“Focus on remedies, not faults.” ~ Jack Nicklaus
Born and raised in Upper Arlington, “The Golden Bear” is a proud alumnus of The Ohio State University. Arguably the greatest golfer in history, Nicklaus won 18 career major golf championships. It is with Jack Nicklaus’ quote in mind that I direct my focus upon the last position group to review during spring football practices for the Ohio State Buckeyes — the offensive line.
Over the past few weeks, I have been examining the various position groups within the team, leading up to the Ohio State Spring Game on April 14th. These pieces have looked at the position groups from least concern to greatest concern, based upon the returning players, incoming recruits, and performances that were seen throughout the 2017 season.
With spring practice, the threat of injury is of paramount concern, and the possibilities of transfers during/following spring practice can have an impact upon the position rankings. As always, it is my sincere hope that these articles will spark discussion and dialogue, and I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I look forward to writing them. Onto the subject at hand, the Ohio State offensive line.
Players Lost: Jamarco Jones (eligibility), Billy Price (eligibility)
Players Returning: Brady Taylor (Redshirt Senior), Demetrius Knox (Redshirt Senior), Malcolm Pridgeon (Redshirt Senior), Branden Bowen (Redshirt Junior), Thayer Munford (Sophomore), Matthew Burrell (Redshirt Junior), Gavin Cupp (Redshirt Sophomore), Michael Jordan (Junior), Josh Myers (Redshirt Freshman), Joshua Alabi (Redshirt Junior), Isaiah Prince (Senior), Wyatt Davis (Redshirt Freshman)
Incoming Recruits: Max Wray, Matthew Jones, Nicholas Petit-Frere
Why did I rank the offensive line as the highest position of concern, heading into the 2018 season? There a number of reasons.
First and foremost, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has been vocal about his concerns with this position group himself. At the March 26th post-practice media session, Meyer stated, “Yeah, today wasn’t a great day, so I do. I don’t see us with guys that can’t play. I see guys that are all going to be swinging for an opportunity, and they’re talented enough to play. But today wasn’t a very good day to say how are they doing because it wasn’t a very good day.”
Secondly, the loss of experienced talent, such as Jamarco Jones and Billy Price, would be concerning to any Ohio State fan. Jones ably held down the critical left tackle position the last two seasons, protecting the blind side of former Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, and is now preparing for an opportunity in the 2018 NFL Draft. Billy Price moved from right guard to center, replacing 2016 Rimington Award winner Pat Elflein, and played so well in 2017 that Price won the Rimington Award as the nation’s top center for himself. Brady Taylor has positioned himself as the likely starter at center heading into the 2018 season.
Third, the offensive line is going through a mix and match sequence this spring, as starting left guard Michael Jordan is being withheld from practice due to an offseason shoulder surgery. 2017 starting right guard Branden Bowen is also being withheld from practice this spring, as Bowen continues to rehab from his leg surgery that ended his 2017 season.
Combine all of these aspects – coaching concerns, the loss of experienced talent, and players being shuffled in and out of the lineup, and that will give you my rationale for ranking the offensive line group as the biggest concern heading into the 2018 season. Talent is not the issue, nor is depth a concern. With offensive line play, it is so crucial to develop cohesiveness and chemistry, and that is only accomplished with abundant repetition.
If recent history is possibly applicable, the 2014 season also presented itself as having the offensive line as being the biggest concern among the various Ohio State position groups. The 2014 offensive line featured four new starters, and Meyer knew following the 2014 spring game that the offensive line needed to improve, stating, “Offensive line is the one (area) that we gotta really go. We gotta really go from here…” Even with the week two loss to Virginia Tech, the offensive line continued to improve throughout the season, becoming dominant during the stretch run of Ohio State’s national championship run.
Urban Meyer on RT Thayer Munford: "He has earned a starting spot."
— Tony Gerdeman (@TonyGerdeman) April 11, 2018
With Isaiah Prince moving to left tackle, the projected healthy return of Michael Jordan at left guard, the projected ascension of Brady Taylor at center, and Thayer Munford currently projected to start at right tackle, the only starting job left to win is at right guard, where Demetrius Knox is the favorite to win that position.
Considering how much playing experience Prince, Jordan, and Knox have, the biggest area of focus for Meyer and Ohio State offensive line coach Greg Studrawa will be to develop cohesiveness and chemistry among the starters in fall camp before the first game against Oregon State on September 1st.