COLUMBUS, Ohio — Midway through spring practice, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer issued a warning to some of his players.
“We’re still not where we need to be on the [second team] — nowhere close,” Meyer said of his offensive line. “You wish you could get a little more competition out of those guys, but that’s not happening yet.”
Meyer has, for the most part, four solid starters returning on the line. Tackles Jamarco Jones and Isaiah Prince are back to bookend the line. Left guard Michael Jordan returns after starting as a true freshman, and All-American Billy Price is moving from right guard to center. The Buckeyes even have some options at right guard. Demetrius Knox and Matthew Burrell positioned themselves well in spring practice.
The Buckeyes still are feeling the effects of some offensive line misses, however. In the Class of 2013, Tim Gardner never made it to fall practice and Evan Lisle was never a factor before transferring to Duke. The Class of 2014 produced Jones and Knox, but also transfers Marcelys Jones and Kyle Trout.
Prince is the only offensive lineman among five in the Class of 2015 who has started. That group included Burrell and backup tackle Branden Bowen, neither of whom has carved out a big role. The Class of 2016 featured Jordan, but highly regarded offensive guard Tyler Gerald transferred after one year in the program.
Add it all up and that’s a lot of misses.
“You can’t do that,” Meyer said. “What happens is we have a year like we did last year — true freshmen should not play here [on the offensive line].
“That’s because there were some misses in there. Some players didn’t develop; some things happened. Dog ate my homework, whatever it is. That should not happen here, very disappointed in that. We can’t miss again.”
Ohio State likely will be able to field a strong starting five up front this year, but there will be little room for error. The Buckeyes will have to deal with the losses of Jones and Price after this season. Given what remains of those aforementioned recruiting classes, it may take multiple recruiting cycles for Ohio State to regain the depth it once had at the position group.
The Buckeyes need two things to happen, each of which is (relatively) feasible. First, a few players need to step up. Bowen has drawn praise from the staff, so it’s possible he eventually could slide into a starting tackle spot. Either Burrell or perhaps 2016 recruits Gavin Cupp or Jack Wohlabaugh need to end the revolving door at center next season.
More important, Ohio State can’t afford to have misses in the classes of 2017 and 2018. The group of incoming freshmen looks formidable. Meyer would prefer not to play true freshmen, but he’d take a group that provides depth this season and either pushes for playing time or outright starts in its second season.
The Class of 2018 is off to a great start, but Ohio State has to land players such as 5-star tackle Jackson Carman from Fairfield, Ohio.
Because of misses in the past, most of these prospects need to be hits. Past mistakes can be mitigated by improvement from some of the remaining players in previous classes, but the Buckeyes will have to be perfect going forward to rebuild their desired level of depth on the line.