O-Line Will Be Young, But What Does It Mean?

Ohio State will return one of the lowest totals of offensive line starts in the nation, but what does that mean? We take a look at how teams have handled that in the past, plus what is on hand as offensive line coach Ed Warinner tries to rebuild his second O-line in three years.

One of Phil Steele's favored things to look up before a season starts is returning offensive line starts, and it makes sense. The more experience an offensive line has, the better it usually is.

And as Steele writes, "very few (people) look at the offensive line and yet the team that controls the line of scrimmage wins the game more often than not."

That's not exactly great news for Ohio State, which returns exactly 16 offensive line starts coming into the season – 14 for right tackle-turned-left tackle Taylor Decker a season ago, one start at right guard in 2013 for Patrick Elflein and one ill-fated start at right tackle in 2011 for Antonio Underwood.

And a look at Steele's chart from last year shows that's won't rate very highly for the Buckeyes. A year ago, that number of offensive line starts would have placed Ohio State 124th of 126 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

So what does that mean? Well, on first glance, it's not a good sign for a team that relied on players like Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall to set the offensive tone. None of the bottom seven teams in Steele's list of offensive line starts from last year had a winning record in 2013, and three of them finished with a single win. The first above-.500 team on the list was Texas Tech, which went 8-5.

Of course, that's not an end-all, be-all stat. The bottom seven programs – FIU, Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Florida Atlantic, Troy, UMass and Kansas – aren't exactly college football blue bloods anyway, so to look at a young offensive line and place blame for struggles there is a bit of folly.

A better sign for Ohio State might have been Alabama, which was 106th on Steele's list a season ago with 39 returning starts. Much like Ohio State this year, the Tide had to replace some stalwarts who went on to the professional ranks in Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker. All they did was go 11-2 and pile up 454.1 yards and 38.2 points per game.

And as Steele says, a lot more goes into rating offensive lines than just returning starts, including recruiting rankings, last year's stats, size and more. When it comes to talent on hand, the returns are mixed, as potential new starters Elflein, Underwood (left guard) and Jacoby Boren (center) were three-star prospects while guys like Darryl Baldwin (No. 1 right tackle), Joel Hale (No. 2 left guard) and Billy Price (backup center) were recruited as defensive linemen.

Perhaps that's why head coach Urban Meyer was excited to see the rest of his highly regarded 2014 class of offensive linemen – including high four-star prospects Jamarco Jones and Demetrius Knox – arrive over the summer.

"The offense line, we got a lot of work to do," Meyer said after the spring game. "Offensive line, we've got to really go, we gotta really go from here. I saw Jamarco Jones, Demetrius Knox is coming in, Brady Taylor – those are three bodies that are going to be coming in in June, and I looked them right in the eye and said, ‘You're not redshirting; you're playing,' and that's hard for an offensive lineman.

"So that's an area that we have got to get back to where we – maybe not where we were, but close."

Then there's some history on the Buckeyes' side. In 2012, offensive line coach Ed Warinner inherited a group with a similar mishmash of inexperience and talent, not to mention a work ethic that the coaching staff never hesitated to describe as lacking.

In nine months, Warinner managed to turn that group into one of the strengths of the team and a dominant unit by the time 2013 rolled around, and with a competitive culture in the position room already established, it wouldn't be a surprise to see that happen again.

For his part, Warinner doesn't seem concerned.

"We have some depth," Warinner said. "We just have to work those guys through and get them comfortable, get them confidence, and I'm confident when the time comes Aug. 30 when we play Navy, we'll have a solid group that will perform there."

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