COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio State’s new offensive line coach, Greg Studrawa, has just two starters returning from last year’s 12-1 Buckeyes football team. One of those starters, fifth-year senior Pat Elflein, is moving from guard to center in a move that was necessary to give Ohio State the best possible alignment this fall. After Elflein and Billy Price, things get really, really murky for Studrawa.
If you closely examine the Buckeyes offensive line, you can see why. It’s not only that just two starters return, but the entire returning group of “The Slobs” – the nickname for Ohio State’s offensive linemen – is inexperienced and raw. It’s the fourth year for Evan Lisle, a former 4-star prospect from Centerville, Ohio, and he’s yet to make much of a dent in the depth chart. It’s the third year for Demetrius Knox and for Lancaster, Ohio, product Kyle Trout. Knox has played special teams and sparingly on offense while Trout has done neither.
There’s nothing easy about being an assistant coach for Urban Meyer, even if the group you take over is stocked and full of surefire “dudes.” That’s not the case for Studrawa and he’s aware of it, but excited for the challenge.
“That’s a heck of a daunting task, you know how it is,” Studrawa said Wednesday night at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. “The number one thing up front, I think, is experience. So we don’t have a lot of it, we’ve got some new guys coming in there. The second thing is getting the group in there playing together, we’re struggling with that a little bit, to get those guys in there.”
That struggle was made more difficult last week when Studrawa’s group lost Malcolm Pridgeon, a promising junior college offensive lineman, for the season with a knee injury. At 6-foot-7, 315 pounds, Pridgeon was expected to provide depth at guard or tackle, and replacing him has not been easy. Studrawa told the media during Ohio State’s media day on Aug. 14 that he’s got a number of linemen making a push for playing time, and that’s something he – as a coach – enjoys, despite the experience vacuum.
“Right now we have 10 or 12 guys fighting for my time, so there’s no lull when that second group goes in there,” Studrawa said. “They’re working their tail off because they think I want to be that guy. That’s the most fun part about coaching, when you’ve got energetic guys that really want to go out there and prove they can be that guy, it’s really fun to coach and that’s where we are.
“I have seen a different level. The energy. I’ve seen a different level of physicalness, especially from Demetrius and (redshirt freshman) Matt Burrell. Branden (Bowen) is coming. He’s been moving from right to left. He’s learning the technique on both sides. He’s coming along well but Demetrius and Matt have both [had] outstanding work ethic. They’ve been becoming more physical, which I challenged them to do in the spring. Get your technique down, be physical. Be able to move somebody off the football. That’s what I want to see out of those two, so it’s been a pleasant surprise.”
While there’s been improvement, and players like Jamarco Jones and Isaiah Prince have solidified their roles at left and right tackle, respectively, none of the veterans has locked up a starting job next to Elflein. That has afforded an opportunity for freshman Michael Jordan, from Canton, Mich., to move ahead of players like Knox and Burrell and be that guy. For players who have put in years with the program, the idea of losing your job to an incoming freshman can sometimes be difficult to swallow. Billy Price says he and Elflein are trying to help keep the proper perspective in the locker room.
“We had an interesting conversation the other day within the offensive line room, we talked about being ready when your moment is called,” Price said Wednesday. “There are certain situations – Pat’s moment was when, the Team Up North game, Marcus Hall was ejected out of the game – when you have to be ready and that’s what we preach right now. It takes one wrong hit for you to be out, it takes just one hit. Are you going to be ready?”
Players are getting ready, Studrawa said.
“I’m really pleased with (Branden) Bowen and how he’s coming along,” Studrawa, more commonly referred to as “Coach Stud” said. “That’s giving us another tackle out there. He’s doing a heck of a job. Playing both sides, and like I said, I’m really pleased with how much he’s improved. Then, like I said, there are three, four guys inside at that guard spot now with Jordan, Knox, Burrell coming along well, I can rotate those guys in there.
Elflein, who has been a part of the most dominant offensive line groups in Ohio State history, says it’s not just about depth, but also talent. He thinks this group of linemen can stack up with the best of them.
“I think we can be really good, even one of the best,” Elflein said. “You know, we can pick up right where we left off; always breaking records, being in the Ohio State record book and rushing for hundreds of yards each game. I think we can pick up right where left off these past three or four years.”
To do that, the new era of Slobs will need to lean on each other. To not worry about who is playing what position, or how often, but to line up for the guy to your left, the guy to your right. That’s the message the leaders are trying to push.
“In our unit room, we’ve kind of built this bond, that you can’t let anybody down,” Elflein said. “Your brother needs you, and it’s not just the starting five, it’s all – I think we’ve got 15, 16, 17 guys – like we need every guy to go in and participate and contribute.”
With a little more than a week left to prepare for his first game as an assistant coach at Ohio State, Studrawa is taking inventory of where his group is at compared to where they were, and he’s happy.
“I think we’re even a little bit deeper than I thought coming out of the spring,” he said. “I am so excited about how the Bowens, the Knoxes, the Burrells, those second-string guys providing depth, is what I was really concerned with going through the summer, and I could not happier with where they are right now.”