Ohio State Buckeyes: Andrew Norwell

Thirty Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft, but many others received phone calls immediately after the event. The undrafted free-agent carousel is spinning, and players from around the Big Ten are hopping aboard.

Unlike the draft, the UDFA list is somewhat fluid, and other players could get picked up later today or in the coming days. To reiterate: This is not the final list.

Here's what we know right now from various announcements and media reports:

ILLINOIS
  • LB Jonathan Brown, Arizona Cardinals
  • WR Ryan Lankford, Miami Dolphins
  • TE Evan Wilson, Dallas Cowboys
  • WR Steve Hull, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Spencer Harris, New Orleans Saints
Notes: Illini OT Corey Lewis, who battled knee injuries throughout his career, told Steve Greenberg that several teams are interested in him if he's cleared by doctors.

INDIANA
  • WR Kofi Hughes, Washington Redskins
  • RB Stephen Houston, New England Patriots
Notes: S Greg Heban and K Mitch Ewald have tryouts with the Chicago Bears.

IOWA
  • LB James Morris, New England Patriots
  • OT Brett Van Sloten, Baltimore Ravens
  • G Conor Boffeli, Minnesota Vikings
  • WR Don Shumpert, Chicago Bears
  • LS Casey Kreiter, Dallas Cowboys
MARYLAND
  • LB Marcus Whitfield, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • CB Isaac Goins, Miami Dolphins
MICHIGAN
  • LB Cam Gordon, New England Patriots
  • S Thomas Gordon, New York Giants
Notes: RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (Baltimore), DT Jibreel Black (Pittsburgh), LS Jareth Glanda (New Orleans) and DT Quinton Washington (Oakland) will have tryouts.


MICHIGAN STATE
  • LB Denicos Allen, Carolina Panthers
  • S Isaiah Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
  • T/G Dan France, Cincinnati Bengals
  • WR Bennie Fowler, Denver Broncos
  • LB Max Bullough, Houston Texans
  • DT Tyler Hoover, Indianapolis Colts
  • DT Micajah Reynolds, New Orleans Saints
  • OL Fou Fonoti, San Francisco 49ers
Notes: LB Kyler Elsworth has a tryout scheduled with Washington.

MINNESOTA
  • LB Aaron Hill, St. Louis Rams
NEBRASKA
  • QB Taylor Martinez, Philadelphia Eagles
  • OT Brent Qvale, New York Jets
  • CB Mohammed Seisay, Detroit Lions
  • DE Jason Ankrah, Houston Texans
  • C Cole Pensick, Kansas City Chiefs
  • OT Jeremiah Sirles, San Diego Chargers
Notes: CB Ciante Evans has yet to sign but will do so soon. DB Andrew Green has a tryout with the Miami Dolphins.

NORTHWESTERN
  • WR Kain Colter, Minnesota Vikings
  • K Jeff Budzien, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • WR Rashad Lawrence, Washington Redskins
  • DE Tyler Scott, Minnesota Vikings
OHIO STATE
  • S C.J. Barnett, New York Giants
  • K Drew Basil, Atlanta Falcons
  • WR Corey Brown, Carolina Panthers
  • G Andrew Norwell, Carolina Panthers
  • G Marcus Hall, Indianapolis Colts
  • WR Chris Fields, Washington Redskins
PENN STATE
  • OT Garry Gilliam, Seattle Seahawks
  • LB Glenn Carson, Arizona Cardinals
  • S Malcolm Willis, San Diego Chargers
Notes: OT Adam Gress will have a tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

PURDUE
  • DE Greg Latta, Denver Broncos
  • S Rob Henry, Oakland Raiders
  • G Devin Smith, San Diego Chargers
  • DT Bruce Gaston Jr., Arizona Cardinals
Notes: P Cody Webster will have a tryout with Pittsburgh.

RUTGERS
  • WR Brandon Coleman, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Quron Pratt, Philadelphia Eagles
  • LB Jamal Merrell, Tennessee Titans
  • DE Marcus Thompson, Miami Dolphins
  • S Jeremy Deering, New England Patriots
Notes: According to Dan Duggan, DE Jamil Merrell (Bears) and G Antwan Lowery (Baltimore) will have tryouts.

WISCONSIN
  • G/T Ryan Groy, Chicago Bears
  • TE Jacob Pedersen Atlanta Falcons
  • TE Brian Wozniak, Atlanta Falcons
  • DE Ethan Hemer, Pittsburgh Steelers
Quick thoughts: Martinez's future as an NFL quarterback has been heavily scrutinized, but Chip Kelly's Eagles are a fascinating destination for him. Whether he plays quarterback or another position like safety, Kelly will explore ways to use Martinez's speed. ... The large Michigan State contingent is still a bit startling. The Spartans dominated the Big Ten, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, use pro-style systems on both sides of the ball and had just one player drafted. Bullough, Allen and Lewis all were multiple All-Big Ten selections but will have to continue their careers through the UDFA route. ... Colter certainly looked like a draft pick during Senior Bowl practices in January, but that was before his ankle surgery and his role in leading the unionization push at Northwestern. I tend to think the injury impacted his status more, but NFL teams have been known to shy away from so-called locker-room lawyers. ... Other Big Ten standouts like Jonathan Brown, Morris and Pedersen were surprisingly not drafted. Morris should be a great fit in New England. ... Coleman's decision to leave Rutgers early looks questionable now that he didn't get drafted.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The change in Ohio State's offensive line is impossible to ignore this spring, even in regard to the only returning starter.

For one thing, he’s now lining up at left tackle, swapping sides after a breakout sophomore season on the right for one of the best offensive lines in the nation.

And then there’s the haircut, as Taylor Decker trimmed off his long locks as part of a job shadow program, trying to give himself a more “professional” appearance.

[+] EnlargeDecker
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesTaylor Decker is the only returning starter on Ohio State's offensive line, but even he'll be at a new position this season.
Both developments help drive home the completely new look up front for Ohio State, where even the lone holdover has a new position as part of a makeover of a unit that lost four starters, a group that's arguably been the strongest in Urban Meyer's tenure with the Buckeyes.

“It’s definitely a different feeling, but I think our focus needs to be not worrying about who lost, but on who we have,” Decker said. “We have really talented guys; they just need to develop confidence in themselves. They can do everything. They just need to realize they can go out and do it play after play after play and be consistent.

“We’ve got a lot of talented guys. Our only issue is inexperience.”

