Bollman Likes O-Line's Depth, Talent

Depth has been an issue on Ohio State's offensive line the past five seasons. But this year, O-Line coach Jim Bollman says he has up to 11 players ready to go. And the Buckeyes aren't just deep, they are experienced and talented. We caught up with Bollman for his thoughts on the battle at left guard and much more.

With three returning starters and three other players with a lot of experience, Jim Bollman is excited about the potential of his offensive line.

But Ohio State's offensive coordinator is tempering his excitement until he sees the group help lead the Buckeyes to victories.

"Let's wait until we win a few games," he said. "Until then, it's purely conjecture."

But Bollman knows this could be the best unit he has coached at Ohio State, due to both the group's quality and quantity.

"Well, I think that we have a chance to have a lot more depth than we've had," Bollman said. "There's 11 guys right now in the mix of things. And we'll see how things really play out as it goes, but that's a lot of guys. That's definitely more than we've had since I've been here. And I think that the seniors have done a great job this summer getting ready to play. I think they'll do a good job as leaders. And I think we have some guys who have a lot of potential. Let me say that, but it's just empty words at the moment.

"The bottom line is that those guys need to do the job to let our skilled guys operate. We've got some pretty good skilled guys and we have to give those guys a chance."

Just more than a week into preseason camp, Bollman is feeling good about the way things are falling into place on the O-line.

"I think things are starting to take shape a little more," he said. "We didn't have a lot of building process in the spring with Doug (Datish) and too many people out. But now that Doug is back at center, you can tell the experience right away with the communication and things that are going on. That helps everybody along. We won't be entirely settled in until we make the final decision of who is going to be in that left guard spot. And I don't think we'll do that until after the scrimmage on Saturday."

There is a heated three-man competition for the left guard position between senior Tim Schafer and sophomores Steve Rehring and Jon Skinner. And from all indications, Schafer is the man to beat.

"Well, Tim has the most experience out of those guys," Bollman said. "Tim started a half a year for us at right tackle (in 2004) and he's got a lot of experience of being in the heat in that regard. He's had a great summer this year and has done a real good job of preparing for his senior year and really looks good so far.

"Steve Rehring has played the next most. He's played mostly at left tackle, but has also played some guard. He was getting ready to play a lot of guard for us last year and was going to be in the rotation before he got sick. It's great to have those guys in there who have that experience already.

"And Jon Skinner showed a lot in the spring and actually really started to show in bowl practice last year. That's when he really started to show up and prove that he could contribute and play.

"And two guys who have really caught my eye and looked like they've improved – and it's still early, but I'm just telling you what I know right now – is Ben Person and Kyle Mitchum. Those guys are really doing a good job so far. So it will be interesting to see how camp rolls on how things evolve."

Schafer has been receiving the most reps with the first team offense and Bollman has been very pleased with what he has seen out of him thus far.

"Tim had a great summer, he's in great shape and I think so far this fall he's been playing very well," Bollman said. "He is right in the middle of that mix, believe me. I think Tim is doing a good job. I really think he is. He's persevered and is focused on what he wants to do. He obviously wants to contribute this year. And wherever he's playing – whether it's a backup tackle spot, or rotating in at starting left guard – he's doing a good job.

"And I know that the other guys would be capable, but we're trying to get our five best linemen on the field. Steve Rehring, Jon and he have been working in there and I wouldn't rule any of them out. However it evolves in terms of who is the starter, the other guys are going to have to be very important contributors as backups at the guard and tackle spots."

Rehring played as a true freshman in 2004, but came down with pneumonia last season and was forced to take a redshirt year. Bollman was asked how far Rehring's illness set him back.

"A lot," he said. "It's hard to say exactly how much, but he was really playing good ball when he got sick. To miss the whole season like that… and he didn't even start practicing until bowl practice. That was a long comeback. Anybody who walked into the hospital and see how he looked, we're just happy to have him back. No one would want to see their son or daughter in the way he was. He had tubes and everything coming out of his body. He was very seriously ill for about 48 hours.

"The best thing that he has going for him right now is getting that experience – he had a chance to get in quite a few games as a true freshman. And he was certainly in the picture and was going to play a lot last year. So, it's better to have guys like him and Tim Schafer who are not solidified as real starters yet who have been there. That's always a big deal."

