COLUMBUS – Although Ohio State’s offense put up monster numbers in some football games last season, it heard a fair share of criticism and probably deserved some of it.
Fixing an offensive line which had two first-team All-Americans and another player who was second-team All-Big might sound absurd in many football programs, but the standards are a little different at Ohio State.
“They’re high and they’re always going to be high. Last year we didn’t have a year that was acceptable for an Ohio State line,” said starting left tackle Jamarco Jones.
Ohio State’s offense scored 77 points against Bowling Green, 62 points against Nebraska and Maryland and 45 against Oklahoma in a match-up of Top Ten teams.
But it also was shut out 31-0 by Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal, did not score in the final 23 minutes in a loss to Penn State and barely got over 300 yards of total offense against Michigan State and Michigan.
Raising the level of play and getting more consistent performance from the offensive line was something Ohio State hoped to develop during spring practice, which concludes with the annual spring game on Saturday.
Billy Price, who is moving from guard to center this season, says the offensive line knows the necessity of improving on what it did last fall.
We have to be the forefront of this program,” he said. “In games that we struggle as a team, the offensive line struggles. In games that we absolutely dominate, the offensive line is dominating.”
OSU has four returning starters on the offensive line. Price will replace Pat Elflein at center. Jones, at left tackle, also is a returning starter, along with left guard Michael Jordan and right tackle Isaiah Prince.
The starting right guard could be Demetrius Knox, Matthew Burrell, Malcolm Pridgeon or maybe someone else if none of them step up.
Pass protection is where many of the mis-steps happened for the offensive line last year.
The Buckeyes led the Big Ten in rushing but were seventh in sacks allowed with 28, up from 19 in 2015.
Meyer said earlier this week that pass protection has been emphasized this spring but that the offensive line isn’t where it needs to be yet.
Earlier in spring practice he indicated a lack of depth on the line was one of the areas of concern.
“It’s still not where we need to be in the twos — nowhere close,” Meyer said. “Wish you could get a little more competition out of those guys but it’s not happening yet.”
Meyer says Ohio State has missed on “more than a few” offensive line recruits in recent years.
“You can’t do that. What happens is you have a year like you did last year. Some players didn’t develop, some things happened. Dog ate my homework, whatever it is. That should not happen here. Very disappointed in that. We can’t miss again,” he said.
Two of Ohio State’s defensive linemen say they’ve seen improvement in the offensive line during spring practice, though one of their endorsements was less than total.
Sam Hubbard said, “They have been working an inordinate amount of time on their game, trying to improve their pass protection. That’s the No. 1 focus of the offense. They’re progressing and it’s getting harder and harder to beat them every day.”
Nick Bosa said, “The offense is playing the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here. Last year we (the defense) dominated every practice. This year, they’re competing.”