The questions outnumber the answers so far, which is fine with Ed Warinner.
Ohio State’s offensive line coach still has time for his players to rise to the occasion. Unlike two years ago, he believes he has a deep supply from which to draw. The line must replace four senior starters who were the backbone of a record-breaking offense, but it’s easy to forget that exactly two years ago, there were plenty of questions about that line.
“The biggest difference was that I didn’t think (in 2012) that we had more than four guys, and we went to (tight end) Reid Fragel to get the fifth,” Warinner said after practice, Ohio State’s third of preseason camp and first in pads. “Now we’re looking at nine, 10, 11 guys.”
Only two players — junior left tackle Taylor Decker and sophomore right guard Pat Elflein — are assured of starting spots. Fifth-year senior Darryl Baldwin entered camp as the presumptive starter at right tackle, but Warinner said that junior Chase Farris will push him hard for that job.
The other two spots are in the air. Jacoby Boren, the third Boren brother to play for the Buckeyes, has a slight edge over Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay and Billy Price, Warinner said, but that could change quickly.
“Jacoby is a competitor,” Warinner said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s a Boren. Borens compete and they’re winners.”
Lindsay has shown some rust from not having played spring ball and learning a new playbook, but Warinner likes his competitiveness, intelligence and grasp of fundamentals.
As for Price, a converted defensive lineman, Warinner said, “Billy Price is as talented a guy on the offensive line as we have.”
Price could figure in the picture at left guard, as well, where Antonio Underwood and Joel Hale (another defensive line convert) are working. Then there are the freshmen, particularly Jamarco Jones, Demetrius Knox and Marcelys Jones, who could fight for spots on the depth chart.
“I think we’re an improved group from the spring,” Warinner said. “I still think we’ve got a long way to go. What I think is interesting is we have a lot of different parts to choose from. Now we have to rep them and see who rises to the top.”
The skill set required of the 2014 offensive line could differ from that of last year, when the Buckeyes were often content to use Carlos Hyde as a battering ram. This year, Ohio State is more likely to use speedy backs and receivers to exploit the perimeter. Quickness and agility among linemen might be more valued than brute strength, but power running remains a staple of the offense.
Though Warinner said that actual games are the best way to grow, the linemen should benefit from facing the Buckeyes’ formidable defensive line in practice.
“They’re as good as I’ve seen in my career,” he said. “We either have to step up to the plate and compete at that level, or we’ll look bad in practice. That’s going to be our challenge. If we can do that, we’ll end up being a pretty good offensive line.”
Warinner said he’d like to settle on a line combination within 10-14 days of the Aug. 30 opener against Navy. But he could even see rotating players against the Midshipmen before completing the unit.
Asked whether he was confident that the starters would be ready for the opener, Warinner didn’t hesitate.
“Oh, for sure,” he said. “Absolutely. Just making sure it’s the right ones. I’m confident we’ll be where we need to be Aug. 30, and then continue to develop.”