A freshman in the offensive line depth chart at Ohio State is not all that foreign of a concept, but there is a unique aspect to the possibility this year.
In previous seasons, Nick Mangold, Rob Sims, Steve Rehring and Alex Boone have all played significant minutes as true freshmen under offensive coordinator and line coach Jim Bollman, but the coach pointed out last week at the team's annual media day that all saw significant minutes because of a need.
Prior to his arrival at Ohio State in 2001, Bollman had never had to deploy a true freshman in a game. He said there were years when first-year players spent the season No. 2 on the depth chart but that none of those players ever actually got off the sideline.
Either because of injuries to upper classmen (as in the cases of Rehring and Boone) or just because of a lack of overall depth at the position (Sims and Mangold), things changed for Bollman at Ohio State.
This year, however, the talented trio of Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts and Michael Brewster present a different scenario. While health was only a minor concern at the start of camp, the line is arguably deeper with talented veterans than it has been in recent years.
"I'm not sure that we need any one of those guys, but they're all certainly guys that catch your eye and are worth looking at and giving them a chance to compete," Bollman said.
During the first week, Adams remained out of live action because of his ongoing recovery from shoulder surgery, but Bollman mentioned him as someone who could eventually vie to back up Boone – now a senior All-America candidate – at left tackle. The coach has Brewster learning the center position while Shugarts fights for time as the No. 2 right tackle.
As many as nine players – including the freshmen – are in the running for the five backups spots on the line, and Bollman said simply the best five will find themselves in the two-deep.
Shugarts, who proclaimed himself healthy from tears to cartilage and a knee ligament during spring practice, said the offensive line was coming together well early in camp.
"It's been a great start getting out there into the swing of things," he said. "The offensive line is picking things up real good."
Not surprisingly, the five-star prospect from Klein, Texas, said he will disappointed if he can't work his way onto the field at some point this year, but he is keeping things in perspective.
"Whatever makes us win," he said. "That's the ultimate goal."
Brewster said he felt the same way. One might say he faces a double-whammy this August as he not only suffers through the typical freshman learning curve but also tries to pick up the nuances of playing a position he has never played before.
"Right now I'm learning how to play center, which allows me to know the whole offense, so I'll also know how to play guard, so it will make me versatile," he said. "I already know how to play guard. Snapping the ball is a new thing for me.
"Learning that is a challenge, but it will pay off in a few weeks."
Bollman expressed satisfaction in Brewster's development at center to this point and said that no one will be forced into any position.
"We'll just let that thing evolve and see how things take place," the coach said. "You've got to try to make yourself fit into the overall scheme, because all those guys have been pretty highly touted guys coming in here, but now they've got to find their role. That role changes every year."