Growing pains often can be expected when a team loses four players at one position group to the NFL, but the Ohio State offensive line might need to grow up fast with Virginia Tech set to visit Ohio Stadium this weekend.
OSU coach Urban Meyer was tasked with rebuilding a line that saw Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall all depart for professional football. With just one returning starter — junior Taylor Decker — Meyer said his offensive line is “concern No. 1” heading into Saturday’s clash with the Hokies.
“This will be one of the top two — one or two — defensive lines we’ll face every year,” Meyer said Monday. “Our offensive line did not play like an Ohio State offensive line (against Navy on Saturday).”
Preparing for that top defensive line could come down to simple preparation, Decker said.
“You can always prepare better,” Decker said Monday. “You can always do more, always watch more film, so I just think taking the preparation more seriously and just focusing on that for guys who maybe have never done that before.”
While he was not named a captain this season like Mewhort and Linsley were in 2013, Decker has still become the leader on the new-look Buckeye offensive line. He’s not the oldest starter along the line — that title goes to redshirt-senior Darryl Baldwin — but he by far has the most playing experience as a Buckeye.
Decker said the new season is nothing like the last, but he has slid into the new leadership role without hesitation.
“I definitely was the little brother last year. There definitely was no chance that I was calling the shots,” he said. “The first game (this season, against Navy), it was a little bit different for me. It was a new experience for me.”
Going forward, Decker will be leading an OSU offensive line that has already seen multiple linemen rotated just one game into the season.
OSU co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner said after the Buckeyes’ 34-17 win against the Midshipmen that the line rotated for certain portions of the game amidst early struggles.
“We were kind of struggling a little bit in the first half so making a lot of changes wasn’t prudent at the time,” he said. “(Senior offensive lineman Joel Hale) came in, though, and played the second quarter, did a nice job and then (we) went back to the starting lineup in the second half and I thought they did a great job.”
While Hale spent portions of the game alongside the left tackle Decker on the line, the starting lineup featured redshirt-freshman Billy Price at right guard while redshirt-sophomore Pat Elflein slid over to left guard. Junior Jacoby Boren got the nod at center with Baldwin at right tackle.
OSU released its newest depth chart on Tuesday with Price and Boren listed as the lone starters at their respective positions.
Meyer said the first half against Navy — rotation and all — was a red flag for the offensive line, and the second half only did a small part in quelling those concerns.
“The second half we played pretty good,” Meyer said. “But pretty good is not what we expect.”
Playing below expectations might not be opportune, especially when a team like Virginia Tech is next on the schedule.
“First and foremost, they (Virginia Tech’s defensive line) are really talented. They’ve got some good players,” Decker said. “And when they go, they’re really good, so you’ve got to be on your game and you’ve got to be prepared for that.”
Decker said he is one of many who believe the OSU defensive line is one of the best — if not the best — in the nation. He also compared the Virginia Tech defensive line to the Buckeyes in favorable fashion.
He said the Hokies’ line features players similar to the Buckeyes’ — junior players Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington and senior Michael Bennett especially — which could give the OSU offensive line an edge after practicing against such players throughout the offseason, but that won’t guarantee success on the field this weekend.
“Going against that in a game situation is going to be different, and playing against those guys for a whole game is going to be different,” Decker said. “So you’re going to have to be prepared, and if you make a mistake I’m sure they can expose you.”
OSU’s game against Virginia Tech is scheduled for Saturday at 8 p.m.
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