Gone were four starters from the previous season’s squad – including two that began this fall as starters in the NFL in Jack Mewhort of the Colts and Corey Linsley of the Packers – and fresh faces battled during the offseason for the right to protect quarterback J.T. Barrett this year. After three games, however, questions remain about who will settle in as the five best linemen on the team.
Junior Taylor Decker, the only returning starter, has been solid in his new role as the left tackle after spending last fall on the right side. Fifth-year senior Darryl Baldwin emerged from Ohio State’s preseason camp as the starting right tackle and has earned praise from head coach Urban Meyer in recent weeks.
The inside of the line, however, has remained in flux. The starters for the first three games have been the same – sophomore Pat Elflein at left guard, junior Jacoby Boren at center and redshirt freshman Billy Price at right guard. Yet the Buckeyes have mixed and matched players on the inside, especially during OSU’s rout of Kent State, to try to find the right mix.
“Our two tackles are playing very well, Decker and Darryl,” Meyer said during Ohio State’s recent open week. “We’re still trying to solidify the three inside. It’s certainly not final right now.”
Elflein and Boren have both been dealing with injuries in the early season. Meyer said Monday that Boren had a high ankle sprain, while Elflein was “dealing with some foot issues.” Both were full go as the Buckeyes prepared for Cincinnati, however.
While Elflein, Boren and Price have been the main players on the inside of the offensive line, a new contender for playing time has emerged in redshirt junior Chase Farris. The Elyria, Ohio, native has switch between offense and defense on several occasions during his three years at Ohio State and has impressed Meyer in recent weeks.
“The guy that’s improved a little bit is Chase Farris, and he’s the backup right tackle,” Meyer said Monday. “And if he’s one of the top five (linemen), then he shouldn’t be the backup right tackle. He should be the starting right guard.
“We have not made a final decision on that, and I’m not sure we will this game. I think we’re going to play six guys and get some rotation going.”
Meyer went on to say senior Joel Hale, who made the move to the offensive line after playing on the defensive line last season, continues to battle for a spot. Also mentioned by Meyer was Antonio Underwood. The junior from Shaker Heights, Ohio, “made a big jump start last week” by getting playing time against Kent State. He was behind Chad Lindsay on the depth chart but moved up when Lindsay left the team because of nagging injuries.
Decker, the elder statesman on the line in terms of playing time, said he was not worried about finding enough players who can play. For the Buckeyes, the task remains finding the right mix of players that will gel into the starting five.
“We’ve got all kinds of guys who are capable of playing,” Decker said. “It’s just a matter of finding who fits where and who is going to be able to play where. Some guys can swing in different position, like you saw Pat and Billy both play a little bit of center in the last game. We flip guys around because if you can play more positions, you have a better chance of getting on the field.”