Entering the 2013 football season, the Buckeyes offensive line was expected to be one of the team’s strongest units.
With four returning starters from last season’s undefeated squad, many believed the men who shoulder the responsibility of keeping junior quarterback Braxton Miller upright could easily become the best at what they do in the Big Ten.
In order to do that, the unit would need to find a replacement for honorable mention All-Big Ten performer Reid Fragel. Enter sophomore Taylor Decker, who was expected to fill Fragel’s shoes.
Decker’s first start as a Buckeye garnered mixed results, as he — along with the rest of the offensive line — had the difficult task of trying to stop Buffalo’s senior linebacker Khalil Mack, a potential NFL draft pick.
OSU gave up four sacks to the Bulls, but improved against San Diego State, only allowing one.
Decker was less than pleased with his performance against Buffalo, as was the entire unit. He said getting his first game over with, though, helped.
“Obviously, we didn’t perform as well as we wanted to last week, for me personally it was my first game, my first start,” Decker said. “I got the jitters out and everything so I think I was able to settle in.”
Co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner said the sophomore’s performance against SDSU was “more like what (he) saw in August” from Decker, and that any freshman who plays at OSU is always a little too excited for their first game.
“I’ve talked to former head coaches who wander around in this building about guy’s whose first game in the ‘Shoe sometimes can be very stressful and then can get worked up,” Warinner said. “I think he was just a little too excited.”
OSU coach Urban Meyer called SDSU a team who “got off the bus blitzing,” but overall was happy with how the line played compared to the opener.
“We protected the quarterback much better in this game against a team that blitzed (a lot),” Meyer said. “I thought overall, on offense, we did a fairly good job.”
The improvement in the second game could also be attributed to starting senior center Corey Linsley receiving more playing time against the Aztecs than he did against Buffalo. Linsley, who has been recovering from offseason foot surgery, only was on the field for 17 plays in the opener but spent the entire time on the field with the first-team offense against SDSU.
Warinner said it was nice being able to give Linsley more playing time, but monitoring his time on the field early in the season was the plan all along.
“All the decisions were made with a plan in place that would allow him to start the first game and play and be ready to go,” Warinner said. “I think we are right where we thought we would be at this point in time.”
Linsley’s absence coupled with a pair of Buckeye blowout victories has allowed for Warinner to develop some of the younger players at the position in hopes of having them prepared for next season.
“We are working really hard to develop our depth,” Warinner said. “We do that in practice, and then whenever we can. We are trying to get them (younger players) in the games.”
Those younger players include freshman Pat Elflein and sophomore Jacoby Boren, and Warinner said having them ready for next year is important.
“We have a plan in place to develop players, so that next year, the next wave of guys are ready to go, and so that plan is in place,” Warinner said. “We rep the second unit quite a bit and then I rotate them in the first unit during practice as well.”
Even with Miller spraining his left MCL early in Saturday’s win over SDSU and not returning, starting left guard Andrew Norwell said it does not matter who is in at quarterback or who is playing on the offensive line because “we’re still protecting like Braxton is back there.”
“I don’t really think about that stuff,” Norwell said. “When (redshirt-senior quarterback) Kenny (Guiton) comes in, still we’re going. I don’t really pay attention to that, it’s just on to the next play.”
Even though the Buckeyes were able to cut down on the sack total between games one and two, the offensive line was whistled for five penalties in the victory — one on Norwell and the remaining four on senior Marcus Hall.
Aside from those penalties against Hall — three of which were false starts — Warinner said “he’s had a good first two games.” Fixing the mistakes is simple, though.
“I’ll tell him that when a guy that plays nose guard moves before you move, you got to sit there and if he’s going to hit you, let him hit you,” Warinner said. “Every single one of them (false starts), there was somebody moving … (that) can’t happen. In a critical situation, that’ll kill you.”
The Buckeyes get their first chance to play on the road this season when the team travels to California to take on the Golden Bears. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.