Meyer Must Address Ohio State’s Offensive Line Issues
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer did not create the problem, but he will have to be the one to fix it.
That is his job now—to make Ohio State into a team that can contend with anyone in the country. In order to do that—or at least get them back to the success the Buckeyes became accustomed to under Jim Tressel—Meyer will have to address the immediate needs on Ohio State’s offensive line.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Anchored by the three members of the ‘Brew Crew,’ the Buckeyes have had two of their better offensive lines over the past two seasons. Mike Adams emerged as an All-Big Ten left tackle last season and Michael Brewster was named as an All-American center.
There is some debate on whether he performed at that level as a senior, but without question, Brewster was one of the better centers Ohio State has had over the last two decades. He was a 4-year starter who will fall one game shy of tying Luke Fickell’s school record of 50-consective starts from 1993-96.
Brewster will play the final game of his career in the Gator Bowl against Florida.
“I am happy the way the bowl game worked out,” the Orlando product said.
“If we couldn’t be in a BCS game, I like the fact that we are playing against a program like Florida that has a rich tradition like Ohio State. And I like it that I’ll be playing my last game in my home state in front of friends and family.”
Adams and right tackle J.B. Shugarts will also be playing in their final game with the Buckeyes, which means Ohio State will have three new starters on the offensive line next season.
They already had a pair of first-time starters on the line this season to replace starting guards Justin Boren and Bryant Browning. By the second half of the year, sophomore Andrew Norwell and Jack Mewhort were playing the two guard spots. Norwell started the first five games at left tackle while Adams was suspended and will likely move back to that spot next season.
In fact, he almost has to.
The coaches who preceded Meyer at Ohio State did such a poor job recruiting tackles, that Ohio State will only have 2-3 legitimate options on the entire roster. Norwell is a natural left tackle who held his own over the first five games, so they should be in good hands on Braxton Miller’s blindside.
The other side will be completely up in the air heading in to spring practice, and not because there will be good competition to replace Shugarts on the right side. Freshman Antonio Underwood stepped in against Purdue when Shugarts was injured this season, and he lasted all of two quarters—one quarter longer than he should have.
That doesn’t mean Underwood’s career is over, but far too often this past regime of coaches relied on young kids, especially freshmen, to mask their deficiencies—intentional or unintentional—in recruiting the offensive line.
In 2008, Jim Tressel and Jim Bollman landed three of the top offensive line prospects in the country—Adams, Brewster and Shugarts. It was by far their best recruiting effort, or at least on par with the 2002 class that produced Nick Mangold, Rob Sims, Doug Datish and T.J. Downing.
What did they do as an encore to the great ’08 haul, which admittedly fell one lineman short of what the Buckeyes were hoping for? They signed exactly one offensive lineman in the class of 2007 and that was Evan Blankenship, a 3-star prospect out of Monaco, Pa.
Sometimes 3-star prospects turn out to be diamonds in the rough. Not Blankenship, although he does have a very promising country music career on the horizon. After spending some time on the defensive line, Blankenship hopped back over to offense this season to help offset their low numbers.
The numbers were so depleted in the spring that the Buckeyes had to change their entire format for the Spring Game. That might be understandable if this team had been through some serious attrition on the offensive line, but the reality is that their only major defection was Sam Longo, a legacy recruit that was likely never going to see the field.
Missing the Mark
The real problem was that three years after signing Blankenship as the lone offensive lineman in the class of 2007, the Buckeyes did it again in 2010. This time they landed Norwell, a 4-star tackle out of Cincinnati Anderson, but came up empty on their attempts for Seantrel Henderson and the late Matt James.
With no real backup plan in place, the Buckeyes stood pat with one lineman in their class while guys like Andrew Donnal (Iowa), Kevin Schloemer (Cincinnati), Travis Jackson (Michigan State), Skyler Schofner (Michigan State), Christian Pace (Michigan) and Matt Rotheram (Pittsburgh) were left to sign with other BCS programs.
In a panic, the Buckeyes extended early offers to guys like Tommy Brown and Chris Carter for the class of 2011, but never offered Lakota West center Ryan Kelly, who eventually signed with Alabama. Maybe that was an academic issue, but Kelly’s coach said that Ohio State never even called to enquire about the 6-5, 270-pound lineman.
The Buckeyes again missed on their top target when Aundrey Walker signed with USC; meanwhile Michigan State snagged Donavon Clark out of Cincinnati, Notre Dame landed Chase Hounshell out of Lake Catholic and Wisconsin grabbed Ray Ball from Westerville.
It is moves like those, and the decision not to offer 4-star tackle Kyle Dodson until June, that have left many scratching their heads about Ohio State’s strategy in recruiting the offensive line.
At 6-5 and 315 pounds, the Cleveland Heights product would appear someone the Buckeyes should have been targeting from the moment they started recruiting for 2012, especially with their need at offensive tackle. Instead, they waited until June, long after he had received offers from Wisconsin, Michigan, Alabama and Auburn.
Dodson committed to the Badgers that same week, but suddenly has newfound interest in Ohio State following the hire of Urban Meyer. Now it’s Meyer’s job to try to reel him back in with less than two months until National Signing Day.
Meyer is also trying to make a late push for a number of other offensive tackles, including blue-chip prospects D.J. Humphries, Ereck Flowers, Taylor Decker, Alex Kozan, Jordan Diamond and Nick Davidson.
The fact any of them are even interested at this point is a complete testament to the appeal and recruiting prowess of Meyer, who has the help of two BCS national championships on his résumé.
Humphries (Florida), Flowers (Miami) and Decker (Notre Dame) are already committed elsewhere and would be hard to pull away at this point in the game. Even if Meyer can flip Dodson, he would like to land at least one of the others on the list.
Diamond—a 6-6 tackle out of Chicago—took a visit Ohio State this weekend and called it “the time of his life.” He is considered to be one of the top tackles—a 5-star prospect by Scout.com and high 4-star by Rivals.com—in the country and would be a huge get for the Buckeyes.
Either way, their options will be limited for next season.
No ‘Rock’ Unturned
Marcus Hall is a guy who played tackle early in his career, but seems much better suited for playing inside at one of the guard spots. Corey Linsley is a natural guard and Brian Bobek will likely replace Brewster as the team’s center in 2012.
That leaves Underwood and Mewhort as the top two candidates to play opposite Norwell on the line next season, but it is also quite possible the Buckeyes will consider moving Reid Fragel in from his tight end spot.
Fragel is a 6-8 sophomore from Michigan who has already bulked up to 280 pounds since arriving at Ohio State back in 2009. He is an excellent blocker for his position and has not even begun to fill out his frame.
Tight ends coach John Peterson even talked about the possibility of moving him to tackle during the 2011 season, but with Jake Stoneburner back and Jeff Heuerman waiting in the wing, it could be a real possibility for 2012.
Meyer’s biggest challenge will be to make sure his Buckeyes are never in this position again.
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