That certainly wasn’t a problem for the Buckeyes a year ago when Decker was the only fresh face in the lineup. Now the only projected first-teamer on the roster with starting experience is guard Pat Elflein, who filled in for a suspended Marcus Hall in the Big Ten championship game after admirably replacing Hall after he was thrown out of the Michigan game.

That leaves plenty for the Buckeyes to sort through this spring, and the process of nailing down full-time replacements for tackle Jack Mewhort, guards Hall and Andrew Norwell and center Corey Linsley might well spill into August. But offensive line coach Ed Warinner isn’t low on options, and the young guys trying to step into those big shoes aren’t short on confidence, either.

“For us, I think it motivates us a unit,” center Jacoby Boren said. “There is no doubt, those guys were freaking awesome, great guys, great players. But we have a lot of good guys here competing, and we’re working hard.

“We’re not working to be like them. We’re going to work to be the best that we are and keep building on that.”

Their predecessors obviously set the bar pretty high during the last couple seasons, setting the tone for an offense that led the Big Ten in scoring and was fifth in the nation in rushing, averaging more than 300 yards per game on the ground.

The Buckeyes started preparations for replacing them last season, occasionally cutting back on practice reps for the first unit in favor of the backups in an effort to speed through the learning curve and getting them as much game action as possible. Prospective right tackle Darryl Baldwin, Elflein and Boren figure to benefit from that taste of experience, and Antonio Underwood's return from knee surgery has gone smoothly enough that he opened camp as the starter at left guard. Behind that starting group, Ohio State has recruited well and could conceivably have players such as converted defensive lineman Joel Hale or Kyle Dodson make pushes for playing time.

And with all those candidates on hand ready to take over, Warinner isn’t losing much sleep, even though he’s looking at a totally different line.

“I’m pretty confident, yeah,” Warinner said. “Because everything that you want to see at this point, we’re seeing. Great work ethic, tough guys, very well-conditioned, guys who want to learn, guys who come and watch film and work the game. Guys who do extra, guys that are very coachable; they’re sponges. Guys who come with energy to practice.

“You’ve got all these things. The only thing they lack is experience.”

Now there’s nobody in their way to keep them from getting it.
The official invite list for the 2014 NFL combine is out, and 36 Big Ten players will try to impress pro scouts during workouts in Indianapolis from Feb. 22-25. In case you were wondering, that's fourth most among conferences behind the SEC (71 invitees), the ACC (48) and the Pac-12 (45).

Here are the Big Ten players who were invited, broken down by position:

Quarterbacks (0)

Running backs (2)

Wide receivers (8)

Tight ends (2)

Offensive linemen (8)

Defensive linemen (2)

Linebackers (7)

Defensive backs (7)

Specialists (0)

Breakdown
It's a strong list of players, but were there any snubs. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, Michigan State linebacker Denicos Allen and Iowa cornerback B.J. Lowery jump out right away as missing, though Martinez has injury (and position) concerns, while Allen's small frame means he'll have to prove to scouts he can play at the next level.

I'm also a bit surprised not to see Indiana's Ted Bolser on this list; he's not a traditional blocking tight end, but his receiving skills would seem to translate to the NFL. Only nine kickers and punters were invited to Indy, yet it's a little disappointing that Purdue's Cody Webster and Northwestern's Jeff Budzien weren't included in the specialists.

Others who could have gotten an invite include Purdue defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, Ohio State guard Andrew Norwell and Nebraska defensive back Ciante Evans.

That doesn't mean those guys won't play in the NFL. But their path to the league might be a little more winding.

Vets get young linemen ready for future

December, 30, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The future hasn’t arrived yet, but it’s no longer just the Ohio State coaching staff thinking about what it looks like on the offensive line.

The four seniors heading for the exit and about to usher in a new era are now every bit as aware that the end is near, leaving them two different legacies to attend to at once before they leave behind all of those starting jobs.

The ramifications on their own careers with the No. 7 Buckeyes are obvious as they look to cap a banner two-year run in the Discover Orange Bowl against No. 12 Clemson on Friday. But looking beyond that, the veterans have balanced their preparations for one final game with the need to get some younger guys ready for what comes after it at a position that has become the backbone of the program thanks to that core group of four.

“I think as you start to look around and it’s coming to an end for us, you realize that you do have a lot of responsibility to make sure this place is OK when you’re gone,” left tackle Jack Mewhort said. “I think us as seniors, I’ve been trying to coach guys more than I ever have and making sure that guys are getting ready.”

[+] EnlargeDecker
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesTaylor Decker will have to take a lead role on the offensive line after the departure of four senior starters.
There will be one familiar face still around, with Taylor Decker serving as a bridge from the present as the Buckeyes begin the transition and rebuilding of the critical unit up front.

The sophomore right tackle more than held his own with his senior teammates on the close-knit offensive line, and his experience playing alongside them could be invaluable as he suddenly becomes the elder statesman in the meeting room. The Buckeyes have also had a recent glimpse at Pat Elflein in competitive situations as he was pressed into duty at right guard following Marcus Hall's ejection against Michigan and subsequent discipline in the Big Ten title game, and the right side of the line appears to be in good hands if that’s where both he and Decker end up staying.

Jacoby Boren has also impressed on the practice field and in limited opportunities to play in games at center, though plugging him into the starting lineup would still leave a couple more holes to fill heading into spring practice. And since Mewhort, Hall, Andrew Norwell and Corey Linsley won’t be around then to offer any advice to potential candidates to fill those spots, they’re getting all the pointers they can in now.

“Just from a teaching standpoint, it’s just all about helping them out, where we see their weaknesses are,” Linsley said. “If we can point out, like, I don’t know, Billy Price needs to learn to keep his pressure on the inside of his feet and not lose his balance by keeping it all over the place. That’s one area that I’m helping him.

"Jacoby, Pat and Taylor are definitely the ones who have progressed the most, and they’re doing a heck of a job leading in terms of off the field, intangibles. We don’t really need to do a lot from a motivational standpoint. [Offensive line coach Ed] Warinner does all the work there, because he’s grinding them day in and day out.”

Warinner is probably the most important holdover for the linemen, though the rebuilding job almost became even more challenging with the highly respected assistant in the mix for head-coaching jobs again this winter. If more dominoes fall this offseason, he could still get back in the mix for a position elsewhere, which would really cloud up the crystal ball for the Buckeyes on the offensive line.

But at least for one more week, Ohio State knows exactly what it has.

“I know people talk a lot about us leaving and the shape of the offensive line, but I’m not worried,” Mewhort said. “I know there are a lot of hard workers in there and a lot of guys who are going to be very good players in the future.”

