They were all in redshirt sophomore right tackle Isaiah Prince’s head; the often-vicious criticisms, complaints and calls for him to be replaced. These critiques came early and often negatively affecting his mindset which, in turn, resulted in poor play.
“Every time I’d make a mistake, I’d hang my head and I’d be so frustrated,” Prince said Monday. “It would just build up play after play after play.”
But, Prince is different this year. At least that’s what his teammates and coaches say about the second-year starter.
Prince, whose function resembled that of a turnstile against the Penn State defensive line in the fourth quarter of the Buckeyes’ only regular-season loss last season, was called one of Ohio State’s most improved players by coach Urban Meyer at a press conference Monday afternoon.
“That’s not just out there in practice, but with (strength and conditioning) coach Mick (Marotti) with the bend and with all the things he’s struggled with,” Meyer said. “He’s a very serious player right now.”
The long-term project to reinvigorate the offensive lineman’s mental psyche began months ago. After Ohio State’s thrilling 30-27 double-overtime win over Michigan on Nov. 28, 2016, Meyer sat down with Prince to reinforce the confidence he had in the right tackle entrusted to protect redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett.
“(Meyer) was just like, ‘You’ve got to keep going, I still trust you to get the job done. It’s your first year starting and you’re going to make mistakes,’” Prince said. “He just gave me that reassuring confidence to go out there and keep going”
According to his teammates, that message was well-received.
In the days leading up to the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson and, once again, in spring practice, redshirt senior center Billy Price lauded his attitude. Senior left tackle Jamarco Jones barely let a reporter finish his question in an interview Monday after practice before jumping in to extol Prince’s confidence level heading into the 2017 season.
“He’s very confident right now. Everybody in the program is confident in him too from what he’s done these first couple weeks,” Jones said. “We always knew what he could do, it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it whether it’s execution of fundamentals or whatever it was.”
Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa believes the solution to Prince’s struggles with confidence is simple: the right tackle must be shown why he made the mistakes.
“When guys start making mistakes, the first thing they do is get down on themselves, Studrawa said. “What you’ve got to do is revert back to your training, trust your technique. And that was his first time starting. He made some mistakes. He saw those, he’s worked on those.”
Studrawa said his attention to detail isn’t close to where it was last year.
In 2016, the Buckeyes gave up an average of 2.15 sacks per game, the most per contest by the program since 2012. The 28 sacks allowed ranked them as the 71st-best at keeping the quarterback off the grass in the country.
Prince wasn’t the only culprit in the weaker-than-normal Ohio State pass protection, but he stuck out in a line including Jones, a true freshman in right guard Michael Jordan and two first-team All-Americans – center Pat Elflein and Price.
When looking back on the film, Prince said he has worked on playing lower and improving his footwork as he believed his pass protection skills weren’t where they needed to be last season.
Jordan echoed Meyer, praising Prince as one of the most improved players on the team. He added that Prince has honed his ability to drop back in pass protection and has even been working with younger lineman, specifically freshman Thayer Munford.
So, after dealing with a year’s worth of criticism, is Prince tired of talking about last year and ready to move on to the upcoming season? He claims he isn’t.
“I learned a lot from last year,” Prince said. “I mean, without last year, I wouldn’t have had this growth. I’m just thankful for it.”