Ed Warinner confirmed he is more comfortable in his second spring as Ohio State offensive line coach than his first, but he wants to make sure a veteran group under his tutelage does not feel the same way.
“If our offensive line doesn't get better, our offense won’t get better,” said Warinner, who is also co-offensive coordinator for the Buckeyes. “Every position needs to improve. We’re not satisfied with where we’re at. We’ve got to improve individually. There are a lot of things we can get better at.”
When he arrived last season, Warinner found a group not only missing three starters from the previous season but also lacking motivation in at least a few members.
The picture is much different this time around as he has a core of four returning starters from a group that exceeded expectations last season and is expected to form the backbone of what could be an explosive offense in 2013.
Not only are the Buckeyes experience up front, they are also veteran: left tackle Jack Mewhort, guards Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell and center Corey Linsley are all seniors.
They have bought into the program of Warinner, second-year head coach Urban Meyer, strength and conditioning director Mickey Marotti, and skill players such as quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde figure to reap the benefits.
“They show up,” Warinner said of the veteran linemen. “They’ve kind of matured that way. That wasn’t where they were at a while back. They’ve grown up and they see the benefits of that. Those guys are all doing well in school, too. It’s kind of interesting because they’re veteran guys who are taking care of business, playing well and doing well in school. And they’re showing the other guys, ‘This is how you do it.’ ”
With such stability in eighty percent of the starting lineup, Warinner is able to concentrate on filling the vacant right tackle slot with Taylor Decker or fellow sophomore Chase Farris and developing a viable second unit.
Through four practice sessions, he sounded satisfied with the progress of both.
Much was expected of Decker last season after the four-star recruit dropped a commitment to Notre Dame, signed with Ohio State and enrolled in time for spring practice.
He made a push for the starting right tackle slot but eventually ended up No. 2 behind Reid Fragel, a senior who had moved from tight end following the 2011 season.
“Freshmen usually hit the wall at some point, and Decker hit the wall right at the beginning of the season a little bit and kind of flattened out,” Warinner said. “Reid being a senior was able to (keep improving). So I think then Taylor just went into survival mode for the rest of the season, but some guys do that. He’s a freshman. That’s why there aren’t many freshmen who play.”
Meanwhile, Farris was undergoing his own transition. The previous coaching staff signed him as a defensive linemen, but he changed sides of the ball shortly after Warinner got to town.
“I had always had my eye on him since he was in high school, and then I got here and he wasn’t really in the picture on defense so I lobbied every day until Coach Meyer had no choice but to either fire me – no, I’m just kidding – but I bugged him about it,” Warinner said. “We want people in positions to play, and we realized we had some depth issues. He had great talent so he could move over and be an offensive lineman. His year he spent there developing is coming on. He should play a lot of football for us. He has a great upside.
“If he’s not the most athletic guy we have, he’s one of them.”
As for the second unit, Warinner likes what he has seen so far, particularly from sophomores Darryl Baldwin and Tommy Brown. That duo is working at left tackle and left guard, respectively, while sophomore Jacoby Boren and junior Tony Underwood man center and right guard with the right tackle slot filled by Decker or Farris.
“I think we’re much better at the second unit than we were last year, which is good because we’re rolling them in more in practice,” Warinner said.
The line coach hasn’t forgotten about the older guys, though. Not by a long shot. He is still pushing them to continue improving throughout the spring.
“How you get better is when you take every practice, every hour,” he said. “When I’m on them, it’s when I see a lack of concentration, taking a play off or relaxing or not giving their best effort. I never say a word to the guys who go hard and compete every play.
“A lot of it is just energy because offensive line needs something to motivate them. They don’t catch touchdowns. They have to block, get back up, block get back up, block get back up, and the guys they’re blocking are tough guys so it just keeps things going and keeps the energy. ?
“I love the guys and they know it.”