The chance to prove it is creeping up quickly.
Officially, we only do a first-team All-Big Ten here at the ol' blog. But there were tough decisions and plenty of players deserving of recognition in the 2013 season. So if we had to do a second team, here's what it would look like:

Offense

QB: Connor Cook, Michigan State
RB: Jeremy Langford, Michigan State
RB: James White, Wisconsin
WR: Jeremy Gallon, Michigan
WR: Cody Latimer, Indiana
TE: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
C: Jack Allen, Michigan State
OL: John Urschel, Penn State
OL: Blake Treadwell, Michigan State
OL: Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin
OL: Andrew Norwell, Ohio State

Defense

DL: Michael Bennett, Ohio State
DL: DaQuan Jones, Penn State
DL: Theiren Cockran, Minnesota
DL: Carl Davis, Iowa
LB: Denicos Allen, Michigan State
LB: Anthony Hitchens, Iowa
LB: Jonathan Brown, Illinois
DB: Blake Countess, Michigan
DB: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
DB: Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State
DB: B.J. Lowery, Iowa

Specialists

K: Pat Smith, Nebraska
P: Cody Webster, Purdue
KR: Akeem Hunt, Purdue

Some tough calls here, including the quarterback. Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase has a strong case. But ultimately we went with the guy who was 9-0 in the Big Ten as a starter and won a league title with a 20-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. ... Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon couldn't crack our first two teams despite running for 1,466 yards. We thought White and Langford were better in the key parts of the season than Gordon, who did most of his best work in the first six games. ... We had three tackles on our first team, so the interior linemen get their due with four spots on the second team. ... Several of our defensive players here were difficult omissions from the first team, including Allen, Countess, Jean-Baptiste, Lewis and Lowery. ... We chose Smith as the kicker in a close call over Michigan State's Michael Geiger, whom we honored on our all-freshman team.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The trophy case already is filling up, which is no surprise for an unbeaten team currently in position to play for the national title.

Braxton Miller is the Big Ten's best quarterback. Carlos Hyde was honored as the league's best running back. In total, eight different Ohio State players were honored as first-team All-Big Ten by either the media or the coaches.

But for all the new awards picked up on Monday, the Buckeyes actually might have a few legitimate complaints coming out of the unveiling of the all-conference teams and positional awards. Those snubs aren't likely to be brought up publicly any time soon, but they just might become motivation for a few Buckeyes as they eye another piece of hardware on Saturday against Michigan State with the conference title on the line in Indianapolis.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteRyan Shazier leads the Big Ten in three big categories but wasn't named the league's best linebacker.
LB Ryan Shazier: As skilled and tough as Wisconsin's Chris Borland is, the voting for the Butkus-Fitzgerald Award for the league's best linebacker seemed about as straightforward as could be given Shazier's incredible production across the board defensively. Somehow, the junior still came up short against Borland. Shazier leads the Big Ten in tackles with 122, tackles for loss with 21 and forced fumbles with 4, and aside from those numbers was unquestionably the most valuable defender for a unit that had to replace every other starter in the front seven from a year ago. Shazier may well still win defensive player of the year on Tuesday, but that would make it only more difficult to understand how he wasn't the best linebacker in the league.

LT Jack Mewhort: The anchor of clearly the best overall offensive line and the fiery leader of the No. 2 team in the nation could file complaints in two different categories, starting with trying to figure out which coaches didn't vote for him as an all-conference performer as he slipped to the second team. The media had Mewhort on its top squad, along with Andrew Norwell and Corey Linsley, but his nasty run blocking and solid pass protection for Miller apparently didn't impress the coaches around the league quite enough. The senior also came up short in the Rimington-Pace Award race, with Michigan's Taylor Lewan getting the nod despite contributing to an offense that rushed for only 130 yards per game this season and allowed 35 sacks. Mewhort has a big test ahead of him against the Spartans, but he might have a bit of extra fuel for the fire to attack them now.

DE Noah Spence/DT Michael Bennett: Between the media and the coaches, the tandem on the Ohio State defensive line landed on only one first-team despite the four cracks at it, with Spence getting a nod from the media. The sophomore finished second in the Big Ten in sacks and was clearly deserving of the attention, but Bennett seemed to slip through the cracks a bit despite finishing only one spot behind Spence on the league leader board. Despite playing inside, Bennett racked up 7 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss and also forced and recovered a pair of fumbles during a breakout season. He deserved a little more credit as the regular season came to a close.

What we learned: Week 13

November, 24, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A closer look at the developments from No. 3 Ohio State's 42-14 win over Indiana on Saturday at the Horseshoe as it clinched a spot in the Big Ten title game and set a school record with its 23rd victory in a row.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesRyan Shazier had a day for the record books in Ohio State's win over Baylor.
Buckeyes worthy of some hardware: The forgotten man in the Heisman Trophy race is roaring back with some of the best football of his career, this week using his legs to make the biggest impact. Overlooked a year ago for individual honors, Ohio State's most prolific defender is making it impossible to ignore him as he stuffs the box score to capacity. Braxton Miller and Ryan Shazier deserve to be in the middle of any conversation about the best players at their position this season, though the latter's case might be the strongest heading into the final week of the regular season. Miller was electrifying with 144 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns to go with 160 yards through the air and 2 more scores, but Shazier's 20-tackle outing will go down in the record books. The junior made 5 of those plays behind the line of scrimmage, forced a fumble, made a sack and also broke up a pass in one of the more complete performances a linebacker could have.

Dontre Wilson is ready to be unleashed: The Buckeyes have brought their freshman speedster along relatively slowly, but they appear ready to turn him loose with three critical games left to play. Wilson turned his seven offensive touches into 58 yards and a touchdown. It was a relatively modest total, but the mere threat of him on the field opened up space elsewhere for his teammates as the Hoosiers paid attention to his every step. Wilson might not have the entire playbook down yet, his hands let him down once and he isn't really that effective between the tackles yet. But get him in space, and he's quite clearly got the jets needed to burn a defense and put up points.

The senior linemen are going to be missed: The moment hasn't arrived yet, but the Buckeyes obviously know it's coming. Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell carved out a couple quick minutes in the end zone to snap a picture together with position coach Ed Warinner, and the coaching staff is clearly going to miss those four seniors on the offensive line. The Buckeyes bulled their way to 311 rushing yards, averaging a robust 8 yards per attempt, taking full advantage of the gaping holes the veterans provided up front while they still can. It's perhaps no real secret how important replacing those linemen next season is going to be, but they provided one more lesson on their value as the Buckeyes shoved around the Hoosiers and left Ohio Stadium with one more win.

