Like many before it, the Ohio State football team’s 2014 fall camp has been highlighted by key position battles three days in.
One thing that may be different for this team, especially in position battles along the offensive line, is depth. OSU co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner said he is looking for a set starting lineup, but has more options to look at than in years past.
“We’re looking for five starters first, but we have a lot of choices,” Warinner said after the Buckeyes completed their third day of fall camp Wednesday. “There’s probably 10 (or) 11 guys to choose from for that.”
Of those five starting spots, Warinner said one is locked up and another is close to being decided.
“I think for sure, (junior offensive lineman Taylor Decker) will start,” he said. “He’s moved over to left tackle.”
Warinner went on to say that redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Pat Elflein is a good bet to start at right guard –– leaving center, right tackle and left guard up for grabs.
The third-year OSU assistant said there are a few names in each of those battles, and only gave the edge to one player at center. He said junior Jacoby Boren is in the lead now, but didn’t count out redshirt-senior Chad Lindsay, who is a transfer from Alabama, or redshirt-freshman Billy Price.
“Right now Jacoby is a little bit ahead, but the other two guys will push him,” Warinner said.
Warinner named off redshirt-junior Chase Farris, redshirt-senior Darryl Baldwin and redshirt-sophomore Evan Lisle as contenders at right tackle. When it comes to the final spot along the line, left guard, he named redshirt-junior Antonio Underwood, senior defensive-line transplant Joel Hale and freshman Marcelys Jones.
After Monday’s practice, OSU coach Urban Meyer said that left guard spot is the key position battle for the team this fall.
With very little set in stone for his offensive line thus far, Warinner said they can benefit greatly from the group of guys they go up against everyday in practice.
“They’re as good as I’ve seen in my career, so they’re pretty good,” Warinner said of the OSU defensive line. “To go against them everyday, we either have to step up to the plate and compete at that level, or we’re going to look bad at practice.”
Even with high praise from both Warinner and Meyer for the defensive line so far this fall, there is one spot along that front four up for grabs –– at least for two games.
Junior defensive end Noah Spence will spend the first two games of the season out of the lineup due to a suspension, which means co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell could be keeping his eye out for the next man up this fall.
“It’s a travesty that Noah’s going to miss (the first two games), but the reality is it gives some other guys some light,” Fickell said Wednesday. “It’s going to make us and force us to create some depth and get some guys some real good roles.”
Fickell said senior Steve Miller and redshirt-senior Rashad Frazier are the next two up for Spence’s spot.
Spence is expected to slot back into a starting role once he returns, alongside senior Michael Bennett, junior Adolphus Washington and sophomore Joey Bosa. Beyond that core four, Fickell said there are numerous players who could leave their mark for OSU.
“There’s a lot of guys on that defensive front that are battling to get themselves, maybe not a starting spot, but a lot of time,” he said. “So there’s some depth and some rotation there.”
Outside of the defensive line, Fickell said the 2014 Buckeyes will feature depth across the defense, especially at linebacker. He said that position has lacked depth for the past two seasons, but is ready for that to change this year, but he wouldn’t say they will immediately be the best linebacker core around.
“I’m not saying that they’re going to be the best in the nation right now when they walk on the field on Saturday,” Fickell said. “But I can assure you that there’s not a tighter-nit group of a bunch of guys that are battling for each other.”
While left guard is the key spot for Meyer on offense, Fickell said the second corner spot could be that key for the defense. Outside of senior Doran Grant and junior Armani Reeves, none of the OSU cornerbacks saw extensive playing time last season.
Regardless of who wins the battles this fall, Fickell said every player has to be ready to step up when they step on the field.
“This is the greatest sport known to man because it’s a team sport,” the former Buckeye defensive lineman said. “You can put 10 great ones out there, and if you’ve got one bad one somebody is going to find it.”
OSU is scheduled to start its season Aug. 30 against Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Kickoff is set for noon.