Few positions have been a constant source of consternation for Ohio State fans in recent years like the offensive line. With a consistently changing cast of characters that rotates on a practice-by-practice basis, trying to evaluate who is playing well and who lines up best with whom has been a tough task.
But with the final spring practice on the docket in the form of OSU’s annual spring game, offensive line coach Jim Bollman said he has been encouraged by what he has seen out of his charges this spring but admits there remains work to be done.
“Everybody was talking about getting tougher, being more physical and all those different kinds of things. Well, are we there yet? No, we’re not there,” he said. “We’re 12 practices closer to being there. I think we’re on schedule. I don’t know if you ever get exactly where you want to be, but the guys have improved and they deserve some credit for that.”
The offensive line has had its work cut out for it throughout the spring. While the unit is replacing three of the five players who started the Fiesta Bowl against Texas, it is going up against an experienced defensive line that returns all but one starter.
The gap of experience was visible during the team’s jersey scrimmage, where the defense captured the victory with a modified scoring system thanks in large part to recording 13 sacks.
A final chance for redemption this spring will come during the spring game, but the task will not be easy with players dispersed to two different teams.
“We’ve got different players playing different positions, so some of that cohesion won’t be there but in the one-on-one pass situations, it will be a chance for us to get better,” senior Jim Cordle said. “We’ve watched a lot of the film and a lot of the sacks were (missed assignments).”
Cordle said it is tough to evaluate the play of the line as a whole because the coaches have utilized several different lineups throughout the spring. Only one player has essentially remained constantly in the same spot with the first-team offense: left guard Justin Boren.
To his right, the starting lineup appears to consist of Michael Brewster, Bryant Browning and Cordle, with Mike Adams and Andy Miller battling for the starting left tackle spot. During practice April 23, the coaches rotated linemen during one drill that were all considered as being part of the first team.
The players in that group were all the aforementioned linemen in addition to Andrew Moses and Connor Smith. Injured sophomore J.B. Shugarts figures to be included in the mix when he returns full-time from injury.
Minus the left tackle spot, Bollman said he is growing more comfortable with looking at Boren, Brewster, Browning and Cordle as his starters coming out of the spring.
“I think you’re closer to that,” he said. “I’d say we’re about 40 percent (there). That’s about how far along we are to making a final decision. You can see and have a pretty good picture of who’s going to be contributors.”
Bollman added that the first 20 days of fall camp will go a long way toward solidifying who will start on the offensive line when the season begins Sept. 5 against Navy.
First up, though, are the summer months. With the coaches not allowed to have oversight into how individual players are progressing, the time period can be a crucial one for players hoping to make a leap up the depth chart.
As a case in point, Bollman pointed to Bryce Bishop, who started 32 consecutive games during his OSU career.
“He was a guy that our very first spring (2001) wasn’t really a marked guy but when we came back in the fall he was and he contributed a lot the three years after that,” Bollman said. “I can think of a couple years where a guy came in after the summer.”
For now, though, it appears Bollman is drawing closer to having a group of seven or eight top linemen that he feels comfortable with. Getting to that point will mean it has been a successful spring.
“Certainly you’ve got to improve in all aspects, but I think the guys have taken a step forward every day,” he said. “I really think they’ve done a great job of consistently working all spring, better than I’ve been around in a long time. People tend to have up and down days but guys have really worked hard, I thought.
“We’ve got to get better on a couple things, no question about it, but I can see things progressing also.”