• 72°

What’s up front holds key for OSU

COLUMBUS — When Ohio State’s offensive line is clicking, it’s as good as any in the nation.

At least that’s what the players who make it up think.

“We have huge expectations. We want to be the best offensive line in the country,” guard Justin Boren said. “Last year we had a lot of new guys in a lot of positions but now we have a pretty solid starting point. Hopefully it is only better things from here.”

The offensive wall in recent years had been one of the most maligned groups at Ohio State. When the Buckeyes lost two of their first seven games and barely escaped with a win in the opener against Navy last year, it seemed everyone wearing scarlet and gray was complaining about the blocking. At times, the unit seemed lost.

But then the linemen started dominating teams in a six-game winning streak to end an 11-2 season. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor and running backs Brandon Saine and Dan Herron got a lot of the credit, but for a change people were saying good things about the offense’s biggest guys, too.

“This line has a lot of experience coming back,” said center Mike Brewster. “We’re expecting a lot of ourselves. We all know the plays very well and the blitzes and everything. We’re definitely going to demand a much higher (level of) play this year.”

Left to right from Pryor’s perspective, Mike Adams or Andrew Miller will be at one tackle, Boren is at guard, Brewster hunkers down over the ball, Bryant Browning is at guard and J.B. Shugarts fills the hole at right tackle.

Miller, at 6-foot-6 and 288 pounds, is the lightest of the five, believe it or not. Adams (6-8, 300), Boren (6-3, 320), Brewster (6-5, 293), Browning (6-4, 313) and Shugarts (6-7, 297) don’t get shortchanged at the training table. Boren, a transfer from archrival Michigan, Miller and Browning are seniors; the rest are juniors.

The only member missing from last year’s crew is graduated veteran Jim Cordle, who started at left tackle in the victory over Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

The Buckeyes ran their usual balanced mix of run and pass plays for most of last season until Pryor suffered a minor knee injury late in the year which didn’t keep him from playing but did keep him from doing much running.

So, on the fly, the coaching staff adapted. For the last four games of the season, it used Pryor mostly as a guy who handed off to the backs and threw the ball only when absolutely necessary.

After Ohio State managed just 66 yards on the ground in a stunning loss at Purdue, the line — widely criticized for the loss — took over. Over the final six games, the Buckeyes averaged more than 240 yards rushing per game.

“It really started after the tragedy at Purdue,” Shugarts said. “We really came together because we had to bring the communication back and bring the team back together because at that point in the season we could have crumbled. But we came together, and we knew we had to, because it was do or die.”

Now those hogs up front feel they’re ready to maintain that ground superiority.

“A year ago we definitely weren’t this far ahead,” Brewster said. “You always want to take steps and we’ve taken those steps with everybody learning the offense. We were young last year.”

So far in fall camp, the line has been a bright spot.

Safety Jermale Hines said that usually the defense dominates during the early workouts. But that hasn’t been the case in the first few days.

“Those guys have grown up and do a good job in the weight room and the film room,” Hines said, shaking his head. “They know what they’re doing now. So it’s an even battle up there.”

The backs have also noticed the efficiency in front of them.

“They (the linemen) are doing well right now — with the run and also the pass,” Herron said. “They’re protecting Terrelle pretty good too.”

For a change, the guys up front are basking in the praise and confident that they can add to their resume from a year ago.

“With the offensive line we have we don’t care if we are going to run or pass,” Boren said. “It all starts up front and last year we definitely built some confidence. As a unit we’re real close.”