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Depth in the trenches becoming a concern for Urban Meyer, Buckeyes

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Then-sophomore offensive lineman Pat Elflein (left), then-junior center Jacoby Boren (50) and then-redshirt-freshman Billy Price (54) throw blocks against Alabama on Jan. 1 in New Orleans. OSU won, 42-35. Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Then-sophomore offensive lineman Pat Elflein (left), then-junior center Jacoby Boren (50) and then-redshirt-freshman Billy Price (54) throw blocks against Alabama on Jan. 1 in New Orleans. OSU won, 42-35.
Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

The Ohio State offensive and defensive fronts helped the Buckeyes to their eighth national title just three months ago, but coach Urban Meyer said he is concerned with both units as spring practice hits its halfway point.

“We’re gonna have, like most teams across the country have offensive line issues,” Meyer said Tuesday after practice. “We have had some injuries, with (redshirt-freshman Demetrius) Knox being out, (redshirt-freshman Kyle) Trout had a contusion where he missed a couple days. Numbers are way down on the offensive line.”

While the front five is set to return four starters from the title campaign, three of them are seeing limited to no reps.

“Pat Elflein and Taylor Decker are getting very limited reps, Jacoby Boren is down. Nine or 10 offensive linemen will be here in August that aren’t here right now,” Meyer said.

The other remaining starter, redshirt-sophomore Billy Price, has the most experience of any of the linemen who are participating full throttle in spring ball.

But even with so many players sitting out, Elflein said offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner will continue to push the Buckeyes to get better.

“He’s a perfectionist. He won’t let anything slip. No matter what it is, wrong step, whatever, hand placement, if it’s not perfect, he’s on you,” Elflein said Thursday. “I think that is probably his best quality and that’s why we’ve been playing so good. He has developed so many guys to be great players.”

With Elflein, Decker and Boren sitting out most of spring practice, another loss suffered to the offensive line was not from injury, graduation or rest.

Redshirt-senior Joel Hale, who came to OSU as a defensive lineman, moved to the offensive side of the ball for the 2014 season to assist with depth.

Now, Hale is switching back to his original position on the defensive front, which saw Michael Bennett and Steve Miller graduate. Hale saw playing time in OSU’s first four games of 2014, but did not see the field in any games after the Cincinnati game because of injury.

Meyer said Hale’s willingness to once again move positions has been a valuable asset to the OSU squad.

“I just have great respect for guys (like Joel). He’s a competitor. He’s tough. And he goes hard. Now we just have to find the right place for him,” Meyer said. “It was a mutual conversation we had and we have a lot of respect for Joel Hale around here.”

Hale will join up with a relatively inexperienced group (outside of junior Joey Bosa and senior Adolphus Washington), and will likely see a lot of reps with Washington being limited in practice, Meyer said.

He added that in Washington’s place, redshirt-sophomore Tyquan Lewis is getting the reps opposite of Bosa with the first-team defense, but redshirt-sophomores Michael Hill, Donovan Munger, sophomore Jalyn Holmes and redshirt-freshmen Darius Slade and Sam Hubbard have shown improvement.

“We have bodies at the position, but we aren’t even close to where we need to be,” Meyer said. “Are they trying and getting better? Yes.”

The Buckeyes will have a chance to showcase their talents on April 18 during the annual Spring Game at Ohio Stadium before kicking off the 2015 regular season against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on Sept. 7.

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