2013 Spring Recap - The Offensive Line
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The offensive line was the strength of the Buckeyes last year, and with four starters back this season, it is expected to be the strength yet again.
"That's a great thing," offensive line coach Ed Warinner said of having four starters back.
"It's because they're hard workers, it's important to them, they want to be good. They do the little things, they take coaching, and they come out here every day ready to go.
"They just have an attitude that the strength coaches love them, the guys in the training room love them, the academic people love them, they show up.
"They've kind of matured that way. It wasn't where they were at a while back and they've kind of matured and grown up and they see the benefits of that."
While we didn't get to see a ton of tone-setting power football that was a hallmark last year, there was an entire spring practice that featured short-yardage situations, and the offense delivered more often than not.
The interior of the offensive line should be one of the best in the nation, and they'll be even more effective this year with everybody being a year older, wiser and better. Each running back had their moments this spring, and that was because of the lanes being opened up in the trenches.
Even though there were some issues tying to pass protect against defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, this should still be a very good unit in terms of pass blocking, provided the right tackle situation situates.
There are four All-Conference candidates on this offensive line, and nothing we saw this spring should change that.
Returning Starters: LT Jack Mewhort (Sr.), LG Andrew Norwell (Sr.), C Corey Linsley (Sr.), RG Marcus Hall (Sr.)
Jack Mewhort spent the offseason focusing on becoming more comfortable as a pass blocker, and this spring he was put to the test on a daily basis in that regard. He was the only lineman who had any luck against Noah Spence, who has incredible speed and burst. Once he gets to the regular season, other pass rushers will seem slow by comparison.
Photo by Dan Harker
Mewhort was a calming influence for this offense during the spring. Rarely did Braxton Miller have to worry about his blind side.
"With Jack, the thing is that he does everything the way you would want a guy to do it in terms of working out extremely hard, having enthusiasm and energy at workouts, leading by example, being a pro, being on time, you know studying film extra, doing extra stuff outside of what is required," Warinner said last month. "Communicating with the younger players, trying to help them mentally and leadership wise. I mean just a lot of things that."
Andrew Norwell was the lone Buckeye lineman to be named First-Team All-Big Ten last year, and more is expected of him this season. He rarely had issues in pass protection this spring, and his ability to seal his man out of the running game continued to be evident. There's just very little to worry about here.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"Norwell’s become more of a leader too and I think that showed by us naming him a captain in the spring game," Warinner said.
"And also just because he’s worked really hard to improve his body, his physical attributes, his mentality, his work ethic, his practices habits. He’s taken a step and really become a top-level football player. He’s a First-Team All-Conference guy who’s improved maybe as much as anyone on this offensive line this offseason."
Photo by Dan Harker
If Norwell wasn't the most improved lineman on the team, then it was certainly Marcus Hall. Coming into the spring, I thought there was a chance that Hall would be battling Chase Farris for the right guard spot, but it never happened. Hall's job was apparently never in doubt, and that's because of the work he put in once last season ended. Hall has always had a mean streak, and for the last year that mean streak has turned Hall into a road-grading run blocker.
"He's leaner, has much better weight distribution, and his feet are much quicker," said Warinner.
"Even Coach Meyer, he watches the line too some, he said 'Wow, his feet are a lot quicker.' He's just quicker moving around. That's the hard training that he's done. Marcus has improved his footwork a lot. His quickness and change of direction, and all of the little mechanics of playing offensive line have improved a lot."
Photo by Jim Davidson
Corey Linsley battled a foot injury and missed much of the spring, but his coaches weren't concerned. The injury allowed both Patrick Elflein and Jacoby Boren to get some quality snaps with the first team, and they weren't out of place when given the opportunities.
"He does everything the right way," Warinner said of Linsley. "He’s real smart, I mean football smart. He communicates to the group and he tries to make sure he’s the quarterback of the O-Line and he does a good job with that."
Others Returning: RT Taylor Decker (So.), RT Chase Farris (rSo.), RG Tommy Brown (rSo.), C Jacoby Boren (So.), C/G Patrick Elflein (rFr.), G Antonio Underwood (Jr.), T Darryl Baldwin (rJr.), T Kyle Dodson (rFr.)
Photo by Dan Harker
Taylor Decker and Chase Farris battled all spring for the right tackle spot. While the coaches and players will tell you that it's wide open, it would seem that Decker has the upper hand at the moment. Granted, neither of them could handle Noah Spence or Adolphus Washington this spring, but Reid Fragel was just as troubled a year ago at this time.
