I want to break down the Ohio State roster position-by-position and player-by-player. Let's get started with the offense.
Offensive Line – The players that really stand out now are T.J. Downing and Kirk Barton. Downing is proof positive of something I have been saying for years – offensive linemen and quarterbacks take the longest to develop. Of the offensive linemen who played this year, Downing is the one I am most excited about coming back for next year.
One thing that was as plain as the nose on your face as the year went on was the lack of nasty in the offensive line. Downing brings nasty to spare. He comes off the ball with some pop, and also shows tenacity by staying with his blocks to the whistle. He looks to be in great shape, too.
Downing seemed to have some trouble with his pass blocking in the spring game, but that tenacity showed, so he stayed after his man and got the job done. He needs to be more patient. You want that punch in pass blocking as quickly as possible, but so many young OLs are rushing it and end up reaching, putting themselves off balance and giving the pass rusher the advantage.
I was dead wrong about Barton. I didn't think he would be this good by the time he was a senior, let alone as a soon to be redshirt sophmore. He is so good of a pass blocker that I would seriously consider moving him to left tackle. I know Iowa DE Matt Roth did a number on him, but let's remember Barton did a great job on Wisconsin's Erasmus James. The difference is strength; Matt Roth is a bull rusher, while James is a speed rusher. OSU can make Barton stronger to deal with the bull rushers, but they can't make him more agile.
Nick Mangold did not have the year I expected from him. He played consistently at the end of the season but I thought he would be at least All-Big Ten and maybe an All-American. I wonder if he was hurt and we were kept in the dark. He must play better to hold off Jim Cordle, who showed so well I don't think he redshirts, if he wants to go out as a senior starter.
Rob Sims lacks nasty and he is not really that big. He was solid, but like with Mangold, I expected more. I think he could help us more as a guard as it is more his natural position.
Steve Rehring surprised me. I did not think he would play soon. I really liked what I saw of him. He did his job. He did it at a high rate of speed and he did it with some attitude. He is massive. He had some problems pass blocking in the spring game, but he is young and like with Downing, he needs to show some patience. He needs to pick his moment to make that punch. A guard can be more aggressive because there is less space to work in, but even a guard needs to make sure he lands that punch. I would like to swap Rehring and Barton. I think that puts them both at their most natural positions.
Doug Datish is the man on the spot. He is big and very athletic but I have not seen a lineman miss on so many blocks since Brooks Burris. He does not show an understanding of the game. It appeared that with Downing and Barton bringing increased intensity, Datish also stepped that part of his game up a notch in the spring. We'll see if that follows over to the fall.
Let me try to paint a picture with words. The last defensive player at the end of the line – could be a defensive end or a linebacker, or it could be a blitzer – comes hard and penetrates. The blocker who picks him up could be a tackle, a tight end or a fullback. There is little room between this engagement and the line of scrimmage. Datish would still try to get up in that non-existent hole. Time and time again, he would lead the runner into tight confines, or leave him naked running wide.
I can't believe he was told to do this. If the last defensive player is not tight to the line, it is the right read, but so often that was not the case.
I don't recall him playing at all in the Alamo Bowl. He showed really well all spring according to reports and looked really good in the spring game as a right tackle. He really needs to continue to improve. Ben Person and Kyle Mitchum are bigger and even more athletic. They will read the game better. Datish needs to find his game and he needs to do it quickly. Andree Tyree is not in the mix, plain and simple.
My Take: This is what we have been waiting on. We are finally looking at enough depth and talent on the offensive line that we can talk about who plays instead of who do the Buckeyes have that can fill the spots. OSU is still guard heavy, but they now have tackles playing tackle instead of guards playing tackle, with the exception of Sims who still may play tackle.
I see Person playing a lot at guard. I see Mitchum in the mix if he can stay healthy. Person or Mitchum could start opposite Downing but that is going to be dependent on Sims moving inside. Either way, both play a lot.
I don't know what happens with Datish. His lack of playing time in the Alamo Bowl is telling in my opinion. He needed the good spring that it appears he has had.
Jim Cordle really is the wild card. I thought there was no chance that he would play this year. I knew he would be a fine player at OSU, but then I thought he would not be this good this quickly. The move to center is what will help him make it into the two-deep. You don't want any player to come in as the starter with no game reps, but center is one of those positions that it is crucial to prepare a player. His appearance allows Jim Bollman the luxury of moving some players around and allowing his starters a breather.
At tackle, the Buckeyes finally have some tackles. If I were making the decision, I would flop Rehring and Barton. I want Barton's pass blocking skills on my quarterback's left side and I want my big nasty on the right side.
I was most impressed with Jon Skinner coming out of high school, but I heard nothing about him all spring, and he got pushed around in the spring game. I heard that he may have been hurt, but I find that suspect considering how many other players were held out due to injury. I think he plays on the right side at tackle, but he needs to make a move. Alex Boone is on the way and the Ohio offensive line class in 2005-06 is a special one.
Speaking of Boone, he will be the other player that will be in the mix. If the Buckeyes are good enough that Alex Boone can redshirt, then they are even better than I think they are up front. He is that good. Maybe that is why we are seeing Barton stay on the right side. The staff may want its two best pass blockers in the field and they already know Alex Boone will be one of them.