In a perfect world, Jim Bollman would have a dozen or so offensive lineman to practice with on an average day. With a trio of scholarship big uglies nursing injuries, however, the Ohio State offensive coordinator and line coach must make do with a less-than-optimal number for the time being.
Do not let that fool you into thinking he is not happy with the healthy bodies he does have at his disposal, though.
Two veterans – third-year sophomore center Jim Cordle and fourth-year guard Ben Person – spent all of spring atop the depth chart at the two open spots and began fall camp in the same positions, but they are not assured yet of staying there because two redshirt freshmen – Bryant Browning and Connor Smith – are making a hard charge for playing time.
Those developments leave Bollman with nine players in the mix for playing time early in the season, and although some spots remain up for grabs, he said "battle" is not the right word to describe how the lineup is shaking out.
"There's some competition going on inside maybe, I would say, more than anywhere. It will be more people having some roles, but those seven, eight guys I mentioned are all going to be in there playing," he said.
"You're gonna see Alex and Kirk at tackles. You're gonna see Steve Rehring and Bryant Browning and Ben Person at guard. You're going to see Jim Cordle at center. You're going to see Andrew Moses at center. You may see Steve Rehring at tackle a little. You may see Josh Kerr at tackle a little."
The coach later added that he left out Smith when describing the potential rotation at guard.
The current collection of nine could soon become 10 if – as expected – true freshman Evan Blankenship can make a speedy recovery from a foot injury and then an even dozen when juniors Kyle Mitchum and Jon Skinner return from injuries.
Both Mitchum (undisclosed) and Skinner (knee) are rehabbing injuries suffered in spring practice and expected back within the first month of the regular season.
"By the time those guys come back, we may be in a lot better shape in the long run," Bollman said of his group's depth.
Even with those players on the sidelines, Boone has seen the makings of a strong unit.
"I think it can be very good," he said of the line. "I have very high expectations for this year. We've got Person there. Jimmy's very smart, knows a lot. Steve or BB (Browning) or Connor – whoever's in there – everyone's been working real hard this offseason and I'm excited to get in there and see what happens."
Since Bollman came to Columbus with head coach Jim Tressel in 2001, the center has been a focal point as the quarterback of the line, and Cordle is the man set to step in at the spot vacated by All-Big Ten selection Doug Datish.
Cordle, who had to contend with a foot injury early in his career that he said not only set him back physically but mentally as well, said the light came on for him this spring, an assessment Bollman wholeheartedly endorsed.
"It's a matter of time and experience and seeing things," Bollman said. "It's hard to put a time figure on [getting comfortable at the position] when you're up there snapping the ball and you've got to have a perfect gun snap, you've got to have it on (the quarterback's) right hip so he can throw the ball right away. You've got to do all those different things, then look for all the different people that are showing you fronts. Look for the linebackers, look for the safeties, look for the defensive line alignment, and then remember that the guy that's lineup two inches from you is gonna try to kill you when you snap the ball.
"It takes a little while sometimes to get all that stuff straight, and he's doing a good job."
Cordle's spot appears to be safe, though Bollman said Smith and Moses will both be counted on to be ready to step in at center should the need arise. Cordle can play all three spots and in fact did so in a reserve role in games last season. The guard spots are not set in stone as of yet, though Rehring is a returning starter and Person has been atop the depth chart since the start of spring practice and said before camp he views the spot as his to lose. "(Person is) doing very, very well," Bollman said. "This is his fourth year, so he's spent a lot of time learning, spent a lot of time waiting for his opportunity and he's doing a really good job."
Rehring, meanwhile, reported to camp admittedly still working to get into game shape.
"I'm still working on my conditioning," said the 6-8 junior listed at 329 pounds in the media guide "That's a longer haul for me because I'm a bigger guy. I'm probably further ahead than I was last year coming into camp, but I'm still working at it, getting in game shape."
"I think he's catching up," Bollman said of Rehring. "He's working hard at it. He does a lot of extra special things with the guys down at the weight room.
That their spots are not set in stone despite four years apiece in the program is a testament to the progress made by Smith and Browning in just one year.
"They're doing a great job," Bollman said. "They've spent this season really getting a lot stronger and learning the things that they need to do. They've still got a lot more work to do techniquewise, but you can see that they're going to be a real factor and make a contribution this year.
"They'll be up there in that pack of guys that I'll be figuring on playing. They're doing everything that I'm asking them to do, and they're learning still. As time goes on, at some point in the season I expect them to be ready to go. Just like an example from last year, from midseason on Ben Person was ready to roll. We could tell from midseason on that he was going to be exactly what we wanted him to be."