Ed Warinner had the look of a happy man when he met reporters Friday morning at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
And why not? Warinner, a veteran coach in his first year mentoring the Ohio State offensive line, had just witnessed his unit hold its own against the talented Buckeye defensive line in a goal-line drill during practice.
The performance marked a stark contrast from a similar encounter during spring ball, when the defense dominated.
It was just one day, but the August success story represented another milestone in the continued evolution of a group that has gone from much maligned to potentially magnificent in less than a year.
“What a difference there is in this mentality of hitting it in there, being physical and attacking,” he said. “I like where we’re headed in that direction. Competing, wanting to win, not waiting around looking to see who else is going to make the block. Guys are having fun doing it.”
Warinner was able to establish four clear starters in spring practice – Jack Mewhort at left tackle, Andrew Norwell at left guard, Corey Linsley at center and Marcus Hall at right guard – but is overseeing a position battle on the right edge of his line this month.
That is between Reid Fragel and Taylor Decker, a duo that have little in common other than their desire to be on the field for the first snap with the offense when the Buckeyes open the season Sept. 1 against Miami (Ohio).
Fragel is a senior, but he spent the first three years at Ohio State playing tight end. Offensive line is not new for Decker, but the college game is. He was preparing for his senior season at Vandalia (Ohio) Butler High School this time last season.
“They both have growing pains or things that they’re working on there that are relative to the newness of the position or the newness to college football,” Warinner said. “They’re even in terms of who should be first team and who shouldn’t be first team, but they’re not even in terms of what their strengths and weaknesses are. Certain things Taylor needs to work on, certain things Reid needs to work on so we’re just going to focus on those and see who comes quickest in their needs.”
Fragel already demonstrated his prowess as a run blocker during his time on the field at tight end in past seasons, but he has had some trouble with the top pass rushers on the Ohio State team when reporters have been allowed to watch drills in the spring and again during preseason camp.
Decker is blessed with great talent and athleticism for his size, but he is still developing physically while trying to pick up the nuances of the new offense.
Warinner did not tip his hand in regards to who might come out on top, but he expressed confidence his group overall is making the right steps toward being a group that can be counted upon this fall when the action starts to count.
“Time will tell,” he said. “The pieces are there. If they continue to do what they’re doing, keep improving, stay humble, work hard, continue with that great attitude being coachable and just go out there and compete then they can definitely be a line that be proud of and a very strong unit, yes.”
After describing Mewhort and Linsley as the two best linemen during spring practice, Warinner went out of his way to praise the development of Hall and Norwell since the group reconvened in August.
“I think Norwell and Marcus Hall have closed the gap to where all four of them are about the same level,” he said. “Are they where they need to be? We’ve got a lot more practices to get them there, but there’s not a big disparity between the (starters).”
Starters aside, there is competition to earn a spot on the two-deep as well. Warinner identified sophomore Antonio Underwood as the standout of the backups, a group consistently exclusively of sophomores and freshmen.
Underwood has moved to center, where he is currently the backup as freshman Jacoby Boren recovers from offseason shoulder surgery, and figures to be the first player off the bench on the interior line.