After thinking it over for a bit, I have decided to break down the interior offensive line (the guards and center) next in what is becoming an ongoing series of posts for me. I truly believe that improved play along the entire offensive line (in particular at tackle, as I mentioned in my last post) is one of the top three things to look for as an indicator of how the 2009 season will go.
As a brief side bar here, I think the top three indicators of how the season will go are: play along the offensive line, play along the defensive line (games are won in the trenches and all of that) and Pryor’s progression as a passer. If the Buckeyes can improve in these three areas I expect big things. But anyways…
Where improved play at the tackle position is still somewhat of a question mark, I think it is pretty safe to say that play along the interior of the offensive line will be improved from last year. The reasons I think this will become pretty clear as I go through the two deep, but first I would like to talk about Jim Bollman for a little bit.
Just kidding, here’s the two deep.
It all starts in the middle. If that isn’t a saying for the offensive line I am making it one now. Ohio State has had a remarkable steak of tremendous play at center, from LeCharles Bentley (consensus All-American, Rimington Award winner in 2001) to Nick Mangold (All-American and Rimington Award finalist in 2005) to Doug Datish (Rimington Award finalist in 2006), the Buckeyes have consistently had one of the best players in the country snapping the ball.
Looking to continue the tradition of excellence is true Sophomore Mike Brewster (#50).
Brewster took over at center last year as a true freshman when the line was reshuffled following an injury to starting LG Steve Rehring. After breaking into the starting lineup, Brewster never looked back, ultimately starting in 10 games and earning first team freshman All-American honors from several publications.
While Brewster performed admirably as a true freshman starter, he admits that he relied heavily on his athleticism and made quite a few mistakes last year. With almost an entire year of experience under his belt and a better understanding of the playbook and audibles, considerable improvement from Brewster in year two is not hard to imagine. I am not sure if you can call Brewster an improvement over Jim Cordle (Cordle started at center in 2007 and the beginning of last year) at this point, however. Brewster certainly has a higher ceiling and has the potential to be better than Cordle, and I think that potential is ultimately why Brewster is staying at center and Cordle is being moved around.
Another factor to consider if you are still wondering why Brewster is replacing a returning starter at center is the leadership role that the center plays along the offensive line. The center is responsible for calling the audibles for the entire line and is the natural leader along the line. Brewster has a knack for leadership that has been on display even before he put on a scarlet and gray uniform. The much heralded class of 2008 (possibly Tressel’s best recruiting class to date) was spearheaded by Brewster committing early and personally contacting and befriending many of the top players in the country that would eventually become Buckeyes (Terrelle Pryor was one of them). For this reason, some people affectionately refer to the 2008 class as the “Brew Crew”. Recruiting stories aside, the point is, Brewster is a leader and has an established chemistry with the starting QB as well as several of the other players looking to start along the line this year (namely, Adams and Shugarts).
Given his obvious physical abilities as well as his natural gift of leadership, Michael Brewster looks to be the perfect anchor for an improved offensive line in 2009.
Providing depth at center is fifth year senior Andrew Moses (#66), who brings solid experience at the very least. Also providing depth is Jim Cordle (#64) who is a pretty obvious choice to move back to center if the need arises.
Gone is long time starter at LG Steve Rehring (31 career starts), and that may not be such a bad thing. While no one will ever say that Rehring wasn’t a bruiser (he checked in at 6’8″ and 335 lbs. at least) his conditioning was always an issue and injuries limited his affectiveness for most of last year. For these reasons, improvement at LG is a strong possibility, especially given who the replacement is.
That replacement goes by the name Justin Boren (#65).
Even though Boren suffered a knee injury last week and will miss some practice time, he is expected back in plenty of time for the first game, and when healthy, he is still the unquestioned starter at LG. Boren has probably recieved the second most pubilcity this offseason behind only Terrelle Pryor. The reason for this is twofold. First, the whole transferring from TSUN issue (have you seen this? have you heard about this?) which I won’t go over here. The second reason is that from all accounts Boren has been absolutely tearing it up during practice and has recieved rave reviews from just about everyone on the team.
While this may surprise our friends up north, who reasoned that Boren transfered due to laziness and an inability to handle the new super intense workouts (you know, the ones that produced a 3-9 season) of the Rodriquez regime, it now appears that a side effect of consuming too many sour grapes is an inability to recognize talent (obligatory swipe status: complete).
What many (including myself) are most excited about Boren is that he brings an intensity and nastiness (if there is a picture of him smiling, I have yet to find it) to the line that has seemingly been lacking for some time now. In the fall media guide, Boren claims that if he had a superpower, it would be to knock down walls. While I am not sure if that is actually a super power or not, here’s hoping that Boren knocks down any defender that gets in his way this year.
Providing depth at LG is redshirt junior Connor Smith (#77).
Smith was a five star recruit out of high school and billed as one of the top lineman in the midwest. To say that he has failed to live up to expectations would be a bit of an understatement. He has earned letters in each of the past two years (2007, 2008) after redshirting in 2006, so he does have game day experience.
It is my personal opinion that Smith lacks the killer instinct needed to excel along the line in college (by all accounts he is a nice guy, which is great anywhere outside of the gridiron), so hopefully Boren can inspire Smith to play with a bit of nastiness so that he can finally live up to the lofty expectations that accompanied him when he came to Ohio State.
Gone is Ben Person, a two year starter at RG (22 career starts) who was consistantly unspectacular and is perhaps best remembered for his habit of jumping offsides. So once again, improvement here should not be too hard to accomplish.
Leading the charge to improve the play at RG is redshirt junior Bryant Browning (#70).
You may remember Browning from his time at RT last year, where he started in all 13 games. Browning is described in the media guide as a ‘powerful run blocker’ but as last year made pretty clear, pass blocking is an area that needs improvement. Fortunately for Browning, the fans, and Pryor, pass blocking from the guard position is not nearly as difficult as pass blocking on the edge as a tackle (you don’t have to look much further than this fact to understand why Browning was moved over).
I look for Browning to benefit greatly from his move inside and to utilize his just-a-touch-too-slow-for-the-edge speed to become a very affective pulling guard. With the pass blocking problems minimized on the inside, I expect Browning to be a moderate to significant improvement at RG.
Providing depth at RG is (according the the media guide depth chart) redshirt junior Evan Blankenship (#68) who’s career thus far has been unremarkable to the extent that I can’t really say anything about him. He is a good singer though, so that has to count for something, right?
Also looking to get in the mix and provide depth at guard are several incoming freshman that I have previously covered in my tackle breakdown. Jack Mewhort is actually listed at guard on the media guide depth chart which I attribute mostly to the fact that he enrolled early for spring practice. I also expect Marcus Hall to get a look at one or both of the guard positions.
That wraps it up for my look at the interior offensive line. Like I said up top, I think the play at guard will be improved from a year ago, and the play at center will almost certainly be better than last year as well (better than 2007 is still up in the air) given that Brewster will get better in his second year as the starter.
While tackle is an area of the offensive line that has me slightly nervous going into the year, the interior line is an area that I am fairly certain will be a strength (at the very least it will be improved over last year). I will be looking with anticipation for the line to flatten defenders rather than just getting in their way.