Wednesday Night Rumble: It All Starts Up Front

Taylor Decker is ready to lead in 2014

Taylor Decker is ready to lead in 2014

The wait is now under 3 weeks. In fact, we are exactly 17 days away from the Buckeyes kicking off 2014 in Baltimore against Navy. 

The most asked question going around seems to be “So, how do you think they’ll do this year?” I’ve thought about it over and over, and I keep coming up with the same conclusions: Obviously the defense has to be a lot better, most notably in the back 7.

The offense is absolutely loaded with talent, but is bringing in three new starters on the offensive line. And how well those three newcomers gel with the two returning starters will have a massive impact on how the 2014 season will go.

It’s Wednesday, let’s rumble!

Ed Warriner, Ohio State offensive line coach

Ed Warriner, Ohio State offensive line coach

The big guys

If you’ve followed this column much in the two full years (3rd season, hey!) since it started, you know my affinity for the offensive line. I played it in high school, coached it for nearly ten years after, and I loved every second of it. As I used to tell the kids under my watch, there is no better feeling than squaring up on someone, you versus him, and physically moving him from his current location while from the corner of your eye seeing your running back fly past and into the end zone. To me, that was the ultimate.

The Buckeyes now find themselves looking for three new guys to step in and be the new powerhouse of the program. Gone are Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus “Fingers” Hall. Remaining are Taylor Decker and Pat Elflein (who filled in for Hall after he was suspended from The Game).

How it lines up

Decker has moved from right tackle to left in an obvious position change. Elflein will man the right guard spot after showing he is more than capable in the Big Ten Championship game and the Orange Bowl. Strength coach Mickey Marotti has said that both have emerged as leaders, and that is fantastic news to hear. “They’re leaders because they’ve been there and earned that right, and they live it every day,” Marotti said during last weeks media availability. “It’s fun to see where those guys are at compared to two years ago.

So who fills the rest of the positions?

At center, Chad Lindsay (a senior transfer from Alabama, who started four games for the Crimson Tide replacing an injured starter) seems like a front runner. He will compete with Jacoby Boren (the third and rumored to be best of the Boren clan) and Billy Price.

Left guard will be battled out between Antonio Underwood and former defensive lineman Joel Hale coming in as the top contenders along with redshirt frosh Evan Lisle.

Joel Hale goes from chasing QB's to protecting Braxton Miller

Joel Hale goes from chasing QB’s to protecting Braxton Miller

Right tackle should be the least competitive, with Darryl Baldwin essentially assuming the starting role. Baldwin is a senior and has seen plenty of spot time in past seasons.

Chase Farris and Kyle Dodson fit in somewhere, but it is a little alarming that I haven’t heard their names mentioned much if it all from writers who are at practices.

And then there are the freshman who will push everyone: Marcelys Jones, Demetrius Knox, Jamarco Jones, Kyle Trout and Brady Taylor. All of them come in highly touted from high school and expecting to make an impact immediately. Urban Meyer said after the spring game “I saw Jamarco Jones, Demetrius Knox and Brady Taylor down there, those are three bodies that are going to be coming in June, and I looked them right in the eye and said, ‘You’re not redshirting. You’re playing.’

When thinking about the offensive line and a “rebuild”, it is important to note that this isn’t the first time o-line coach Ed Warriner has done this at Ohio State. The players he inherited in 2012 that led a 12-0 run and then stayed together to dominate in 2013 was as much of a rebuild as this one will be. The Buckeyes are in good hands with Warriner and that’s not just speculation, it’s been proven in the past.
Interesting things happening in the backfield
Ezekial Elliot, considered by most to be the obvious replacement for the departed Carlos Hyde, underwent a very minor wrist surgery last week and will miss a week of practice while it heels. While it shouldn’t affect Elliot’s hold on the starting gig, it did bring the media to ask about the depth in the backfield.
Curtis Samuel (4) is impressing in practices

Curtis Samuel (4) is impressing in practices

Shockingly, or at least to me it was a surprise, Meyer singled out true freshman Curtis Samuel as a back that is pushing his way to the top of the depth chart and making a strong case for early playing time in relief of Elliot. Samuel enrolled in January and participated in spring practices. He even has the support of former linebacker Bobby Carpenter who during his co-host spot on Buckeye Extra on 97.1 in Columbus, is constantly raving about Samuel. Carpenter would know something or other about running backs that are going to give linebackers problems having spent his time in the NFL facing plenty of them.

Along with Samuel, Meyer has also mentioned Bri’onte Dunn, the redshirt sophomore out of Canton. Curiously, he has made no mention of Warren Ball or Rod Smith.

Another interesting note from the backfield is that Dontre Wilson has put on an estimated 20 pounds and is now back to working with the running backs during drills in practice. If you recall, last season Wilson was moved and worked with the wide receivers in practice as his role became defined much more by his pass catching ability from the backfield and runs from the slot or wide split.

LeBron’s homecoming

Last Friday night was the official homecoming celebration for LeBron James. It was held at the University of Akron’s Infocision Stadium and featured guest speakers from the Cleveland Cavaliers as well as representatives of the LeBron James Family Foundation.

While it was technically a welcome home shindig, a vast majority of the nights events were on the “Akron I Promise Network” that focuses on helping youth learn at a young age to make good choices and stay in school. It also centered around the charity work the foundation is doing from rebuilding homes and landscaping to the “Wheels for Education” program helping Akron kids earn bicycles through scholastic achievement.

The King, LeBron James at his homecoming party

The King, LeBron James at his homecoming party

Of course, the night was topped off by Skylar Grey performing live her hit single “I’m Coming Home” and James taking the stage to say a few words. The majority of James speech focused on the kids and the “I Promise” program, reciting the list of promises the kids will make that range from being respectful to their teachers to asking questions and seeking answers. He did, however, lead the stadium in the famous Ohio State “O-H” – “I-O” chants that we all know so well. And of course, he closed the evening by talking briefly about his decision to come home.

He ended the show with this: “People came to me and said ‘LeBron, you gotta do what makes you happy’. I thought about that, and I was like ‘yeah, I think so, I think it’s about time.’ And then I thought about it and said “Hell no! I’m gonna do what makes my city and my state happy!’ And that’s why I came back. I love you! I’m back!”

Wrap it up

August 23rd is going to be a big day in Cleveland. It’s the day the Browns finally play a home preseason game and Johnny Manziel makes his Cleveland debut. It’s the day the waiting period for the Cavaliers to trade for Kevin Love officially expires. And, that night the Cleveland Gladiators will host Arena Bowl 28 and play for the leagues championship. It’s also the official one week countdown to the kickoff of Buckeye football! Until next week, Go Bucks!
Metallica track of the week 
The season is getting close so it’s time to start cranking up the intensity. Let’s go back to Orion 2013 on Belle Isle in Detroit for a gut-punching rendition of Harvester of Sorrow!
Jason Long

About Jason Long

Born and raised in Northeastern Ohio and extremely proud to call Struthers (Youngstown) his hometown, Jason has taken his talents to the Columbus area but his heart will always be by the lake. "Pounding out aggression, turned into obsession", you'll notice a small affinity to metal lords Metallica.