Countdown To Spring: O-Line Improvement

We continue our 10-part Countdown To Spring Football series with a look at the offensive line. Late last year, OSU was energized when Kirk Barton and T.J. Downing entered the lineup. Will the improvement continue this spring?

On Tuesday, we began our Countdown to Spring Football with the first of 10 pressing questions for Ohio State to answer this spring.

Spring drills open up Thursday with the Scarlet and Gray Game set for April 23 at Ohio Stadium.

Working backward from No. 10, we are up to the fifth pressing question leading into spring football.

5. Will the offensive line continue its progression and, as a result, will the running game come back any time soon?

This has taken four long, arduous years but Jim Tressel and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman finally have the depth rebuilt on the offensive line.

The line finished the year on a high note, opening a few holes in the running game and protecting Smith and Zwick well down the stretch. The Buckeyes scored 30 or more points in three of their last four games, production that coincided with a midseason shake-up on the offensive line.

Left tackle Rob Sims and center Nick Mangold return for their senior seasons. OSU needs a new starter at right guard, where Mike Kne departs. Sophomore Kirk Barton supplanted Tim Schafer midway through the year at right tackle, while sophomore T.J. Downing did likewise at left guard after sophomore Doug Datish had started the first two-thirds of the year. Datish is the leading candidate to replace Kne at right guard.

Bollman will be mixing and matching combinations all spring. Gigantic Steve Rehring (6-8, 315) got a taste of playing time at tackle as a freshman last year. The Buckeyes redshirted three freshmen last year – Kyle Mitchum, Ben Person and Jon Skinner – and all will get a good hard look this spring. Plus, incoming freshman Jimmy Cordle is expected to be in the fold as well as an early enrollee.

Ohio State's running game has been among college football's very worst the last two seasons. But the improved depth on the offensive line has to give the OSU staff hope that the cornerstone of their offense will return to form very soon.

"Well, I'd always like to get to the point where you can steadily rotate some guys," Bollman said. "You've got Nick and Rob, T.J. (Downing), Doug Datish, Kirk Barton … those guys have all had a little bit of experience now. Steve Rehring, Tim Schafer … you've got some guys that have been in the mix a little bit, which is great. And then you've got Jimmy (Cordle) and Alex (Boone) coming in, and then you've also got the other three guys that redshirted last year, who are pretty good prospects too: Ben Person, Kyle Mitchum and Jon Skinner.

"So, yeah, it ought to be a very fun and competitive spring. And then you've also got some older guys who've been here in the program a long time who've done a good job. I mean, John Conroy, this will be his fifth year in the program. Steve Winner, it will be his fifth year. (Andree) Tyree, it will be his fifth year in the program. There's a good mix of young and old."

Previous Installments

On Tuesday, we began this 10-part feature with the No. 10 pressing question for the spring:

10. Will several players "on the spot" deliver?

Click this link for a look at that installment including spring practice dates, the 2005 schedule and returning starters for OSU in 2005.

Countdown To Spring: Players on the Spot

On Wednesday, we had question No. 9: 9. Will Ted Ginn Jr. spend a great deal of his time at cornerback?

Countdown To Spring: Two-Way Ted?

On Thursday, we had question No. 8: 8. How will new assistant coach Paul Haynes fare in his debut with the Buckeyes?

Countdown To Spring: Welcome, Coach Haynes

On Friday, we had question No. 7: 7. How will OSU juggle the linebackers and will Mike D'Andrea be full-go?

Countdown To Spring: Juggling The LBs

On Saturday, we had question No. 6: 6. Will somebody step up at defensive end?

Countdown To Spring: Stepping Up At End

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