Rehring still isn't 100 percent recovered from the illness that caused him to lose 40 pounds.

"I don't think he's quite back yet," Bollman said. "But I think he's making progress, that's for sure."

As for Skinner, he's one of the most versatile linemen on the team and can play all five spots.

"Exactly," Bollman said. "He's like Doug Datish but a younger mold. Those are invaluable guys to have around here."

Datish was the Buckeyes' starter at left guard in 2004, and then started at left tackle last season. Now as a fifth-year senior, he is making the move to center and Bollman thinks he's in for a big year.

"I think Doug will be able to handle things very well in there," Bollman said. "And since he missed spring practice, fall camp will be a big deal for him, just getting comfortable physically. He hasn't practiced a lot there, but he has in the past. You have to remember that he was the backup there the last two years."

Did Datish lobby the coaching staff to let him stay at tackle, or move back to guard, or does he enjoy playing center?

"I'm sure if you asked Doug he'd say he wants to do whatever is best for the team," Bollman said. "But I think that's a good place for him. But for his future, a big added aspect for him is that he can play anywhere. But for us to step in there and give us some immediate rise and that level of expertise at the center position, that's going to be a big help for us.

"Doug is a really good technician and he has an outstanding knowledge of the game. He uses his knowledge and plays with it. All that will fall in place for him. It's not like he's a new guy who is playing for the first time. He's been around here and has been a starter and has been forced to make adjustment against our guys for a long while.

"And what actually becomes his physical strengths as a center? We'll have to wait and see."

There are three freshmen scholarship linemen on the roster: Bryant Browning, Connor Smith and Josh Kerr. Bollman was asked which of the young linemen have caught his eye thus far.

"One person who has really done a good job so far is Bryant Browning," he said. "He's really done a good job. That's a little bit of a tunnel view, but other than that it's hard for me to pick out one guy in particular who has stood out, but a lot of them are playing well."

Browning is playing right guard for the Buckeyes and can also fill in at center.

"He's over on the right side right now," Bollman said. "He's working and you can see him noticeably improve each day."

With 11 veteran players in the fold, Bollman has the luxury of redshirting his freshmen linemen if he so chooses.

"If a freshman is going to play, a big deal is how quickly he can learn," Bollman said. "Thinking back a few years ago, that's what Nick (Mangold) and Rob (Sims) were able to do was learn things pretty quick. There needs to be a combination of them learning well, playing well, and a need. And it's a little bit different of a situation this year. (The three freshmen) are pretty good players and they are really going to be good players, but that need is kind of missing from the formula right now.

"I think all of them have been steadily improving, but I think Bryant Browning has really done a good job. And then you can see Josh Kerr and Connor Smith settling in too."

Bollman feels very good about the right side of his line: senior guard T.J. Downing and junior tackle Kirk Barton. Both of them are likely future NFL players (and the same could be said for Datish and left tackle Alex Boone).

"Well, T.J. and Kirk are real close and they've played together for a whole year now," Bollman said. "They live with each other and they can communicate what the other is thinking. That's a plus to have that kind of situation."

Bollman's health steadily improving

Bollman underwent heart surgery in the off-season, but says he is feeling as good as ever. He's been on a rigorous recovery plan which includes workouts three times per week.

"It's been almost 11 weeks since I got released from the hospital and I'm feeling good," he said. "I'm in a heart rehab program now and I go over to the wellness center three times a week and workout. There is a doctor there and a nurse and a therapist and they keep me in line and check me out while I'm doing stuff. It's a pain in the rear because it's getting harder and harder. As I get in better shape, I have to go harder to get my heart rate in the range they want it."

Ohio State's coaches do their best to stay in good shape. Head coach Jim Tressel doesn't miss a workout, and you can find the coaching staff running laps around the practice field if you hang around the WHAC long enough. But Bollman says he didn't workout as hard as he should have following the 2005 season.

"Oh, I wasn't in good shape," he said. "I had probably done my best job exercising last year during the season. But then when we moved out of the Woody Hayes and over to the Fawcett Center I had not done a very good job. So, for two or three months I was pretty slack. But certain things you can do to help yourself and certain things we don't. And I asked people when I got done with surgery if there was anything I could have done to prevent it and they said, ‘No.' It was mostly family stuff. Mostly genetics."

Buckeye Sports Top Stories