement for senior Jack Mewhort at the left tackle spot after the 2013 season, and he’s going to get the first chance to replace Fragel this spring.
At 6-7, 315 pounds, Decker is just as monstrous as Fragel was last year. He probably isn’t on the same level yet as a run blocker, but Decker has more natural pass blocking skills than anyone on the roster other than Mewhort.
He was a three-year letterman in basketball at Vandalia Butler, and has great footwork and agility for an offensive tackle. Those are things Meyer and line coach Ed Warinner love to see in a tackle, but now they’re also going to want to see some toughness.
The Challenger: Chase Farris (6-4, 290, rSo.)
Decker took the bulk of the first-team snaps at right tackle on Tuesday as the Buckeyes opened spring camp. The only other guy to see reps with the first group on day one was Farris, a redshirt sophomore out of Elyria.
We had heard good things about Farris since the middle of last season, when both Meyer and Warinner praised the progress he has made since moving over from defensive line during his rookie season.
The 6-4 lineman has added 15 pounds of muscle since last spring, and he is up to 300 now and certainly looks the part of an offensive tackle. Farris played mostly inside at guard last year, but he is probably the most athletic guy they have up front offensively.
If nothing else, he should provide good depth at the tackle position if he can’t beat out Decker for the starting spot.
The Darkhorse: Kyle Dodson (6-6, 324, rFr.)
This would be a long, long, long shot at this point, but we are not ruling out the idea of someone else emerging as a darkhorse this offseason. There is still a lot of time between now and the start of the 2013 season, and Dodson certainly has the raw ability to play the position.
He looks like a monster, but hasn’t played enough football to really develop the right instincts it takes to play offensive tackle. Dodson was working as the No. 3 guy at left tackle on Tuesday, behind Mewhort and Darryl Baldwin, another converted defensive lineman.
Dodson was highly-recruited out of Cleveland Heights, even though he missed his junior season of high school ball. He has to develop better footwork and lateral movement if he’s going to stay out on the edge, but Dodson has the strength and athleticism to develop into an excellent offensive tackle.
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