OSU Spring Forecast: Offensive Line
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer has talked about the Ohio State defense as being in a bit of an upheaval with all of the starters lost in the back seven, but the same can absolutely be said for the offensive line.
Coming into the 2014 season, there are many more questions than answers for the Buckeyes offensive line, and most of the answers would actually qualify as assumptions rather than answers.
Last season's offensive line was one of the best in the nation, and likely one of the best in school history. A drop off is expected this coming season, but those expectations can be planned for.
There is going to be an immense amount of pressure on the offensive line this year. The Ohio State offense is still expected to be one of the best in the conference, and if it isn't, the finger pointing will begin with the offensive line.
Who's Coming Back?
Despite the loss of four starters, there are still quite a few offensive linemen returning. Number one among them is junior Taylor Decker (6-7 315), who moves from right tackle to left tackle. Also returning is Pat Elflein (6-3 295), who filled in for Marcus Hall at right guard without any drop off last season.
:Photo by Dan Harker
Center Jacoby Boren (6-2 290) returns, and did well backing up Corey Linsley at times last season. From the way Urban Meyer has talked about redshirt freshman Billy Price (6-3 299), however, there could be quite a lengthy battle for the starting center spot.
Redshirt senior Darryl Baldwin (6-6 310) was Jack Mewhort's backup last season, and more is expected of him this season. Whether those expectations can be met or not will hinge on how he does this spring. Redshirt freshman Evan Lisle (6-6 297) will see his first extended action as he battles for a starting tackle job.
Veteran guards Antonio Underwood (6-2 303) and Tommy Brown (6-4 308) are also back, though Underwood is returning from a knee injury. Last year's starting nose tackle Joel Hale (6-4 310) has moved to the offensive line, so expect to see him on the depth chart at one of the guard spots. Chase Farris (6-4 308) may be back on the offensive line as well, after spending most of the season on defense a year ago.
Freshmen Kyle Trout (6-6 295) and Marcelys Jones (6-4 340) are on campus already, and redshirt sophomore Kyle Dodson (6-6 310) will likely be in the mix at guard.
Expectations Heading Into Spring
Taylor Decker will be expected to anchor the offensive line from his left tackle spot, and most believe that he will excel there. He will certainly be tested by the likes of Noah Spence and Joey Bosa throughout the spring.
While not a starter a year ago, there is very little concern about Pat Elflein's ability to hold his own in 2014. He showed so much ability last season whenever he was in the game, and he should fill his guard role seamlessly.
The rest of the offensive line is a bit of a toss up. What the coaches are expecting, however, is a solid competition everywhere. They like their overall numbers on the offensive line, they just need to find the appropriate talent amongst those numbers.
Best Case Scenario
What offensive line coach Ed Warinner is shooting for is to find his top eight offensive linemen, which would also include his starting five. If he can find those eight, then he and Urban Meyer would leave the spring as happy men. Unless, of course, those five or eight guys are the only guys they have who can play.
Along with his starting five, Warinner is going to want to find a backup tackle, backup guard and a backup center. The backup center sounds like it won't be hard to find, as both Jacoby Boren and Billy Price have earned good reviews. The other two backups will be more difficult to find, and if all goes well for the Buckeyes, those choices will be made even more difficult because of all of the possibilities.
One to Watch For
Urban Meyer has said that Darryl Baldwin is his right tackle at the moment, but watch out for Evan Lisle this spring to provide a legitimate competition. A year ago Ed Warinner said that he didn't want to put too much on Lisle's plate as a true freshman, but he will likely have no qualms with doing it as a redshirt freshman.
The spring has been a time for competition at the right tackle spot each of the last two seasons. In 2012 it was Reid Fragel and Taylor Decker. Last year it was Decker and Chase Farris. This year there's a very good chance that it will be Baldwin and Lisle. This might be the first time, however, that the favorite doesn't win the competition.
Trending Up or Down
Losing four starters off of one of your best offensive lines ever is no way to trend upward. That's where the Buckeyes are right now, and at this point the hope is to stop the downward trend and just tread water for a bit.
If the Ohio State offensive line can keep its head above water during the spring, then that will be a win for the coaching staff. Once the offensive line gets set, it will begin trending back up. There may just be a few rough spots before that happens.
It's impossible to not have confidence in Ed Warinner to get the most out of the offensive linemen at Ohio State. After all, this isn't the first reclamation project he has undergone, and it's not even his first at Ohio State. Remember, before he had four starters returning in 2013, he had to find a competent offensive line in 2012.
There will also be some linemen entering the picture this summer, most notably guard Demetrius Knox. If Warinner and Meyer aren't liking what they have on the interior, they won't hesitate to take a long look at the freshmen reinforcements.
Overall, there will be a learning curve for the new starters, but the foundation is a strong one. Realistically, there are concerns about one guard spot and the right tackle spot. The other three starting spots, however, seem to be in good hands. With that in mind, finding two starters on an offensive line is a pretty typical situation for a team to be in.
Even if they mesh immediately, the 2014 offensive line won't be as good as the 2013 offensive line, but that's more of a statement about last year's line than this year's line. There will be some new faces involved this spring, and there will be struggles, but if they continue to improve throughout the spring, then that will be considered a positive outcome.
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