May 10, 2013

Spring grades: offensive line

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With spring practice now in the books, we find ourselves just three months away from the opening of Urban Meyer's second fall camp as the head coach at Ohio State. With that in mind, we're taking a look back at what we've seen and learned from each position group throughout this offseason, continuing with today's look at the Buckeyes' offensive line.

Spring grade: A-

The strength of the Ohio State roster in 2012, the Buckeyes' offensive line will return four of its five starters from last season's undefeated squad. Those four seniors -- Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley, and Marcus Hall -- figure to once again be a more than formidable unit, although the OSU coaching staff is still searching for a right tackle to replace Reid Fragel.

After helping pave the way for the nation's 10th-ranked rushing offense, this past spring created an opportunity for Buckeyes offensive line coach Ed Warinner to create some depth in his position group. The emergence of players like Pat Elflein and Antonio Underwood has helped produce just that, but the OSU coaching staff will continue to lean on its four returning veterans.

Spring surprise: Pat Elflein

An afterthought after redshirting in 2012, Elflein emerged this spring with high praise from Meyer, who said that the Pickerington, Ohio native has him re-thinking the race for the right to replace Fragel. An interior lineman by nature, Elflein could wind up starting at guard for the Buckeyes, while sliding either Hall or Norwell over to the right tackle spot.

In all likelihood, Elflein will serve as Ohio State's top reserve at center and both guard spots, which is where he played throughout the spring. But regardless of where he winds up, his surprise showing this spring was welcome news to a Buckeyes' coaching staff that has little to rely on behind its four returning starters.

To be determined: Right tackle role

The biggest question mark not only on the OSU offensive line, but perhaps the entire roster, centers around just who it will be that starts at right tackle for the Buckeyes this fall. The race has come down to a pair of sophomores in Taylor Decker and Chase Farris, with Decker taking a slight lead heading into fall camp.

While it's just one spot on the line, the right tackle's importance to Ohio State is more important than it first may seem. It was Fragel's emergence that helped propel the Buckeyes' rushing attack to a different level last season, and whoever winds up replacing on will be counted on to keep the unit's chemistry intact.

Looking ahead: Evan Lisle

While Meyer admittedly recruits players with no intention of redshirting them, one could argue that the offensive line is the exception to that mindset. It is rare in college football for any true freshman to contribute significantly on the line, and that will ring especially true at Ohio State this season considering the Buckeyes' veteran-heavy unit.

Nevertheless, don't count out Lisle to be an impact player for the Buckeyes in the near future. The four-star recruit and Army All-American still has some bulk to gain before he sees significantly playing time, but he could prove to be one of the more valued members of Ohio State's 2013 class.


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