Buckeye Breakdown: Can the Ohio State offensive line meet the standard set by the Slobs?
As the season continues to grow closer, Ohio State’s depth chart at each position is beginning to take shape. With 16 starters from last year’s team lost to graduation or the NFL, this will be one of the program’s youngest teams in recent memory.
Join Landof10.com as we break down each of the 10 position groups and what Buckeye fans can expect out of each one this fall.
First up is the offensive line, which has some new faces both on the field and on the coaching staff.
Assessing the roster
Who they lost: C Jacoby Boren, OT Taylor Decker, OT Chase Farris, OT Grant Schmidt
Who they added: C Jack Wohlabaugh, OT Malcolm Pridgeon, OG Michael Jordan, OG Gavin Cupp, OG Tyler Gerald
Who’s still there: C Pat Elflein, C Brady Taylor, OT Jamarco Jones, OT Isaiah Prince, OT Evan Lisle, OT Branden Bowen, OT Kevin Feder, OT Kyle Trout, OG Demetrius Knox, OG Matthew Burrell
Projected depth chart
- Left tackle: Jamarco Jones, Evan Lisle
- Left guard: Michael Jordan, Demetrius Knox
- Center: Pat Elflein, Billy Price
- Right guard: Billy Price, Matthew Burrell
- Right tackle: Isaiah Prince, Branden Bowen
The strength of the Ohio State offensive line starts with Elflein, who is already a preseason All-American choice despite never having played center at Ohio State. Going into his third year as a starter, he should be able to team up with quarterback J.T. Barrett to make the Buckeyes strong at the core of the offense.
The Buckeyes also have a ton of athleticism and talent at the two tackle spots. Jones played as a true freshman on the national championship team, and all you need to know about his ability is that OSU would remove Decker before Barrett in blowouts, leaving the true freshman to block the blindside of the starting quarterback. Prince is built like a prototypical tackle and played as a true freshman in 2015, which is almost always a sign of good things to come for offensive linemen in this program.
What happens if the projected starters get hurt? One of the biggest issues at this position group is depth, and OSU head coach Urban Meyer knows it.
“The offensive line is obviously a concern of depth,” he said. “That’s where Matt Burrell and Demetrius Knox have really got to come on really come on and then Branden Bowen has got a long ways to go, but he’s going to come on too. So you have to get depth there.”
The margin got even thinner when Meyer announced Sunday that Pridgeon will miss three months with a knee injury. The highly recruited JUCO prospect was expected to compete with Prince for the spot at right tackle. Now that he’s no longer in the picture, it appears that Bowen and Lisle are the team’s two next options at tackle behind Prince and Jones. Lisle had previously been working at guard for the Buckeyes.
“You’re gonna hear more about (Lisle) now because we’re going to play him at some tackle with Malcolm being out,” first-year offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said. “So there’s an opportunity. What are you gonna do about it? I think he’s gonna be fine. I think he’s gonna learn that spot and go out there and play tackle and help us.”
What to expect
The bad news for Studrawa is that he’s losing a trio of starters from last year’s unit in Decker at left tackle, Boren at center and Farris at right tackle. The good news is that he seems to think the open competition and clear opportunity for playing time at several spots will help drive younger players to rise to the occasion.
“When you have guys — and I’ve been there —when you have five guys that are entrenched starters, multiple-year starters and they’re in there, those backups … you can yell and scream and do whatever you want to motivate them, and they know they’re not beating out so and so,” Studrawa said.
“So that effort, right now we have 10 or 12 guys fighting for time, so there’s no lull when that second group goes in there. They’re working their tail off because they think, ‘I want to be that guy.’ Thats 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.”
While that’s certainly beneficial, the Buckeyes will still have to overcome a massive experience gap. With Price sliding over to right guard and Elflein moving over to center, there won’t be a single player starting in the same spot as last year. The safest bet to join those two players in the interior is Jordan, who would become just the second true freshman to start for Meyer if he wins the job at left guard.
Just as was the case two years ago, there may be some growing pains with the line. They’ll have a slightly bigger grace period — the game against Oklahoma is the third of the season as opposed to the second when OSU hosted Virginia Tech in 2014 — but the challenge will remain the same. How they meet that initial challenge and how they improve as the season progresses will go a long way toward determining whether or not the offense as a whole can fulfill its immense potential.