Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
When Ed Warinner took over as the offensive line coach of the Ohio State football team last spring, he inherited an offensive line that lost three starters from the previous season.
In Warinner’s second spring at OSU, there is much more certainty on the offensive line with four returning starters, all entering their senior seasons.
Jack Mewhort is entering his third season as a starter and his second season as the Buckeyes’ left tackle. Left guard Andrew Norwell will also be a third-year starter, while center Corey Linsley and right guard Marcus Hall will be second-year starters. All four players started all 12 games last season and have 81 career starts between them.
Warinner said he expects his veteran group to step up and provide leadership for the team this year.
“They’re playing well, they’re veteran guys, and they’re doing well in school and they’re taking care of their business,” Warinner said. “It’s showing the other guys, this is how you do it, which is really good.”
As the left tackle, Mewhort will be expected to lead the unit up front once again this season.
“He is a real pro at being in a meeting, paying attention, taking notes, asking questions, studying, lifting weights, doing extra, being on time, just doing things the right way, and he plays well,” Warinner said of Mewhort.
Warinner said Mewhort leads by example, but becoming a better vocal leader is a “skill he’s trying to develop.”
Mewhort’s status as a team leader came into question last June when he and then-teammate Jake Stoneburner, a senior tight end-turned-wide receiver on last year’s team, were arrested for obstructing official business. Warinner said Mewhort has grown from that experience.
“Jack was a good kid before that incident, he just made a bad decision,” Warinner said. “He just learned that, you know, you got to be responsible and accountable all the time.”
Mewhort said the incident made him more mature.
“I made a bad decision, and it really blew up on me,” Mewhort said. “I grew up a lot from that.”
He said OSU coach Urban Meyer viewed him as a leader prior to that incident, and Mewhort said he “betrayed his trust.”
“I had to earn a lot of trust back from a lot of guys, and I spent most of the year doing that,” Mewhort said. “I’m just trying to become the leader that everybody can look to.”
Mewhort said all four of the senior offensive linemen are focusing on becoming better leaders this spring.
“We’re all seniors now … this is our last year together,” he said. “We want to be the guys that people can look to for leadership, and we’re definitely working towards that.”
Norwell said it feels “way different” going into this season because of the continuity within the offensive line unit.
“We’re functioning together … we improved,” he said. “We got some guys in there that are leaders and we’re just paving the way for the 2013 season, and we’re going to keep improving and get this team rolling.”
Of his four returning starters, Warinner said Hall made the most noticeable improvement this spring, but that all four have gotten better.
“Marcus has improved his footwork and … his quickness and change of direction and just all the little mechanics of playing O-line,” Warinner said. “I think Norwell’s bending better … Jack’s a little more confident out on the edge … Corey’s real strong and solid inside.”
That does not mean Warinner is complacent with the offensive line’s current progress though.
“If our offensive line doesn’t get better, our offense won’t get better,” Warinner said. “Every position’s got to improve. We’re not satisfied with where we were at. We’ve got to improve individually. There’s a lot of things we can get better at.”
Warinner said he started back with the basics again this spring, but added that “ground zero’s a little higher up” this year.
“You start to move faster,” Warinner said of the progress of his offensive linemen this season. “Your accumulated knowledge and experience helps you … one thing we’ve been able to do is probably install more plays.”
While most of the offensive line remains set from last season, the one spot that remains uncertain is right tackle, where the team is replacing Reid Fragel. Fragel only played his senior season at right tackle but is a potential 2013 NFL draft selection.
The competition to start at right tackle is currently between rising sophomore Taylor Decker and rising redshirt sophomore Chase Farris, Warinner said.
Mewhort said that competition has been a “great battle.”
“Both of those guys are working their butts off every day. They’re both going really hard, they’re both great players,” he said. “They’re both learning a lot, and they’ve come a long way just in the three or four practices that we’ve had so far.”
Warinner said the Buckeyes’ second-team offensive line currently consists of rising redshirt junior Darryl Baldwin, rising sophomore Jacoby Boren, rising redshirt sophomore Tommy Brown, rising junior Antonio Underwood and either Decker or Farris, depending on which player does not win the right tackle battle.
Warinner has not been the only coach taking notice of the offensive line’s progress. Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said his group will continue to benefit from competing against the offensive line in practice.
“We go against a really, really good offensive line every day,” Vrabel said. “If we can compete against those guys, I think it’s going to make us better.”