Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer is calling the competition for the Buckeyes’ starting right tackle job a “battle,” but that word seems too strong when you hear the players involved discuss the matter.
Senior tight end-turned-lineman Reid Fragel is opposed in his pursuit of the starting position by freshman Taylor Decker. Fragel said he doesn’t begrudge Decker for opposing him, nor does Decker wish to supplant the Buckeyes’ three-time letter-winner in cold blood.
Quite the opposite – they’re supporting each other in the competition and both players said they plan to keep it that way during OSU football’s annual media day Sunday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Meyer said he isn’t satisfied with either players’ performance so far and noted their position as one of the weaker ones on the entire team, as well as one of few ongoing position battles.
“One guy is learning how to play (the position) and one guy is a freshman,” Meyer said during OSU’s media day. “They’re trying hard. They’re talented guys. They’re great people, but our production at right tackle isn’t where it needs to be.”
For Fragel’s part in the bout at the right tackle, he volunteered to change positions after Meyer was hired for OSU’s coaching job in November.
“I knew when coach Meyer came in, his offensive philosophy was different from (former OSU coach Jim) Tressel,” Fragel said. “Being a pro-style tight end, I knew I couldn’t fit in as a spread tight end. I also knew I had some blocking ability and size to work with.”
For his offer to switch positions – an act some might consider selfless and for OSU’s betterment – Fragel was rewarded with a fight for playing time with Decker, a 6-foot-10, 310-pound first-year player from Vandalia, Ohio.
The players have formed a bond through their competition, though – Decker even disclaims every positive remark about himself with an equally positive nod to the elder linesman he is fighting for playing time against.
“I feel like I know that offense really well, not that Reid doesn’t. Reid knows the offense really well,” Decker said. “I try to study well and come off the ball hard, and, I mean, Reid does those things well also.”
Fragel, who pulled in five catches for 64 yards in 13 games during the 2011 season, agreed with Decker, saying “whatever” to anyone that thinks of the players’ competition as a battle.
In fact, Decker is routinely aided by Fragel in practice – some battle, indeed.
“We don’t avoid each other or anything like that,” Fragel said of their off-field relationship. “It’s not like two gunslingers walking past each other. I definitely try to help him out.”
It seems unlikely this friendly competition will end in the kind of football training camp brawls that receive national attention this time every year. By the end of camp, one player will be slated to see significantly more time on the Ohio Stadium turf than the other.
Both players appear happy to defer to the other, though, and Fragel said it’s what’s best for the team.
“At the end of the day, Taylor’s a great player,” he said, “and the way it should be in any system is the better player will play.”
You might say Decker agreed with Fragel, but you could also argue “agreed” isn’t strong enough verbiage in the same way “battle” doesn’t accurately describe the players’ competition.
“Reid’s a great player. He’s obviously a tremendous athlete, being a tight end and everything,” Decker said. “I would love to be able to play… but I love (Fragel).”
OSU opens the 2012 season Sept. 1 against Miami (Ohio). The game is scheduled for a noon kickoff at the Horseshoe.