Breaking down the Ohio State roster as training camp heats us and the program turns its attention to the opener on Aug. 31 against Buffalo.
Next in line: The backup spots don’t have to be quite as precise given the flexibility of some reserves capable of playing multiple spots, with Chase Farris likely the first man up if injuries strike at either guard or tackle. Darryl Baldwin has impressed during training camp and provides depth on the edge, and Pat Elflein has emerged as a viable option on the interior. Jacoby Boren spent time filling in for Linsley when he was injured during spring practice and early this month, and the sophomore’s work ethic and family history with the program is well documented.
New faces: The Buckeyes didn’t do much to restock the cupboards with the most recent signing class, and a class of blockers that only included two names dropped to one this season when Tim Gardner was sent home following an off-the-field incident. That leaves just Evan Lisle, who has shown some potential but would likely benefit from a year to develop on the sideline before getting thrown in the mix.
Recruiting trail: With four seniors set to move on from the program after this season, coach Urban Meyer made it clear since signing day in February that he has to bring in a strong class of linemen to pave the way for the future. He would have liked to have done that in 2012, obviously, but he’s off to a strong start with the next group after getting pledges from ESPN300 picks Jamarco Jones (Chicago/De La Salle) and Demetrius Knox (Fort Worth, Texas/All Saints Episcopal). The Buckeyes also have commitments from tackles Kyle Trout (Lancaster, Ohio/Lancaster) and Marcelys Jones (Cleveland/Glenville), reinforcing the importance of targeting the line in the 2013 class.
Flexibility: Returning four senior starters doesn’t leave much room for movement on the first unit, and the strong start to camp for sophomore Taylor Decker erased the only real question mark heading into the opener. Farris and Baldwin have each been able to push for work at times at right tackle, but Decker’s brute strength and knowledge of the game has given him a leg up and given line coach Ed Warinner little to worry about with his starting unit.
• The work hasn’t all come at one spot, but one way or another, the Buckeyes have been able to count on inking Mewhort’s name in the starting lineup for quite some time now. The season opener against Buffalo will mark his 26th consecutive start, a string that has included appearances at left guard, right guard and the position he locked down for all of last fall, left tackle.
• For all the hype about the spread offense and what it would do for the passing attack in 2012, the Buckeyes ultimately relied much more on power and a smash-mouth ground game thanks to the nasty attitude and physical approach up front in Meyer’s first season. Ohio State rushed twice as often as it passed, turning those 559 total carries into an average of 242 yards per game and finishing the season as one of the top running teams in the nation.
• The offensive line wasn’t necessarily on the hook for all the sacks on Braxton Miller last season, but given the quarterback’s mobility and the experience returning, they should be able to cut down dramatically on the 30 takedowns they allowed in 2012. Miller is a better decision-maker moving into his junior season and that should get the ball out quicker and provide some help for the line. But the big guys also appear capable of establishing a more comfortable pocket.
Big question: Is Taylor Decker ready?
The Buckeyes weren’t ready to pronounce the sophomore a starter leaving spring practice, and Decker himself admitted that he hadn’t earned the right after 15 workouts in March and April. The coaching staff has already seen enough in August to trust him with that responsibility, though, and it comes with expectations that could hardly be higher. From a broad perspective, the Buckeyes are planning to contend for a national title. From a position-specific angle, Meyer has made it well known that everything starts in the trenches, and he wants nothing less than the best offensive line in the Big Ten -- for starters. With four proven commodities from an unbeaten team returning, the focus will be on the new guy to meet the standard.