Did he actually favor the current situation – replacing four starters at a critical position – over last year, when he returned four starters?
The answer, of course, was no.
“It’s a challenge, it’s exciting and I’ve got great kids to work with, but any coach would tell you that having four starters back and having it pretty set is kind of nice,” Warinner said. “I wouldn’t rather be in this situation than last year, no.”
With that being said, the third-year OSU assistant has a plan to turn a perceived weakness into a strength. The departures of left tackle Jack Mewhort, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Corey Linsley and right guard Marcus Hall left an enormous void, but Warinner believes that having roughly a dozen players to choose from for three spots (Taylor Decker and Pat Elflein have locked up starting roles) could create a good atmosphere of competition.
“I think we’re an improved group from the spring to now in terms of our physical development and our conditioning,” Warinner said. “I think our awareness is good of what they’re supposed to do. As we got going today, I felt like we got better and better. I think we have a long way to go. I think the thing that’s interesting is we have a lot of different parts or different pieces that we have to choose from. Instead of it being six guys that we have to go make those guys be the guys, we’ve got a lot more choices. And so now we have to rep them and see who rises to the top of that.”
It all starts at center, where senior Chad Lindsay, an Alabama transfer, is trying to beat out Jacoby Boren and Billy Price. Warinner noted that Boren is currently out in front but doesn’t plan to make any concrete decisions until the season opener is anywhere from two weeks to 10 days away.
He was effusive in his praise of all three players, noting Lindsay’s winning pedigree at Alabama as well as Boren’s competitiveness and Price’s physicality. Lindsay stands to gain the most over the course of the fall, as he’s still getting acclimated to everything about the program and shaking off some cobwebs after not participating in Alabama’s spring practice.
“I think he had a little rust here the last couple days because he didn’t go through spring ball with Alabama,” Warinner said. “He missed some football from the end of their season. His last football was early January. I see a lot of good things out of him. He’s very smart, hard working, very committed and has good fundamental background. All the terminology and everything was new at a no-huddle pace which we run, and he was a little rusty, but I think he can come along.”
How that battle shakes out will likely play a part in determining how the rest of the dominos fall on the offensive line. The only spot that’s chiseled into stone is Decker at left tackle. Elflein is projected to start at right guard, but Warinner noted that he could be moved to left guard if the staff feels that position becomes too much of a liability. If Price doesn’t win the starting center job, though, there’s a solid chance that he ends up at left guard. He’s already splitting reps between guard and center.
The battle for the left guard spot, which OSU head coach Urban Meyer has repeatedly cited as one of his biggest concerns on the team, is currently being waged between Antonio Underwood, Joel Hale and Marcelys Jones. At right tackle, Darryl Baldwin, Chase Farris and Evan Lisle are all competing to start in the spot vacated by Decker when he moved over to left tackle. Should any of them play to a draw, Warinner noted that he has rotated similar linemen two series at a time to effective results in the past.
There are also two other players to keep an eye on – true freshmen Jamarco Jones and Demetrius Knox, who didn’t arrive until this summer. Warinner noted that both look like “the kind of guys who should be at Ohio State.”
Their youth makes them a work in progress, but at the end of the day, the entire offensive line is still being molded into what Warinner hopes will be an effective unit by season’s end. He noted that in his first year in Columbus, the group learned on the fly and needed the game reps to truly reach its potential.
“I’m confident that we’ll be where we need to be Aug. 30 and then continue to develop through (the rest of the season),” he said. “That’s kind of how 2012 was. We played Miami (Ohio) and we played UAB and some other people and we got better and better as we went along. Game experience is the only way to really, truly mature, so that’ll come through the early part of the season.”