While such an inexperienced bunch gives the Ohio State offense yet another question mark, the lone returning starter from 2013 – left tackle Taylor Decker – is optimistic.
“I’m not at all concerned with it because I’ve seen how everybody who’s been in there has performed in practice,” Decker said. “I have no concern at all because I know whoever’s in there is going to get it done and then we have guys who will be the next man in who will be able to get it done. I have no concerns whatsoever because we had a great training camp.”
Offensive line coach Ed Warinner said at the beginning of training camp that he hoped to have the starting lineup penciled in with a week to spare before the season opener against Navy on Aug. 30, but that has not gone quite to plan. Decker is slated to start at left tackle, while Pat Elflein earned the spot at right guard and Darryl Baldwin will step in at right tackle.
That leaves center and left guard as the two remaining battles, and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer confirmed in his Monday press conference that neither spot had seen a winner yet. Center is down to graduate transfer Chad Lindsay, who started four games at Alabama in 2013, and Jacoby Boren, while Joel Hale Billy Price and Antonio Underwood are all fighting for the starting spot at left guard.
Warinner had said that he has in the past split game reps between players he believed to be equal, inserting them for two series at a time. Decker said on Monday that the lack of a final decision at those spots didn’t surprise him because Warinner wouldn’t name a starter who hadn’t separated himself just for the sake of naming a starter.
Those competitions have added to the atmosphere at practice, although the chance to build some chemistry may have been lost in the process.
“We’re going to have to develop some cohesiveness once we know where is where, but it’s been high energy because there are some guys competing for spots,” Decker said. It’s been high energy, up-tempo and everyone’s going hard and that’s good. That’s going to prepare us well for our games.”
The stakes are especially high now that senior quarterback Braxton Miller will miss all of 2014 with a torn labrum. The two-time Big Ten Player of the Year had a knack for making plays on the rare occasions when his protection broke down, but the scrambling ability of his redshirt freshman replacement J.T. Barrett is still unknown.
“Him being a young guy and not having a lot of experience, we have to make him look better,” Decker said. “The line has to play that much harder to protect him and the receivers have to make plays until he gets comfortable.”
The Ohio State coaching staff is betting that Barrett’s talent outshines his lack of experience. Decker believes the same of his teammates on the offensive line.
“It’s always going to be difficult when you’re turning around and replacing four guys,” he said. “But at a place like Ohio State, we’re always going to have talent at every position. And yeah, people are going to be unsure about it because we haven’t played yet, but that’s what the games are for. The cohesiveness isn’t there, but the ability definitely is. That bond will just form through games and through practice through the season."