Q&A: Ohio State tackle Jack Mewhort

November, 15, 2013
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Much has been made about quarterback Braxton Miller's transformation under coach Urban Meyer at Ohio State, but another group of Buckeyes is enjoying an extreme makeover. After underachieving for years, Ohio State's offense line is now a force in the Big Ten, creating plenty of room for Miller, running back Carlos Hyde and others to operate. Senior left tackle Jack Mewhort has witnessed the evolution of the line. He has started at three different positions -- left guard, right guard and now left tackle -- and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2012. Elected a team captain before this season, Mewhort has received plenty of praise from Meyer, who called the Toledo, Ohio, native "one of the best leaders I've ever been around."

Mewhort and the third-ranked Buckeyes continue their push for a national title Saturday at Illinois. ESPN.com caught up with Mewhort earlier this week.

[+] EnlargeJack Mewhort
AP Photo/Michael ConroySenior captain Jack Mewhort has anchored a much-improved offensive line for the Buckeyes.
How have you evolved as a leader during your career?

Jack Mewhort: I've had the good fortune of seeing a lot of leaders come through here and who did a great job at Ohio State, guys like Cam Heyward, Jake Ballard, Jimmy Cordle, the list goes on. I did a good job when I was younger observing and making sure I picked up things from those guys that if I was ever in a position to be a leader, I could apply. Somehow, I got myself in a position where people think I'm a leader, so I can apply those things now. I was very lucky.

What was the moment like when you found out you would be a captain?

JM: It was a big honor. You're happy for a second, and then you think about the responsibility that goes with it. I just got real serious about it. Being a captain at Ohio State is a pretty prestigious thing. I don't want to fail my team or the coaching staff, so I've tried to be a good example and do things the right way, set the tone for this team and make sure guys are doing things right.

When did you realize you had to take things up a notch from a maturity standpoint?

JM: In 2011, [Mike] Brewster and Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts, it was their last year, and I got a lot of good playing experience and general life experience. When they left, Corey [Linsley] and Andrew [Norwell] and Marcus Hall all realized at the same time that we were the oldest guys in the O-line room, and we were going to be in position to lead the team. There was a moment a few years ago where I thought to myself, "I'm going to have to be a guy around here now."

You guys are talked about as being the strongest unit on the team. When did that come to fruition that the line was taking it to another level after not living up to expectations earlier?

JM: When Coach Meyer got here, there was a chip on our shoulders. He came in and he made no secret that he was not impressed with the offensive line at Ohio State the last few years, especially the 2011 team, calling it the worst O-line he's seen play in a long time. We really took that to heart and believed we had a special opportunity in front of us with Coach Meyer and his staff coming in. We had a bowl ban last year, but the reason you come to Ohio State is to be in the discussion we're in right now. We knew if we wanted to leave a legacy at Ohio State, we were going to have to start moving forward. We all took that to heart, worked really hard on our minds and our bodies and started heading in the right direction together. The chemistry we've shown together on the field, it's been a lot of fun, a great ride.

How much of it was physical and how much was mental for you guys as a group?

JM: Mentally, it wasn't as hard as it was physically, just because we were all friends. We hadn't all been playing at the same time together, but we all knew each other. That wasn't a big problem because there was a mutual respect. But physically, it was a huge part of it. We credit Coach Mickey Marotti for that. He came in and changed our bodies for the better. We were not physically impressive when they got here, so they did a great job of motivating us in the right way and helping us eat right and establish a mindset to get mentally and physically tougher.

Everyone sees you as big guys, but what specifically did you have to change physically to meet the coaches' expectations?

JM: We just didn't have the right template maybe before. Not to take anything away from the program that Coach [Jim] Tressel ran, because obviously he was a winner, but when Coach Marotti came in, he just took it up another notch. I don't know the exact numbers, but as an offensive line, we lost hundreds of pounds of fat and gained a lot of muscle at the same time. It was just a matter putting applicable strength on our bodies that we could use our flexibility. Speed to power is a big thing around here. We're well-oiled machines now. It's always a work in progress when you're an O-lineman, eating right and stuff like that. But they definitely helped us.

And how have those changes contributed to your success?

JM: It shows every week on the field. [Offensive coordinator Tom Herman] always says we made a commitment to our tempo on Day 1, and that's something we pride ourselves on, wearing defenses out and being in the no-huddle and getting right back on the ball after each play. Some O-linemen can't really handle the pace or do it all the time. We really pride ourselves on being that team. We love running no-huddle, we love getting right back on the ball, because there's a certain point where you can look across the ball and see a D-lineman tap out. As an offensive lineman, there's no better feeling than that.

What has been the one thing that has surprised you most about playing in this offense versus your perception of it when Coach Meyer came in?

JM: People talk about Coach Meyer and his offense and say it's the spread, we're not really blocking anybody, we're reading guys. We've showed in the last couple years that he likes to run the ball between the tackles and run power and inside zone as much as anybody. We obviously have our schemes, we know how to get the ball on the edge and Braxton's throwing the ball really well right now. But at the end of the day, Coach Meyer says we're a power running team, and that's been evident the last couple years here.

You guys are clearly in the national championship mix. What do you need to do to convince people that you're a team that should be in one of those top two spots?

JM: We just need to handle our business and do it convincingly, just to show people we are legit and we mean business. Obviously, it's a big discussion that we're in, and we're not ignorant. We know what's going on nationally, but you've got to take it day by day and focus on right now beating Illinois. When you start looking too far ahead, that's when you let the little things slip, and all of a sudden you're looking back and saying, "What could I have done differently?" If we just keep playing the way we've been playing and get better every day, we'll be all right and everything will work itself out at the end.

Do you look at what Florida State and Alabama and Baylor and Stanford have done, and look at their résumés and where you stack up with them?

JM: I don't do a lot of comparisons. Obviously, all those teams are great. We have a lot of respect for all of them. As far as résumés go, there's a lot of talk about how our schedule's weak or whatever, but we've beat every team lined up in front of us. We have a great winning streak, and that's something we want to continue. At the end of the day, if we win all our games, we're hopefully where we want to be. If we're not, winning a lot of games is good, too.

You guys would be guaranteed a spot in the Rose Bowl if you don't make the title game. How do you view that possibility?

