Ohio State went into spring football with one glaring question on the offensive line. Though the answer apparently has not been found, Ed Warinner was far from despair when he met with reporters for a post-spring interview session.
He may not have chosen a winner in the Taylor Decker-Chase Farris right tackle derby, but Warinner still feels good about what progress his unit and the Ohio State offense made as a whole in March and April.
“There are guys who can do the job, and their time will come, so they’ve got to fight it out over the summer and in August to have that job,” Ohio State’s offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator said.
He identified Decker as the front runner but said Farris, a former defensive lineman, is not far behind.
“It’s pretty close right now, but we’ll see how that goes,” Warinner said. “It will sort itself out, but I feel like we’re in good shape compared to last year. Last year we were still battling with that all the way up to the first game. I feel like we’re ahead of that.”
He was referring to a competition between Decker and Reid Fragel, a senior who ultimately won the right tackle job and played well enough to turn himself into a likely pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
Warinner saw Fragel’s veteran status as a key in his holding off Decker, who hit the freshman wall near the start of the 2012 season, but the sophomore remains a prospect with high upside.
“I like everything about him in terms of what his upside is and his ability and his mindset,” Warinner said. “It’s just inexperience and consistency. The more he plays there, the better he will be.”
The winner of the right tackle job will join a group of four starters returning from last season that includes left tackle Jack Mewhort, guards Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall and center Corey Linsley.
With those four seniors in place and Warinner secure in their aptitude at taking care of their own business, the coach was free to work on developing depth that was sorely lacking last year.
With an eye on finding viable backups and projecting potential contributors in 2014, Warinner came away happy with the progress that was made on the No. 2 line as well.
Though the good news was tempered by the loss of junior guard Tony Underwood to a torn ACL, centers Jacoby Boren and Pat Elflein staged a spirited battle to back up Linsley and tackles Darryl Baldwin and Kyle Dodson made noticeable progress as well.
“Underwood was making great progress and he got banged up, but he’ll be back. He’s coming,” Warinner said. “We haven’t decided on who the backup center would be right now. (Jacoby is) in a battle with Pat Elflein. They’re both quality kids who work really hard. Elflein has shown a lot of ability. He really exploded on the scene in spring. He probably was a guy who showed us a lot more than we thought he had. There’s no clear-cut No. 2 there.”
Boren served as the backup center last season as a true freshman, but Elflein’s emergence has to please the staff considering its emphasis on competition within the roster. Should Boren retain the No. 2 center spot, Elflein can slide to guard, where he would join sophomore Tommy Brown, who Warinner also said has progressed.
Meanwhile, the second-team tackle slots appear to have three candidates in the loser of the starting right tackle derby plus Baldwin and Dodson.
“We’re trying to get as much out of (Baldwin) as we can,” Warinner said. “He’s got a lot of measurables that are strong. He’s fast, tall and long and he’s learning how to play the position. He’s a competent guy who is smart.
“Kyle Dodson got a ton of reps in the spring game playing left tackle and did a nice job. He performed better than I thought he might in the spring game, so I was pleased with him. He’s a guy who a year from now could be someone who could help us.”
With the four returning starters all seniors set to leave Ohio State after the coming season, fans have already started to fret about the quality of the OSU offensive line in 2014.
Could that be a weak link on a squad that should have a large amount of its skill players returning as seniors that season, possibly including star quarterback Braxton Miller? Warinner says not to worry. He will be able to put a quality group on the field even after Mewhort, Linsley, Hall and Norwell are gone.
“That will happen because we’re always working on quality depth,” Warinner said. “That was one of the things we worked on this spring – to see who those guys are.
“We’ll continue to add pieces to that as we go in this recruiting class, but that just goes to developing your depth. You think those guys are going to be able to be a backup this year and then in the future when that spot becomes available they’re ready to go.”