"It’s pretty close right now (between Farris and Decker), but we’ll see how that goes," Warinner said. "It will sort itself out, but I feel like we’re in good shape compared to last year. Last year we were still battling all the way up to the week before the first game. I feel like we’re ahead of that.
"The sky's the limit for Taylor Decker. He has unlimited football ability in terms of size, strength, bend-ability, athleticism. What I'm preaching to him is that technique stuff; technique, technique, technique, because he's learned to compete a little bit better and he's practicing harder now, so now it's technique, technique, technique."
When Warinner was at Notre Dame, he recruited Farris to play offensive line. When Warinner then got to Ohio State, and he saw how far down the defensive depth chart that Farris was, he lobbied Urban Meyer to move the redshirt freshman to offense. So far, so good.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"He should play a lot of football for us," Warinner said. "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."
Jacoby Boren and Pat Elflein will provide some very important depth, along with whomever comes in second in the right tackle battle. Both players had successful springs, and certainly boosted their coaches' confidence in them. There were times when both were instrumental in blasting holes against a defensive line that frequently featured 340-pound Chris Carter. Elflein brings the added feature of being able to play guard as well as center.
"I feel real good about those two guys," Warinner said. "They both rotated in there with the first group and second group throughout the spring and got a lot of reps and showed us what they can do. The emergence of Elflein has been good because he’s going to be a really good player for Ohio State. So we liked what we saw out of him because he’s a freshman that had redshirted and started off slow with injury last year."
Antonio Underwood tore an ACL and could end up redshirting this season since he still has that option available. He was one of the top eight linemen on the roster, but this spring went a long way towards finding some quality depth.
It remains to be seen how much playing time backups Darryl Baldwin and Kyle Dodson will see this year, though tackle is a pretty thin position at the moment. The fact that Farris moved from guard to tackle over the offseason was not a coincidence.
"This was the second spring for Baldwin on offense, so we're trying to get the most out of him," Warinner said.
"He’s got a lot of measurables that are really good. He’s strong, fast, tall, long, and he’s learning how to play the position. He’s a confident guy that’s smart.
"Kyle Dodson got a ton of reps in the Spring Game, played left tackle and did a nice job. He performed better than I thought he might in the Spring Game. I was pleased with him, so I see that his future a year from now could be someone that could help us."
Newcomers: G Tim Gardner (Fr.), T Evan Lisle (Fr.)
Neither offensive line signee has arrived on campus yet. However, given that the Buckeyes start four seniors, and will be losing all four of them after the 2013 season, I'm not sure how interested the coaches are in redshirting the incoming freshmen. They might prefer to get as many players as much as experience as possible, that way they can hit the ground running next spring.
Like the Buckeyes' current guards, much has been made of Tim Gardner's tremendous feet, which make him a pretty good run blocker. Meanwhile, Evan Lisle's frame has room to grow, and he has the potential to become a premier pass blocker in the Big Ten.
Jack Mewhort (6-7 308, rSr.)
Darryl Baldwin (6-6 307, rJr.) OR
Kyle Dodson (6-6 324, rFr.)
Andrew Norwell (6-6 319, Sr.)
Eric Kramer (6-4 295, rJr.)
Timothy Gardner (6-5 320, Fr.)
Corey Linsley (6-3 297, rSr.)
Jacoby Boren (6-2 287, So.) OR
Pat Elflein (6-2 293, rFr.)
Marcus Hall (6-6 315, rSr.)
Tommy Brown (6-3 310, rSo.)
Taylor Decker (6-7 315, So.)
Chase Farris (6-4 300, rSo.)
Evan Lisle (6-6 280, Fr.)
Dodson, Elflein Could Give Buckeyes More Depth Up Front
After Spending Spring in Background, Linsley Being Asked to Step to Forefront
Thinking Out Loud on Spence, Washington, Battle at Right Tackle
Time to Shine: Spotlight on Young Players in Ohio State’s Spring Game
Two-Minute Drill: Meyer, Mewhort on B1G Spring Teleconference
Practice Insider: Battle to Replace Fragel Heating Up
Spring Practice Insider: Short-Yardage Drills Set the Tone
In Ohio State’s Search for Leadership, Meyer will Start with Big Jack Mewhort
Two Minute Drill: OL and DL Updates After Practice
Spring Position Battles to Watch: Right Tackle
Spring Forecast: Offensive Line
Five Players to Watch This Spring: Offense
10 Questions Facing the OSU Offense Heading Into Spring Practice