JM: I don't really know how our attitude would be toward that. I don't really want to talk about that just because I don't want to look ahead. But the Rose Bowl is a great bowl game. I was in it in 2009. It would be an honor to play in a BCS bowl, especially the Rose Bowl. It's the 100th anniversary also, so that's a very prestigious place. There's nothing wrong with playing in the Rose Bowl when you're an Ohio State Buckeye.

What would you like your legacy to be at Ohio State?

JM: Personally, I want people to remember me as a good teammate, as a guy who did things the right way. I was serious about my business. I want to be remembered as a good teammate and a good leader. This winning streak we’re on now, I’m glad to be a part of that, and when people look back at the 2012, 2013 Buckeyes, when it’s all said and done, and if we do the things we want to do, it’s going to be an honor just to be in the conversation with some of these guys who are around here.
Penn State will travel to The Horseshoe on Saturday for its 29th meeting against Ohio State. So, in preparation of the game, Penn State beat writer Josh Moyer and Ohio State beat writer Austin Ward sat down to discuss four key questions surrounding the contest.

What's the X-factor for the Penn State-Ohio State game?

Moyer: The crowd. Listen, you can say that almost any week -- but it especially holds true Saturday. The Nittany Lions have just 12 seniors on their roster, and they've already played a dozen true freshmen this season. Both redshirt and true freshmen comprise 53 percent (59 of 111) of the roster. Fifty-three percent! So most of these players on this roster haven't competed in front of a truly hostile crowd, and Christian Hackenberg's biggest road test to date has been in front of a half-empty Memorial Stadium at Indiana, a game Penn State lost. Penn State is blaring the music a bit louder at practice this week -- but that can only prepare players so much. Penn State can't afford to make mistakes, and some burned timeouts and false starts could be in the Lions' future.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsBraxton Miller and Ohio State are on a roll offensively.
Ward: The Buckeyes are hitting on all cylinders on offense, and they’re going to score points with Braxton Miller healthy and playing at a high level on offense and Carlos Hyde blowing through defenders to pace the rushing attack. But the real key for Ohio State will be if its improving front seven is able to collapse the pocket and force Hackenberg to make mistakes the secondary can feast on for a couple turnovers. Hackenberg has played beyond his years early in the season, but he hasn’t played anywhere nearly as hostile as Ohio Stadium and the Buckeyes could add to the difficulty by dialing up their aggression early and often, coming off a couple slow starts that can at least partially be attributed to somewhat conservative schemes.

Which player is the most important?

Moyer: Hackenberg. Miller is obviously a tempting choice, but he's going to score. You can't totally stop Miller. Hackenberg is the wild card. We've seen 50-plus yard throws fall right into the receivers' hands, we've seen him stand in the pocket and deliver tight spirals across his body. But we've also seen him make head-scratching decisions, stare at one receiver and hold on to the ball way too long. He's exceeded expectations and, overall, has done a remarkable job this season. But you just don't know what quarterback you're going to get on Saturday. Will he play the way he did in the final three quarters against Kent State, when he went 6 of 25? Will he rally his team for a comeback the way he did against Michigan in the final minute? If he plays well, Penn State has a chance. If he doesn't, Penn State has no chance. It's that simple.

Ward: The entire offense centers around Miller’s versatility, and the Buckeyes are operating at a different level now that the junior quarterback has become a more polished passer. His ability to move the chains and create explosive gains on the ground is unquestioned, but a year ago, teams like Penn State were able to slow down the Buckeyes at times late in the season because they could load the box without too much fear of getting beat through the air. That approach doesn’t work as well now, and with Miller coming off perhaps the most efficient outing of his career, the Nittany Lions will have to honor the threat of Philly Brown or Devin Smith down the field. That, in turn, opens up holes for Hyde. All of that revolves around the special talent taking the snaps.

What's the matchup to watch?

Moyer: WR Allen Robinson vs. CB Bradley Roby. A-Rob is one of the top receivers in the nation who could leave early for the NFL; Roby is the returning All-American corner who's trying to make amends for an awful game against Jared Abbrederis to show he's still a high draft pick. What's not to love about this matchup? Robinson has a 37-inch vertical leap and the best route-running ability on the team; Roby boasts great closing speed, a penchant for picking up on routes and, Bill O'Brien said, is "one of the top defensive backs in the country." It's no secret that Robinson is the biggest weapon on this Penn State offense, and this game will go a long way in developing Roby's reputation. Another bad game for Roby and the chatter will undoubtedly pick up. On the flip side, if Robinson succeeds, he could watch his draft stock soar a few notches. It should be the most entertaining matchup in the conference Saturday.

Ward: The elite head-to-head battle on the perimeter between Roby and Robinson will be worth the price of admission. But when the Buckeyes are on offense, there could be perhaps an even more intriguing chess match as the Nittany Lions try to get defensive tackle DaQuan Jones in favorable situations. The Big Ten’s leader in tackles for a loss is facing perhaps the best overall group of blockers in the league, and center Corey Linsley and guards Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell are well aware of how important it will be to win up front and keep Jones out of the backfield.

Which team has the advantage?

Moyer: Ohio State. No question about it -- even the most die-hard Penn State fans have to admit the Buckeyes have the clear advantage here. Ohio State is more experienced, has a deeper roster, has the home-field advantage, a more well-rounded offense, a better front-seven, etc. PSU is about a two-touchdown underdog in this one, and it lost to OSU by double-digits last season with a lot more going for it. If Penn State is going to keep this one close, its offense has to score points -- a lot of points -- to stand a chance. It's difficult to discount Penn State in any game, but it'd be foolish to even hint that these two teams are evenly matched. They're not. Ohio State has the advantage.

Ward: The Buckeyes have more firepower than just about any team in the country on offense, and even after a couple sloppy starts on defense over the last couple weeks, they still rank No. 15 in the nation in total defense. That’s a perfect formula for winning a lot of games, and the Buckeyes have done that every single time they’ve taken the field under Urban Meyer. Ohio State is somewhat uniquely equipped to handle different scenarios depending on what it wants to accomplish, either speeding up the tempo if it feels the need to put up a bunch of points or leaning on its ground game to work on the clock and grind out a victory if it needs to. That ability to adapt has been invaluable during the 19-game winning streak, and along with what appears to be a more talented roster on paper, it should help provide an edge once again for the Buckeyes.

Wins are Ohio State's best statement

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
2:35
AM ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Earlier in the week, Urban Meyer called Wisconsin the "king of the Big Ten." After yet another Ohio State victory on Saturday night, no questions remained about the real league royalty: the team with King James on its sideline.

