COLUMBUS — The point, Ohio State assistant coach Ed Warinner told his players, is to not sweat all the outside stuff.
“All you have to do is your job. If you think about things outside of your job, then you get overwhelmed a little bit,” Warinner told the candidates to fill the gaping holes on the offensive line. “You don’t have to cover for each other, just do your job. And that’s all we’re having them focus on. I think they’ll be fine.”
Warinner, the Buckeyes’ co-offensive coordinator and line coach, is charged with a mighty task — replacing four big players with big personalities up front who were the backbone of the team.
Their departure leaves Warinner and Taylor Decker to pass on the unit’s legacy of clearing running lanes, sealing off the passer and sticking together like a long-haired band of brothers in some action flick.
“They were definitely great players,” Decker said of the graduated Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall. “We just need somebody to lead these (new) guys. Because it’s a talented group of guys, who just have to get experience.”
The coaching staff, in the midst of spring workouts, likes the returning personnel.
Decker, a junior, has shifted from right to left tackle. Jacoby Boren, brother of former Buckeyes Zach and Justin Boren, has the inside track at center, replacing Linsley. Antonio Underwood and Pat Elflein, who started in the Big Ten championship game after Hall was suspended for fighting and then flashing his middle fingers to the crowd at Michigan, will likely fill the guard spots. Darryl Baldwin, a former defensive lineman who made the move to the other side in the spring of 2012, is a fifth-year senior who will probably get the nod at right tackle.
A lot, of course, could change before the Buckeyes open their season on Aug. 30 against Navy in Baltimore.
Mewhort, Norwell, Linsley and Hall were brimming with confidence. Head coach Urban Meyer called them the most important part of an offense that scored more points (637, an average of 45.5 per game) than any team in Ohio State’s 124 seasons of intercollegiate football.
They also were team spokesmen, not afraid to offer public encouragement or private criticism or crack a joke if it brought the Buckeyes closer and ultimately made them better.
“They were good leaders, but we have the guys,” Elflein said. “Taylor’s taking over a leadership role, and Jacoby and myself. We’ll keep that same culture as it was a year ago and keep it going.”
Boren, a 4.0 student, said he’s been biding his time until this moment.
“I think I’m really ready,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from Corey over the last two years. I’ve been waiting for two years. It feels good to be here.”
A year ago during regular-season practices and particularly in the workouts leading up to the Buckeyes’ 40-35 loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl, Warinner blended a lot of players in with his mainstays on the line.
As a result, all of this year’s possibilities at least have an idea of what it’s like to protect Miller and keep the offense moving forward.
Most position coaches who lost 80 percent of their starters are reticent to express high expectations. But spring is a time for optimism.
“I’m pretty confident,” Warinner said. “Because everything that you want to see at this point we’re seeing: a great work ethic, tough guys who are very well conditioned, guys who want to learn, guys who come with energy to practice. The only thing they lack is just experience and sharpening their skills.”