COLUMBUS, Ohio — The three-man fight to start at quarterback might be Ohio State’s most important position battle, but the most fascinating fight involves the men who will protect whichever player ends up taking snaps.
With multiple open spots and some key players out this spring, there is opportunity for virtually everyone on the offensive line to make a case for playing time. And for some added drama, the versatility of several players makes things more unpredictable.
At most positions, the fight for playing time is a straight-up battle between two or three players for one spot. But on the offensive line, it’s about finding the right combination of five players — and at Ohio State, many of those players are capable of playing two or three positions.
“I think that’s the really cool thing we have going right now,” said center Brady Taylor. “Everyone is so competitive and everyone can play a lot of positions. It makes everyone step up their game every day because they know that there are spots on the table to be had.
“[The coaches] can plug and chug everywhere, and in the end I think it’s going to be the best five that play. It makes it really competitive and fun.”
Last year, for instance, the right guard spot went unfilled well into fall camp. Eventually, the coaching staff brought in tackle Branden Bowen to challenge Demetrius Knox and Matthew Burrell — and Bowen ended up beating them out.
That decision is having a ripple effect on the lineup this year. Bowen broke his leg halfway through the 2017 season and was replaced by Knox, who performed capably the rest of the way. Additionally, right tackle opened up when Jamarco Jones left and Isaiah Prince slid over to left tackle. Will Bowen return to right guard or challenge Thayer Munford for the right tackle spot? That’s still unknown, as Bowen isn’t participating in spring practice.
Taylor appears to be the favorite at center, but that position fight could drag out like the right guard battle last year. If the coaching staff decides not to go with Burrell at guard, he could become a contender at center.
With so many players who can play guard or center or guard or tackle, the amount of mixing and matching Ohio State can do will allow the Buckeyes to get the five most talented players onto the field.
“It’s just really cool to look at,” Knox said. “A lot of players are single-position players, but we try to stress that whenever your number is called you may have to go to left guard, you may have to go to right tackle. I’ve played every position on the O-line so far except center. You have to be versatile.”
The good news for Ohio State fans is that it’s a hard decision because the talent level is so high and there are so many options, not because the coaches can’t find anyone they feel comfortable putting on the field. It’s just a matter of which players will make up the line.
“I don’t see us with guys that can’t play,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “I see guys that are all going to be swinging for an opportunity, and they’re talented enough to play.”