Yet this was hardly a coronation. The No. 4 Buckeyes had to fight until the final minute to hold off the No. 23 Badgers 31-24 in front the third-largest crowd in the history of the Horseshoe. Plenty of people probably checked in on this prime-time game to find out just how good Ohio State truly was after it had cruised against soft competition for the first four weeks.

They might have come away still unsure.

"I don't know if we made a statement," safety C.J. Barnett said. "We know we had our doubters. Hopefully, we proved them wrong. But if not, it doesn't matter. We're just going to keep working."

Meyer's team looked ready to provide a resounding impression at various points in the game. Quarterback Braxton Miller returned from his 11-quarter injury absence and immediately led the offense on a touchdown drive in just four plays. The Buckeyes went end to end as fast as LeBron James, who cheered on his home state school from the 20-yard line during the first half.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsBraxton Miller threw for 198 yards and rushed for 83 in his first game since injuring his knee Sept. 7.
Miller, reunited with running back Carlos Hyde for the first time this season, threw four touchdown passes and put his team up 31-14 with his final one late in the third quarter. Take that, Oregon and Clemson and other teams jockeying for BCS title game position.

But Wisconsin, which hasn't lost a game by more than seven points since 2010, refused to buckle. The hard-luck Badgers outgained the Buckeyes (399-390) and cost themselves a better chance at the upset because of a missed field goal, several costly penalties and a defensive breakdown at the end of the first half. Saturday's game was billed as the de facto Leaders Division title game. It might well have just pitted the two best teams in the entire Big Ten.

"They did exactly what we thought they were going to do," Ohio State receiver Philly Brown said. "We knew it going into this game that it was going to be a brawl."

Just not exactly the type many expected. The young Buckeyes defensive front seven accomplished the nearly impossible by shutting down Wisconsin's running game and its star tailbacks, Melvin Gordon and James White. The Badgers finished with just 104 rushing yards on 27 carries, while Gordon -- the leading rusher in the FBS heading into Saturday -- was limited to 74 yards on 15 attempts before a leg injury ended his night early.

The longest Wisconsin rush of the night was White's 17-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Mostly, however, White and Gordon found little space to maneuver and plenty of defenders in their area.

"I really think we showed to the country that we can stop the run and that we're not anybody to be messing around with," Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "They have a great offensive line, and I feel like our D-line is going to be great also."

Yet the Badgers countered with a surprisingly effective passing game. Quarterback Joel Stave threw for 295 yards, 207 of them going to receiver Jared Abbrederis. Despite everyone in the stadium knowing whom Stave would target, Abbrederis repeatedly found ways to get open while burning Ohio State's all-America cornerback Bradley Roby several times.

"He's got my vote for All-Big Ten," Meyer said. "He did an incredible job."

The bad news in the secondary got much worse late in the game when senior safety Christian Bryant suffered a broken ankle trying to make an interception. Bryant is one of the top leaders on the defense, and Meyer was so upset about the season-ending injury that he slapped the podium in his postgame news conference and said, "Doggone it. Hard part of the game, boy."

Bryant's on-field absence could be felt next week at Northwestern. As far as off the field, it could last even longer.

"I'm not worried about the playing [aspect]," Barnett said. "I'm worried about the leadership aspect. It's going to take all of our leaders to do more. I've got to do more."

The injury hurts, but the Buckeyes still boast an enviable position. They hold a virtual two-game lead over Wisconsin in the Leaders race by owning the head-to-head tiebreaker. After Saturday's "GameDay" showdown at No. 17 Northwestern, the Buckeyes should have smooth sailing until the season-ender at Michigan, which might or might not have fixed its troubling flaws by then.

Critics might harp on Saturday's narrow margin of victory, but they would underrate Wisconsin if so.

"It's a Big Ten win," offensive lineman Andrew Norwell said. "To beat a Big Ten team, that says something, especially a ranked team. This was a big win for us."

Not, however, a dominant one. The Buckeyes might need those while trying to convince pollsters and Big Ten skeptics that they belong in the national championship picture. Saturday's game was more reminiscent of last year's team, which eked out several close victories on its way to 12-0.

Still, the wins keep piling up. Meyer has never known an unhappy postgame "Carmen Ohio" sing-along as a head coach, having produced 17 straight victories. When you can bring LeBron James in for a pregame speech with scores of recruits watching, that bodes well for the future.

"I don't know," Meyer said when asked about the impact of James' presence Saturday. "I just know that I love athletes that handle their business."

The Buckeyes keep doing that every week. Until someone can dethrone them, that's the only statement that matters.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There may be no replacing the real thing.

But Kenny Guiton does more than a passable impression of Braxton Miller, and now it looks like he can even do it for an extended period of time when Ohio State needs a stand-in at quarterback.

There’s never been any question about how seamlessly Guiton can transition to the lineup in a pinch for a handful of plays or perhaps a couple drives, and the Buckeyes have consistently expressed their confidence in having the best backup in the country. Finally needing to prove it for a complete game on Saturday against San Diego State at Ohio Stadium, Guiton provided some evidence that he could handle the stage for more than a cameo and Ohio State turned in yet another prolific scoring performance at less than full strength in a 42-7 romp without its leading man.

[+] EnlargeKenny Guiton
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteIn place of Braxton Miller, senior signal-caller Kenny Guiton finished 19 of 28 passing for 152 yards in the Buckeyes' win over San Diego State.
“He played a full game today, you saw it,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. “The old right-hander steps in again and does a nice job.

“He’s too slow, not enough arm strength, but all he does is lead and manage and distribute and has an incredible knowledge of the game.”

Meyer’s scouting report might not have been entirely truthful, but by comparison it’s obvious that Miller brings far more to the table with his electrifying rushing ability, a vastly improved arm and an ability to keep defenses guessing thanks to the combination of the two.

But Guiton can do all of the same things Miller does, and after the Heisman Trophy candidate left on the opening drive of the game with an injury to his left knee that required evaluation in the locker room and kept him from ever returning, at times it was if nothing on offense changed.

Guiton was accurate in the passing game, twice dropping in long-range strikes to Philly Brown for touchdowns on the way to an efficient outing with 19 completions in 28 attempts with 152 yards and an interception.

The senior managed the tempo and the option rushing attack without any issues of significance, helping Jordan Hall and Dontre Wilson combine for 126 yards and a pair of scores.

Guiton even channeled Miller as a runner, dashing up the middle on a draw for a 44-yard touchdown on the way to a team-high 83 yards on the ground as he put together the kind of all-around performance that the starter has produced with regularity since Meyer took over last season.

