The two most underrated linemen in college football next to their coach. - Greg Bartram-US PRESSWIRE
We end our offensive previews where it all begins for any offense: the 2013 offensive line. Who will take Reid Fragel's spot, and can any of the freshmen battle their way into early playing time?
We saw last year how Urban Meyer and Tom Herman tried to change the offense from a plodding, typical Big Ten offense into one with spread tendencies. Though spread offenses were nothing new going back to Joe Tiller and Purdue's "basketball on grass", Randy Walker and Kevin Wilson's innovation in Evanston, and what we'd seen with varying degrees of success in A^2, there was still the possibility of some culture shock in ol' Columbus town. Meyer knew that to truly embrace the spread concept, he would have to move towards leaner, quicker feet-ed offensive linemen, and whip the ones he currently had into the best shape of their lives. Now, four out of five starters on the 2013 offensive line will be seniors, and have completely bought into what position coach/developmental wizard Ed Warriner has prescribed.
Going into 2012 spring ball, the wide receivers were not the only position group Urban Meyer called out publicly. Corey Linsley was amongst Meyer's first targets, and according to Linsley himself, he used the challenge to not just turn his personal life around, but his football playing one as well. He usurped the starting center job from projected starter Brian Bobek, who promptly transferred to Minnesota. Linsley quickly became the rock of the line at the center position. The rising redshirt senior played exceptionally last year, and, unlike his predecessor, did not regress with shotgun snaps. Linsley has a firm grip on the starting center job and should be a leader for this unit in 2013.
The starting guards are just as talented. Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall are expected to start on the left and right side, respectively. Both were former tackle recruits who were bumped inside. Hall struggled at times last season with holding penalties and appeared to be outmatched in some games, but for the most part played well. If he is the "weakest link" on the offensive line, then Ohio State will be all the better for it. Norwell was a rock the whole season. Rarely will you hear his name called – for any reason – but he has the left guard almost down to a science. Norwell rarely lost a one-on-one matchups against some of the Big Ten's best interior linemen, and has proven why he was a five-star recruit coming out of Cincinnati Anderson HS. While some questions may linger whether Hall can match up against the best in the conference if the situation dictates it, there's no question that Norwell can more hold his own.
At tackle, Jack Mewhort has the left side all to himself. Mewhort came in as a center, started 8 games in 2011 at left guard, before sliding and taking Mike Adams' spot in 2012. He performed admirably there, seizing the benefits of the new strength and conditioning program with virtually no complaints from the coaching staff. The left side of the line is the strong side (both literally and in Ohio State's personnel's case figuratively) as the questions begin to stack up at the right tackle spot. Who will take the departed (and the frankly remarkably transformed from tight end) Reid Fragel's position?
Currently, it looks like the projected starter is Taylor Decker, the man who was beaten out for the position last year by Fragel. After his performance last year in camp it only makes sense that the sophomore to be would pick up where he left off and win the position. Decker is not quite the tactician that Fragel was when he used both his cunning and relentless work ethic to move from tight end to right tackle with the greatest of ease, but makes up for it with some nasty tendencies in run-blocking. The Dayton area native (Vandalia Butler) will have to earn his playing time all over again in the second Camp Meyer, and the offensive line has some major depth behind the starters that can challenge Decker for the spot. The right tackle spot, right now, seems to be the only one up in the air, barring injury or Marcus Hall's play inexplicably regressing back to a 2011 level.
Ohio State is certainly not lacking for bodies along the offensive line. The loss of once highly rated recruit Joey O'Connor to Colorado State via transfer shouldn't hurt them too much, as the Buckeyes have jack-of-all-trades junior Antonio Underwood waiting in the wings. Underwood has been a backup his entire career here and is waiting for an opportunity. Most see him as a guard at 6-2, 306 lbs. Another interesting name is Darryl Baldwin, who played defensive line in 2011 but moved to the offensive line in 2012. Baldwin is most likely the current backup right guard, while Underwood could see duty at either spot. Other backup guards include sophomores Jacoby Boren (who ended 2012 as the primary backup at center) and Pat Elflein, junior Ivon Blackman, sophomore Eric Kramer (who was listed as the backup left guard at the beginning of 2012 and saw time in the Akron game); incoming freshmen Timothy Gardner and potentially Donovan Munger (depending on which side of the line he plays); and walk-ons Ben St. John, Logan Beougher and Tim Trummer. Any of these fine gentlemen could find themselves in mop-up duty at center, especially Boren.
The prize linemen recruit of 2013, incoming freshman Evan Lisle could fight for a premier backup spot right away at either tackle position. Lisle is rated as a four-star prospect by all four major recruiting services, and although he will need to put on some more weight with Mickey Marotti's guidance in order to have an impact, he has already caught the eye of Urban Meyer as a player showing improvement early on. Lisle will compete with incumbents Kyle Dodson (he of the legendary announcement ceremony but was unable to break into the rotation in 2012 after struggling with dehydration and the transition to the next level), Tommy Brown, and Chase Farris. Brown got some shine last year in mop-up duty and Farris is a switch from defensive line. But don't be surprised if Dodson and Lisle turn some heads in camp. Right now Brown, a redshirt sophomore, could be a backup at right tackle, while Dodson is a possible backup at left tackle. Expect Lisle to fight for one of those two spots come the end of camp – he's good enough to maybe just claim one.
To most OSU observers, this position group is one of the ones that has the least amount of drama. The offensive line has continuity from last year. Four of five starters are seniors who know what it takes to win, and the left side of the line is as good as any in the country. After calling out his group and putting them through a vicious wringer at the beginning of 2012, Urban Meyer, Tom Herman and Ed Warriner have to be pleased at both the experience and depth at every position going into 2013.