The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about the the identity for the Buckeyes up front as part of Offensive Line Week? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
Last year we saw the OL sometimes struggle in run blocking with a more pass heavy offense & not enough of that nasty factor in some situations. Do you see a shift in attitude in that arena this year & what key players do you see bringing the nasty factor?
— Bunyan-Man (@BunyanMan) June 24, 2019
There were obviously times a year ago when Ohio State seemed to lack a killer mentality up front, when it struggled with self-inflicted penalties and when it failed to dominate the line of scrimmage in short-yardage situations.
It’s also true that in the big picture, the Buckeyes really did the job that was required of them. There’s absolutely no way to only lose a single game, win the Big Ten championship and then cruise to a Rose Bowl victory without the offensive line playing a critical role. So, it’s obviously fair to point out the flaws, but it’s also worth the reminders that Ohio State had one of the most dynamic attacks in the country — and those five guys up front were key contributors.
Now, they weren’t perfect and Ohio State will undoubtedly expect more from the unit and position coach Greg Studrawa this season. And it’s also not necessarily an easy fix since four full-time starters have to be replaced heading into training camp. But everything from the elite talent on hand to the evolution of the offense and the strength of the overall roster points to Ohio State being on the right track to live up to the tough, physical, nasty reputation the Slobs have been known for with the program.
That starts with having an aggressive mentality. And it’s possible that as Ohio State relied more frequently on the passing ability of Dwayne Haskins last season, the offensive line lost a little bit of that edge. Starting with Studrawa, the Buckeyes admitted to various extents that there were issues adjusting to some of the Run-Pass Option schemes last year. In years past, Ohio State’s playbook seemed to boil down under pressure to more of a Run-Run Option system with J.T. Barrett carrying a heavy rushing load at quarterback. When the Buckeyes needed tough yards, they were almost always going to be relying on the big guys in the trenches to clear the way.
Clearly that changed last season, and the truth is that development of the passing attack was overwhelmingly a positive one for the program. The addition of Justin Fields as the likely next starter is going to bring some elements of the quarterback rushing attack back to the Buckeyes. But coach Ryan Day also isn’t going to be in a hurry to scale back on the passing concepts given the abundance of talent stockpiled at the skill positions and the balance it provides as a play caller. Ohio State is going to need to be careful not to go back too far in time with the number of carries at quarterback, but it’s definitely fair to expect that the short-yardage situations could feature that alongside J.K. Dobbins more frequently.
Dobbins, too, is key to all of this for the Buckeyes. He’s another player who has been brutally honest in the assessment of his play this offseason, and he’s admitted he was pressing too hard to bust out long runs and getting away from the basics while splitting carries in the backfield. That doesn’t mean the blocking in front of him was always ideal. But if the tailbacks aren’t consistently hitting their spots, it’s also going to put a strain on the offensive line.
So, Fields and Dobbins can both provide some assistance for the unit up front, and another year for everybody involved under Day’s offensive leadership should also help. In the end, it’s still going to be up to Thayer Munford to set the tone at left tackle. Branden Bowen is going to have to set a veteran example, even if he doesn’t win a starting job. Josh Myers is going to have to grow up in a hurry at center, Wyatt Davis will need to build on his strong finish last year and Nicholas Petit-Frere will have to tap into his five-star potential.
The Buckeyes aren’t going to win a national championship without solid work up front, and that will be even more important early in the year with some tricky games on the schedule and a new, inexperienced quarterback easing into the lineup. How quickly the offensive line can start playing like the famed Slobs of the previous few years could determine the shape of the entire season.
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