“When he comes in, we don’t miss a beat,” left guard Andrew Norwell said. “It means a lot to us, because we can always count on Kenny, everybody loves him in the locker room.

“When he comes in, we’re still playing. Nothing [negative] really crosses our mind when he comes in.”

Given his importance in the hunt for a national title, Miller was certainly still on the minds of the coaching staff after he was carted to the locker room and fitted for a knee brace. Had the game been more competitive, they might have also given more serious thought about putting the junior back behind center.

Instead, Miller left his scarlet baseball cap on for the duration of the second half, watching the offense operate without him from a spot just a couple feet off the field. The Buckeyes kept on moving the first-down chains and racking up points without him, and there was no need to rush Miller back against a defense that was probably overmatched no matter who was taking the snaps.

Meyer didn’t speculate too much on Miller’s status for next week’s trip to take on Cal, only going as far as indicating “there’s a chance he’ll be ready.” It appears to be a safe bet that Miller will be healthy and available given the resiliency he has shown throughout his career with the program.

But if he’s not, the same old security blanket is still there for the Buckeyes.

“[Guiton] does have a strong enough arm, he is fast enough,” Meyer said. “He’s just got to come in with more confidence, because when he does, it’s fun to watch.”

Maybe it’s not exactly the same as watching Miller. But once more, there were no complaints about the entertainment value with the next best thing.

Position preview: Offensive line

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
10:00
AM ET
Breaking down the Ohio State roster as training camp heats us and the program turns its attention to the opener on Aug. 31 against Buffalo.

OFFENSIVE LINE

[+] EnlargeJack Mewhort
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesAn Ohio State offensive line that returns four starters is anchored by Jack Mewhort.
Top of the depth chart: From left to right, Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall and Taylor Decker

Next in line: The backup spots don’t have to be quite as precise given the flexibility of some reserves capable of playing multiple spots, with Chase Farris likely the first man up if injuries strike at either guard or tackle. Darryl Baldwin has impressed during training camp and provides depth on the edge, and Pat Elflein has emerged as a viable option on the interior. Jacoby Boren spent time filling in for Linsley when he was injured during spring practice and early this month, and the sophomore’s work ethic and family history with the program is well documented.

New faces: The Buckeyes didn’t do much to restock the cupboards with the most recent signing class, and a class of blockers that only included two names dropped to one this season when Tim Gardner was sent home following an off-the-field incident. That leaves just Evan Lisle, who has shown some potential but would likely benefit from a year to develop on the sideline before getting thrown in the mix.

Recruiting trail: With four seniors set to move on from the program after this season, coach Urban Meyer made it clear since signing day in February that he has to bring in a strong class of linemen to pave the way for the future. He would have liked to have done that in 2012, obviously, but he’s off to a strong start with the next group after getting pledges from ESPN300 picks Jamarco Jones (Chicago/De La Salle) and Demetrius Knox (Fort Worth, Texas/All Saints Episcopal). The Buckeyes also have commitments from tackles Kyle Trout (Lancaster, Ohio/Lancaster) and Marcelys Jones (Cleveland/Glenville), reinforcing the importance of targeting the line in the 2013 class.

Flexibility: Returning four senior starters doesn’t leave much room for movement on the first unit, and the strong start to camp for sophomore Taylor Decker erased the only real question mark heading into the opener. Farris and Baldwin have each been able to push for work at times at right tackle, but Decker’s brute strength and knowledge of the game has given him a leg up and given line coach Ed Warinner little to worry about with his starting unit.

Notable numbers:

• The work hasn’t all come at one spot, but one way or another, the Buckeyes have been able to count on inking Mewhort’s name in the starting lineup for quite some time now. The season opener against Buffalo will mark his 26th consecutive start, a string that has included appearances at left guard, right guard and the position he locked down for all of last fall, left tackle.

• For all the hype about the spread offense and what it would do for the passing attack in 2012, the Buckeyes ultimately relied much more on power and a smash-mouth ground game thanks to the nasty attitude and physical approach up front in Meyer’s first season. Ohio State rushed twice as often as it passed, turning those 559 total carries into an average of 242 yards per game and finishing the season as one of the top running teams in the nation.

• The offensive line wasn’t necessarily on the hook for all the sacks on Braxton Miller last season, but given the quarterback’s mobility and the experience returning, they should be able to cut down dramatically on the 30 takedowns they allowed in 2012. Miller is a better decision-maker moving into his junior season and that should get the ball out quicker and provide some help for the line. But the big guys also appear capable of establishing a more comfortable pocket.

Big question: Is Taylor Decker ready?

The Buckeyes weren’t ready to pronounce the sophomore a starter leaving spring practice, and Decker himself admitted that he hadn’t earned the right after 15 workouts in March and April. The coaching staff has already seen enough in August to trust him with that responsibility, though, and it comes with expectations that could hardly be higher. From a broad perspective, the Buckeyes are planning to contend for a national title. From a position-specific angle, Meyer has made it well known that everything starts in the trenches, and he wants nothing less than the best offensive line in the Big Ten -- for starters. With four proven commodities from an unbeaten team returning, the focus will be on the new guy to meet the standard.

Ohio State season preview

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
10:30
AM ET
Let's take a look at Ohio State as it tries to build off an undefeated season and compete for titles now that its postseason ban has expired.

OHIO STATE BUCKEYES

Coach: Urban Meyer (116-23, 11 seasons; 12-0 at Ohio State)

2012 record: 12-0, Leaders Division champions (ineligible for postseason)

Key losses: DE John Simon, DT Johnathan Hankins, RT Reid Fragel, WR/TE Jake Stoneburner, LB/FB Zach Boren, LB Etienne Sabino, CB Travis Howard

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Al BehrmanUrban Meyer has an experienced QB in Braxton Miller and depth at running back entering his second season at Ohio State.
Key returnees: QB Braxton Miller, WR Philly Brown, CB Bradley Roby, SAF Christian Bryant, SAF C.J. Barnett, LT Jack Mewhort, LG Andrew Norwell, C Corey Linsley, RG Marcus Hall, RB Carlos Hyde, LB Ryan Shazier

Newcomer to watch: Meyer was never able to find somebody to play his hybrid H-back position last year, so the Buckeyes simply didn’t use it. Now the program has two options on hand who appear to fit the mold, and freshman speedster Dontre Wilson could make an instant impact in that role thanks to his wheels and elusiveness. Wilson has quickly made a splash during training camp, and he has the ability to be a factor in both the rushing and receiving game.

