Heading into the 2013 season, the Ohio State football team felt comfortable with most of its offensive line.
The Buckeyes returned four starters from the 2012 team — redshirt-seniors Jack Mewhort, Marcus Hall and Corey Linsley and senior Andrew Norwell — who had started a combined 80 games for OSU before the season began.
Sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker hadn’t started one.
Decker, who has started all seven games at right tackle for OSU this season, said his relationship with the other lineman has helped him grow as a player.
“I’ll definitely always be the younger guy, sort of thing because I’m like a little brother to them basically, I would say,” Decker said. “They’ve had good careers and they’ve established themselves and they deserve respect that comes along with that … I do feel I’ve improved and gotten closer with them, but it’s kind of a little brother relationship. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Against Iowa, Decker played potentially his best game, coach Urban Meyer said in a press conference Monday, going as far as to name him honorable mention for team champion.
The offensive line dominated the team award, with Hall, Mewhort and Linsley all being named champions.
“Our offensive line played exceptional,” Meyer said. “The champions were Marcus Hall, Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley … Four to five were champions, because Norwell was one of the players of the game, and Taylor Decker received honorable mention, you’ll win most games if that happens.”
Senior running back Carlos Hyde benefited from the performance of the offensive line against the Hawkeyes, rushing for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was a great performance by those guys. I love those guys to death and I’m happy to be able to run behind those guys and it’s exciting to see them … I came in with four of them. Taylor’s a (sophomore), to see them have success, it’s nice. When they go, I go.”
Decker, a Vandalia, Ohio, native did play in all 12 games during Meyer’s first season in Columbus, but was second on the depth chart after former-Buckeye Reid Fragel and did not record a start.
Coming into the season, there was some doubt surrounding Decker, co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner said, but the coaching staff was confident he would “turn the corner.”
“You have to believe in the decisions you made, you have to believe in the talent you see and you have to know if you stay the course and you do things the right way, usually they work out pretty well for you,” Warinner said. “And I didn’t have any doubt that at some point he would turn the corner.”
The line is a tight-knit group, Decker said, and they don’t let anything get in the way of working together as a unit.
“I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily competing against each other because we have to work together as a whole unit to accomplish anything,” Decker said. “I think it’s more of ‘Did we play together well as a unit? Did we have enough rushing yards? Did we protect the quarterback well?’ Obviously, you want to grade out well, but I don’t think there’s any animosity toward each other about it.”
Warinner agreed and said everyone is pulling for each other when they are out on the field.
“It’s a group that wants everybody to do well and doesn’t care who gets the credit and that’s the beautiful thing about offensive lines, when you can get that, that’s when it’s fun to coach them,” Warinner said.
The drive to succeed on the field doesn’t stop some players on the line from joking around though, Decker said.
“It’s fun. I mean we got all kinds of personalities in there and like you said, there’s some goofballs in there,” Decker said. “Everybody’s pretty humorous, pretty funny guys and when it comes down to it they all get the job done. Being able to have fun while we’re playing this game just makes it so much better.”
He specifically pointed out Hall as being a clown when he is off the field.
“Marcus, he’s really funny. He cracks me up. He’s always real positive about everything — got a really positive outlook on it,” Decker said. “He’s got that positive attitude and he’s always just picking people up. Off the field, he’s a jokester, he’s a pretty funny guy.”
Despite his recent performances, Decker struggled in his first career start against Buffalo Aug. 31, where he often lined up across the line from Bulls senior linebacker Khalil Mack, a top NFL prospect.
If it weren’t for his teammates and the coaching staff keeping his spirits up after the tough games, he wouldn’t have been able to be where he is, Decker said.
“I knew that wasn’t me, that’s not how I had been playing and performed in camp prior to (Buffalo) and the weeks leading into it,” Decker said. “It was a tough pill to swallow but just had to bounce back and recover from it and play the way I could play.”
Warinner said his struggles against the Bulls are not a representation of Decker as a player.
“He has great talent. He’s a young kid. He could easily be a redshirt-freshman, we played him a few snaps last year … His progress has been good. He’s playing solid football for us and continues to get better with a big upside,” Warinner said. “He’s getting to where we need him for this Big Ten stretch.”
Next up, the Buckeyes are set to host Penn State Saturday at 8 p.m.
The Nittany Lions are ranked 21st in rushing defense in the country, only allowing an average of 117.7 yards a game, but Decker said he thinks the line will be able to handle the pressure.
“I know they got a good rushing defense,” Decker said. “They got good athletes and they’ve always been a good program. They’re going to have good players and we’re just going to have to focus on that and this upcoming week prepare for them.”