No matter how talented Ohio State may be on offense at the skill positions, without a solid offensive line providing protection none of it will matter. The Buckeyes lose four starters on the offensive line, returning just one, so this spring the focus on the offense should be starting up front.
“We’re not really worried about who we lost,” sophomore Pat Elflein said to The Columbus Dispatch. “We’re just worried about who we’ve got now. We’re just focused on getting better every day. We definitely have some big shoes to fill, but we’re capable of it.”
To recap, Ohio State is losing Jack Mewhort, Marcus Hall, Corey Linsley and Andrew Norwell to the NFL. They return junior Taylor Decker, who is moving from right tackle to left tackle. Ohio State will not be lacking in potential on the offensive line though. Ohio State just recruited four four-star offensive linemen in the Class of 2014 according to Rivals.com, and the Class of 2012 that is coming in to their own now also included three four-star recruits, including Decker. The offensive line has the individual talent to be one of the top units in the Big Ten, one that helps separate Ohio State from most of the rest of the conference, but as was put on display by Michigan State and Clemson in Ohio State’s two-game season-ending losing streak, it is far from being a dominant force that could compete for a championship.
Last season saw Ohio State give up 22 sacks, which was in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten and a stat that is relatively common for a team with a quarterback who can make plays happen with his feet. But quarterback Braxton Miller has been roughed up in his time in Columbus. The Orange Bowl resulted in a lingering injury that sees Miller limited at best this spring as he rehabs following surgery on his throwing shoulder. If keeping Miller healthy is the biggest key to success this season for Ohio State, then consider the offensive line the key master (or are they the gate keepers?).
Finding an identity as a unit on the offensive line will be critical for Ohio State. That begins now.