With less than two weeks until Ohio State kicks off against Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, The Lantern countdown of the most important Buckeyes enters its final stages.
No. 2: Taylor Decker, junior offensive lineman
On an offensive line littered with competition and unknowns, one bastion of the block stands tall.
When he first arrived on campus in 2012, the 6-foot 7-inch, 315-pound behemoth was described by coach Urban Meyer as glossy-eyed and unsure of his place in the OSU football program.
Now, Meyer uses words like “captain” and “leader” in reference to No. 68.
In what will be his first season as the premier pass-blocker on the offensive line at left tackle for the Buckeyes, Taylor Decker is going to need to live up to his coach’s hype if the Buckeyes are to succeed in 2014.
Two days ago, I might have typed that last phrase with a grain of salt, but today, following the news of Braxton Miller’s season-ending injury, it might be understated.
With Miller’s incredible ability to be an improvisational playmaker on the field, Decker might have gotten away with “decent” performances game in and game out.
But instead, redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett, a much more pocket-friendly passer, will line up for the Buckeyes behind center, and the moment he does, Decker’s play will be increasingly magnified.
That magnification follows the initial change that comes with Decker’s move from right to left tackle.
Those who know the “x’s and o’s” of right tackle surely understand that right tackles, while definitely important to any football team, are certainly not in the same league as left tackles.
Left tackles are most often the strongest offensive linemen in terms of their size, their footwork and their technique because they’re employed to protect the quarterback and — if he’s a right-handed passer — his “blindside.”
When there comes a failure of a left tackle to protect a quarterback’s blindside, a domino-effect of issues gets set in motion.
Unaware of the pressure coming from a defensive end as the result of a bad effort from the left tackle, the quarterback will often get sacked, starting that domino-effect. When a quarterback gets sacked too often, more bad things start to happen. He might fumble the ball, or he might get antsy and start making bad throws or interceptions — all as the result of failure from the left tackle.
So, the pressure of the left tackle position is squarely on the shoulders of Decker. That pressure might have been alleviated a bit by a quarterback like Miller — who made a living off of avoiding pressure with uncanny speed and awareness — but instead, will be amplified by a quarterback like Barrett, who likes to stick in the pocket.
Now, to add even more pressure onto the massive shoulders of Decker, the rest of the offensive line is unsettled, so he has the responsibility of leading the younger, more unexperienced players that will eventually make up the protective unit up front.
If all of this doesn’t convince you that Decker could arguably be the absolute most important Buckeye heading into the 2014 season, I don’t know what will.
Luckily for OSU fans, the once-mystified Decker seems to now be ready to shoulder the massive responsibility and pressure that surrounds him.