Though end-of-season starters Jim Cordle, Michael Brewster and Bryant Browning return, three other players who started for large chunks of the past couple of seasons (or more) are gone, and none of the returnees are guaranteed to be playing in the same spots this fall when the 2009 regular season commences as they did in 2008.
For now, the members of that returning trio can't even expect to be in the same spot for more than a day or so in a row.
Ohio State offensive line coach Jim Bollman told reporters Sunday that Mike Adams and Andy Miller have shared left tackle, while left guard has often been the domain of Justin Boren or Connor Smith (who did not practice Sunday for undisclosed reasons but had his left knee heavily taped). Brewster and Cordle have shared center, with Brewster also seeing plenty of time at right guard. Cordle, becoming a true renaissance offensive lineman in his fifth year in Columbus, also reps at right tackle along with Browning, the starter there last season. When Cordle plays center, Browning stays at right tackle, and when Brewster plays guard, Cordle goes to right tackle with Browning sliding inside.
Additionally, Bollman said Evan Blankenship and Josh Kerr have gotten reps at right guard and right tackle, respectively, while early enrolling true freshman Jack Mewhort helps at both left guard and left tackle. Chris Malone has seen some time at both spots on the left side, too, while Andrew Moses and Scott Sika also help out at center.
No matter who is in the lineup, though, there is a clear goal all have in mind, one first revealed by head coach Jim Tressel at his spring-opening press conference April 1: Play more physical at the point of attack.
That such a decree would come down from the head coach's office should come as no surprise after a disappointing 2008, Cordle acknowledged.
"The criticisms were just," said Cordle, who started all of 2007 and the first three games of last season at center then moved to guard while true freshman Brewster started the rest of the games in the middle. "We started out the season not where we needed to be attitude-wise. We definitely picked up. We came along as the season went, but this year you can't start out that way."
The phrase "playing physical" comes up often enough to border on cliché, but what exactly does it mean?
"It starts with the attitude, with how you're coming out and being more physical from the start, shooting your hips and everything like that, but then I think when you say more physical, it's kind of how you finish," Cordle said. "Drive your guy into the ground and don't give up. I think that's what really being more physical means."
Bollman echoed the mantra of finishing plays better to help clear the way for a plethora of young, talented skill players like quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
"Give the other guys a chance to do their jobs," Bollman said. "Give the running backs a little bit of room to maneuver at the line of scrimmage. Give the quarterback that extra split second of time and things are always going to operate better."
The practice Sunday at Ohio Stadium seemed to indicate the message has been getting through. Cordle, a fifth-year senior who graduated from nearby Lancaster High School and enrolled in time for spring practice in 2005, could not recall a harder-hitting spring session.
"It's the d-line full contact, full go. We're doing a lot more team and a lot more live stuff, putting a jersey scrimmage at the end of every practice," he said. "That definitely (creates) an attitude. You don't want to lose. You don't want to get beat, even in just a one-on-one drill."
Bollman sounded satisfied with the work has seen out of his group so far.
"I think that's something that those guys know, and they understand that they've got to keep doing that," Bollman said. "They've been doing it, and they've got to keep doing it. The challenge is always difficult against our defense, which is a good thing to be competing against those guys every day. In the end you end up with a better product, hopefully."
For his part, Cordle sees a positive in the shuffling but hopes a firm starting unit can be settled upon sooner than later.
While having players with a variety of experiences up front allows for easier adjustment when injuries inevitably occur during the regular season, time to develop chemistry among starters would be valuable as well.
"Every spring you're going to shuffle guys around anyway, so it's not like we didn't expect this," Cordle said. "Now, it's a little different this year because we're trying to find what the best lineup is. We've got a lot of guys that can play a lot of positions, myself included, so we'll see.
"We want to come out of spring with a set lineup, but it might take longer because we have so many guys who can play different positions."