December 15, 2009

Healthy line boosts offensive success

It is doubtful that any critic would label the offensive play of the Buckeyes in 2009 as robust or explosive but as the season wore on there were some sparks of life and much of that can be attributed to the play of the offensive line. For several years the line has been the lightning rod of criticism among the fans when things go poorly for the Buckeyes and this season it looked like it was going to be a repeat performance as the Ohio State offense ranked in the bottom 20 nationally.

Injuries plagued the line and that forced Jim Bollman and Jim Tressel to get creative and move guys around. Losing guys like Justin Boren, Jim Cordle and others were great opportunities for young guys like Marcus Hall and older players like Andy Miller but it didn't do much for the cohesiveness of the line.

And that was reflected early in the season when the Buckeyes were struggling to run the ball effectively. Terrelle Pryor would scramble and find a seam or two but overall the performance of all runners was a far cry of what the Buckeyes had just a year ago with Chris Wells running between the tackles.

But out of the turmoil came opportunity and now the Buckeyes are sitting in a much better position having eight or nine players that could step in and jump into multiple positions on the line. Of course you don't want to grow too reliant on moving people in and out but it is nice to have the option if someone goes down due to injury.

"I think you see a little bit more confidence in guys when they can practice and when they can reflect back to the fact they've done a good job when they've been on the right guy doing the right thing with the proper technique," Tressel said. "I think they're coming along."

There was a lot of hype and even pressure placed on Boren at the start of the year. The Michigan transfer was supposed to provide a missing element of nasty to the line and while injuries only cost Boren one start during the season the line is happy to have him back and a full go as the team gets ready for the biggest game of the season.

"When you have a guy hurt who may only be banged up but can't practice, that's not good. It's just not the same," guard Jim Cordle said. "Boren has been practicing the whole practice, which he hasn't done all season. Now, with all of this practice time together, we should have a great Rose Bowl."

But it is so much more than just trying to find the healthy bodies and trying to stick them out there and telling them to just block. Bryant Browning and Michael Brewster were constants out on the field but the names changed around them at various parts of the season.

"The offensive line is one of those deals where maybe the best is not the best suited to do the job," Bollman said. "It's not the best five individuals. It's the best five together. Those guys have to learn to work together, to communicate together and trust in each other."

The greatest amount of uncertainty came at the tackle position but as the year progressed Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts earned their stripes in a trial by fire type of scenario.

"They had to step into the fire against some pretty good defensive ends in the Big Ten. They've got that to look back on. They can watch film and see what they did wrong. But it also gives them confidence next year that they've played against really good guys and that next year they can block anybody." Cordle said.

And it is a welcome sight for the guys who are charged with running the ball. During the five weeks after the Purdue game the Ohio State run game averaged 258 yards per game including 310 yards against New Mexico State.

"They're just getting a lot of movement and opening up lanes," Saine said. "The cutback lanes are there. And when they get movement, it causes the linebackers to over-pursue and it really helps you get cutbacks. And they're also doing a good job of getting to the second level really well. So, they've been playing well."

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