Ohio State O-Line OK With Lineup Flux

An uptick in health up front - not to mention the backfield - has the Ohio State offense optimistic it will continue to put distance between itself and early-season doldrums. A variety of lineups could be paving - or staying out - of the way Saturday night in Madison.

If conventional wisdom indicates that football games are won and lost in the trenches and familiarity is paramount for an offensive line, call this bizarro week in Columbus, where no one seems quite sure who will be where at any given time on the offensive line but the halfback and quarterback just might succeed anyway.

With regular starting left guard Steve Rehring still not all the way back to 100 percent from a foot injury but healthy enough to contribute, a multitude of lineups are possible for No. 14 Ohio State's trip to Madison Saturday night to take on the 18th-ranked Badgers.

The Buckeyes are expected to start the game with the same lineup that has played the bulk of Ohio State's offensive snaps the last two games: From left to right, Alex Boone, Jim Cordle, Michael Brewster, Ben Person and Bryant Browning.

Rehring was injured Sept. 13 as the Buckeyes were losing to then-No. 1 USC, and the following week Cordle slid over from his usual spot at center to make way for Brewster, a promising true freshman.

This week Rehring has had practice repetitions at right tackle, while Browning has done some work at guard, as have Kyle Mitchum and Andy Miller.

While one would think that could make building chemistry difficult, Cordle said otherwise.

"When I moved over, we got a pretty good chemistry right away," he said. "Now we've got Steve back and Mitchum is playing well. He's going to rotate in for us (along with) Andy Miller. We've got Steve at right tackle and (Browning) moving around. I think we get enough reps in practice and as the game goes on, coaches can tell what the best lineup is and what the best role is. I think the chemistry is going to be there."

He equated Rehring to a sixth man in basketball "because he's not 100 percent yet and he's not in good enough shape to play the whole game."

Whatever combination of players Ohio State offensive coordinator and line coach Jim Bollman opts to use at any given time against Wisconsin, he will be looking for an upgrade in performance from last week.

No Buckeye was given the Jim Parker offensive lineman of the week award after Ohio State's 34-21 win over Minnesota last Saturday because none of Bollman's troops graded out to a winning performance.

That came as a surprise to the players, who felt good about themselves when looking at the stat sheet and seeing 279 rushing yards, the most for an Ohio State squad since late 2005.

Then they watched the film.

"We ended up playing not as well as we thought, and a lot of that is due to Beanie making us look good," Cordle said.

He referred to star tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells, who returned from a three-game absence to rush for 106 yards on 14 carries. Also helping greatly to enhance the running numbers was quarterback Terelle Pryor, who gained 97 yards on eight attempts.

In Wells and Pryor, Ohio State has two athletes weighing more than 230 pounds and blessed with tremendous speed and natural running ability. Such combinations can make average blocking look better, which is not all bad, according to Bollman.

"I think anywhere on offense, you better have a guy that can carry the ball – and throw the ball and catch the ball and do all that kind of stuff – and up front we can figure out some way to trip'em up," Bollman said, getting a bit animated as he did. "That's what I think."

That drew a laugh from the reporters gathered around the coach, but he was not finished giving credit to the so-called "skill position" players.

"Everybody always says it starts up front, and it does start up front – we always talk about giving those other guys a chance to operate – but you better have some guys who can operate, because you can block'em all you want to, and if there's no one to run the ball or catch the ball or throw the ball, we're not scoring any touchdowns."

That just might mean that Ohio State can afford to keep tinkering up front until it gets the right lineup, whether that is one group of the same five players all the time or some other combination with others mixed in.

In 2006, Ohio State regularly deployed an entire second offensive line for a full series, even during games that were far from decided.

All involved endorsed the move as the starters welcomed the breather, and the reserves gained valuable experience.

Pryor to the season, there was talk of reprising that practice, but it has not happened yet. The injury to Rehring and the return to health of Mitchum and Miller, both of whom missed games in the first month, could lead to a variation of it.

However playing time shakes out in games, Cordle sees a long-term benefit to all the rotation in practice.

"As we go into the Big Ten, it will be nice to have a lot of guys who can play," Cordle said. "If I need a rest or another guy needs a rest, someone else can go in and we can take a few plays off.

"It's nice to have a cohesive unit all year and you can see how everybody gets better not only as an individual but as a group. We've got a pretty consistent lineup now with the 1s, and some other guys can roll in. Overall, it's just something we have to adjust to, but it's not that much of a fall off from having the same five guys all year."


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