By Jim Naveau firstname.lastname@example.org
COLUMBUS – Ohio State’s offensive line blocked its way into Urban Meyer’s heart last season.
“They’re my favorite players on the team. Those five guys, that’s where you start,” he said after OSU got off to a 7-0 start.
But this year if you’re Ohio State, the offensive line is where you start over. Earlier this summer, Meyer said it was his No. 1 concern going into this season.
Taylor Decker, who has moved to left tackle from right tackle, is the only returning regular on the offensive line.
Left tackle Jack Mewhort was a second-round draft choice of the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay selected center Corey Linsley in the fifth round of the NFL draft. Guards Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall signed as undrafted free agents with Indianapolis and Carolina.
Pat Elflein, who is expected to start at right guard, got some experience last season when he replaced Hall for most of the Michigan game and all of the Orange Bowl after Hall did his Birdman of Ann Arbor two-finger salute to the Michigan crowd.
Finding replacements at the other three spots is in the hands of offensive line coach Ed Warinner, who was given much credit for developing last year’s line.
“What we lack is experience. Experience comes from playing,” Warinner said.
Darryl Baldwin, a senior, appears to have won the right tackle spot. That position is “getting stabilized,” Meyer said.
Center is a competition among Jacoby Boren, Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay and Billy Price. At left guard, Anthony Underwood, Joel Hale and Price are all possibilities. Hale and Price are both converted defensive linemen.
Hale’s progress has been dramatic, Meyer said.
“He made an admirable attempt in the spring, but he actually looks like an offensive lineman now,” he said.
Warinner says he wants to have it narrowed down to a top six from that group by 10 days to two weeks before the opener against Navy on Aug. 30.
No surprise, Decker says it will all work out in the end.
“There’s a good sense of urgency throughout the program. There are guys fighting for spots. The biggest thing I’m glad to see is there is no lack of effort. I think we’re going to be fine on the offensive line,” he said.
“It’s definitely a change with them leaving,” he said about last year’s four senior starters on the offensive line.
Decker says he has tried to provide the same kind of leadership last year’s seniors did.
“It was a quick transition from being the young guy to being the old guy, to being the most experienced one. I’m just trying to take what I learned from Jack, Cory, Andrew and Marcus and now I have to that. I have to lead by example, I have to do my best to pick guys up and show them the way to do things.
“With any team if your offensive line is not playing well you’re not going to have a good team. Coach Meyer says we’re an offensive line driven team. We have to set the tone for practice, we have to set the tone for games,” he said.