Without intending to, Jamarco Jones put Josh Alabi on the spot.
In 15 days, Jones will play his last game at left tackle for Ohio State when the Buckeyes take on Southern California in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. It will be the last OSU game for All-American center Billy Price, too.
That means the offensive line, which had to replace just one starter after last season, is due for a significant overhaul in the spring. But Jones said in the case of Alabi, that overhaul has begun during this month's bowl practices.
“Josh Alabi has been having some really good practices the past few weeks,” Jones said of the converted defensive lineman who became Jones’ backup as the season progressed. “So now I expect him to improve even more throughout the bowl season and the offseason.”
Bowl teams get the equivalent of a spring’s worth of practices. That’s a benefit that Ohio State has enjoyed in all but three years since 1972. Though the focus is on the opponent as the game nears, early on it’s about getting back to fundamentals.
“The young guys get a lot more reps during bowl season,” Jones said. “During the season it’s a lot more scout (team) work, so they’re running other teams’ offenses and defenses, especially the young guys, just trying to give us looks, so they don’t work on our stuff as much.
“This is the chance for them to get to go through our plays and work on fundamentals, techniques and stuff.”
Price, for example, has been splitting time with Brady Taylor, a Ready graduate who has been the backup at center the past couple of years, including behind 2016 Rimington Trophy winner Pat Elflein.
“I’m going to just speak freely, I think it’s really Brady’s position to lose at this point,” Price said. “Because the kid’s been in the program four or five years now, he’s continued to get better.
“And he and I are having those one-on-one conversations, ‘Hey, let’s work this, let’s change this’ … and that’s what really creates a good relationship between somebody who is a starter and somebody who is going to be filling that role.”
It’s the kind of conversations that have been a part of the culture of the offensive line room for years, Jones said.
“You want to leave the room better than when you got there,” Jones said. “That’s a big focus. We don’t want there to be a drop-off.”
Like two years ago when tackle Taylor Decker, headed toward becoming a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions in 2016, brought along his heir apparent, Jones.
“That’s one thing Taylor always talked about, there not being any drop-off when he leaves and I had to step in to play,” Jones said. “Whoever has to step in there and play next year, I want the same thing. So we’ve got to make sure we’re still pushing these young guys to get better every day.”
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