Ohio State could have a true freshman start on the offensive line for the second straight season if some upperclassmen don’t seize the opportunity.
It has happened as recently as last year, when Michael Jordan stepped in at left guard. From the 2017 signing class, Josh Myers, who is already enrolled, and Wyatt Davis, coming in June, are five-star prospects likely to gain serious looks. But coach Urban Meyer wishes he didn’t have to turn to newcomers to fill openings on the line.
One reason it has happened is that the Buckeyes have missed on a few prospects signed in Meyer’s first seasons. Just three upperclassmen moved on this winter.
“More than a few,” Meyer said, knowing that eight have left the program early since his first OSU class in 2012. “You can’t do that. What happens is you have a year like we did last year. True freshmen should not play here (on the line).
“That’s because there were some misses in there. Players didn’t develop, some things happened. ‘Dog ate my homework,’ whatever it is, that should not happen. I’m very disappointed in that. So we can’t miss again.”
The Buckeyes have also had some major hits, such as 2016 first-round NFL draft pick Taylor Decker, 2016 Rimington Award winner Pat Elflein, and Billy Price, who made an All-America team last year and has moved from guard to center to lead this year’s unit as a senior.
But the misses Meyer referred to left holes on the depth chart. They include Joey O’Connor, 2012 class, who transferred to Colorado State in 2013; Kyle Dodson, 2012, who gave up football in 2014 because of an unspecified neck problem; Evan Lisle, 2013, who graduated in December and transferred to Duke to play his final season; Timothy Gardner, 2013, who was dismissed from the team the summer of his freshman year; Kyle Trout, 2014, who will graduate this spring and transfer to Cincinnati; Marcelys Jones, 2014, who transferred to Kentucky in 2015 but later was dismissed; Grant Schmidt, 2015, who transferred to Cincinnati in 2016; and Tyler Gerald, 2016, who quit in February.
That’s roughly a third of the linemen signed over the period, which also means more than enough endured. But this spring, the coaches are looking for Demetrius Knox, Matt Burrell, Branden Bowen, Kevin Feder and Brady Taylor, all third- or fourth-year players, to step up after having had several seasons to mature.
Four starters return, including left tackle Jamarco Jones and right tackle Isaiah Prince. Knox seems to have the lead this spring for the open spot at right guard. But second-year line coach Greg Studrawa and Meyer want the others to take the bit.
Price said it is happening.
“We’re seeing a lot of guys put in that time, and have that accountability and maturity growth to really demonstrate what it means to be an offensive lineman,” Price said.
It’s not always easy to spot line prospects who are going to continue that personal climb after usually dominating lesser competition in high school, but Meyer said there is a template for the quest.
“No. 1 is toughness,” Meyer said. “If you have to worry about the toughness of a lineman, then you’ve made a horrible mistake. … You have to be athletic. You have to be able to move. You have to be able to get leverage on players. And you’ve got to be the ultimate grinder. And if you’re not that, it’s called a miss.”