Biggest games in 2013: The last week of the regular season is always a cut above the rest, and Ohio State’s trip up north to take on rival Michigan on Nov. 30 could have enormous stakes for a team eying a national title this year. A visit to Northwestern on Oct. 5 will also be a test, and home games against Wisconsin (Sept. 28) and Penn State (Oct. 26) will be critical in the divisional race.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Almost the entire front seven has undergone a face-lift since last season as six starters have moved on from the program, but there isn’t that much concern about the defensive line because sophomore sensations Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are poised for breakout campaigns.

There is some hand-wringing going on at linebacker, though, and the depth issues that forced Ohio State to move Boren from fullback to lend a hand on defense last season haven’t yet been corrected. Newcomers Trey Johnson and Mike Mitchell may need to develop quickly to fill out the rotation, because otherwise an injury or two to Shazier, middle linebacker Curtis Grant or sophomore Joshua Perry could create significant problems at the second level for coordinator Luke Fickell.

Forecast: While there might be some uncertainty about a younger, more inexperienced defense, there is absolutely nothing but booming confidence on the other side of the ball for the Buckeyes.

Braxton Miller returns for his third season as the starting quarterback, fresh off a fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy race and an offseason of improvement as a passer. A deeper stable of rushers joins him in the backfield to add even more versatility to a ground game that was among the nation’s best last year. Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball give Meyer enough talent to tinker with the idea of putting three of them on the field at the same time. Somewhat shorthanded at receiver a year ago, the Buckeyes also have more targets at their disposal in the passing attack and a pair of tight ends who can create major mismatches for opposing defenses. It obviously doesn’t hurt to have four senior starters paving the way up front and offering some protection for Miller.

That personnel, of course, is coached by Meyer, who has a proven track record of success in his second season with a program, boasting a combined record of 34-4 in his three previous Year 2s -- not to mention an undefeated record at Utah and a national title at Florida.

It all adds up to an offense that might be the most explosive Ohio State has ever had, which should allow the rebuilding front seven on defense some time to develop as the program hunts its first crystal football since 2002.

Four downs from open practice

August, 7, 2013
8/07/13
4:10
PM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Notes, quotes and observations from Wednesday's rare open practice at Ohio State's training camp.

FRESHMAN FLASH

Even while stoking the hype machine one day earlier by talking about his chances to play right away, coach Urban Meyer called Dontre Wilson "not really a receiver."

The true freshman did a pretty good impression with the assembled media watching on Wednesday, putting on a show as a target in the passing game and making it quite clear why the Buckeyes are clearing room for him in the playbook.

Wilson's speed on the track was well documented when he signed with the program in February, and he is certainly a blur in shoulder pads and a helmet. But it was his willingness to make quick, decisive cuts up field and then pull away from defenders that was perhaps the most impressive part of the practice performance, though his reliable hands certainly stood out, too. Whether beating defenders deep on double-move routes or simply jetting through the secondary after a relatively simple out pattern, Wilson was an absolute handful throughout the morning and finished it by lining up in the slot with the first-team offense in a scrimmage setting.

"Dontre, he’s a special player," senior safety Christian Bryant said. "Right now I feel like he has a lot of attributes he can bring to the team, one of those things being one of those elusive guys out there."

QUARTERBACK CHECK

The progress made as a leader has generated the most attention early in camp, but the technical strides as a passer and the pinpoint accuracy Braxton Miller showed in another solid workout are much easier to gauge.

The junior quarterback was sharp from start to finish, fitting throws into tight windows, getting the ball out quickly thanks to improved recognition of the defense and delivering it to receivers with plenty of velocity to spare as the aerial attack continues to show signs of becoming as dangerous as Meyer would like it to be.

Miller's ability to communicate with the rest of the offense and his willingness to correct teammates’ mistakes shouldn't be overlooked, either. But adding to his repertoire in the throwing game could really send his statistics to another level and produce one of the most explosive offenses in Ohio State history.

"Just his whole demeanor, his relationship with the receivers, I don’t want to say nonexistent, but I just didn’t see that," Meyer said. "He really didn’t know what he was doing, and it’s hard to lead -- part of being the leader is setting the standard and leading by example. He wasn’t leading by example, because he really didn’t know what he was doing.

"I just see a much better presence about him."

ADOLPHUS AMBUSH

The matchup hardly seemed fair even before the snap, and it only took a couple seconds for Adolphus Washington to prove it once the play finally started.

The sophomore defensive end was easily the most disruptive force lining up on the line Wednesday morning, and when second-team tackle Kyle Dodson faced off with him in the red zone, Washington made quick work of him and a running back who tried to chip him as he bulled around the left edge for an easy sack.

Washington, too, showed a willingness despite his young age to raise his voice to teammates and offer tips to the freshmen during drills early in the workout, and he appears to be well ahead of pace in both his development as a pass-rusher and potential leader for the linemen -- a group that is replacing all four starters from a year ago.

HEALTH NUTS

The rigors of camp make it unusual to escape without injury, and the Buckeyes didn't even make it through four days without some issues popping up.

True freshman defensive back Jayme Thompson left practice to have his ankle examined, and the Toledo Blade confirmed through the his father that the bone was broken and he'll be out for three months. Devan Bogard's return from a season-ending injury last year has apparently been slowed by a knee strain, and the Buckeyes still don't have Corey Linsley back to full speed at center following his foot surgery in the offseason.

But the biggest scare for Ohio State might have been the apparent ankle injury for senior left guard Andrew Norwell, an issue that kept him off the field for the latter stages of the workout and pressed redshirt freshman Pat Elflein into the rotation to replace the veteran. Norwell didn't look to be seriously harmed, but at one of the two positions along with linebacker that Meyer is most worried about the lack of depth, the Buckeyes will obviously err on the side of caution to make sure he's fully ready to go before putting him back on the field again.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Winning a job on the field might be the easy part for Taylor Decker.

Surviving the hazing process of becoming a sophomore starter for an Ohio State offensive line stocked with four seniors may be the bigger hurdle the talented right tackle will face during training camp this month.

There are the nicknames Decker can’t reveal publicly. And then there are jokes about his long hair and questions about whether he’s got the right sense of humor to fit in with the veterans. And as guard Andrew Norwell reminded him with one raucous wrestling match outside the locker room during the offseason, there are also some physical tests, including those off the field, that must be passed during the rite of passage into the starting lineup.

“It’s like the little brother thing for us,” left tackle Jack Mewhort said. “He definitely gets his fair share of garbage from the older guys.

“He’s kind of like the baby brother. He’s bigger than all of us, but he’s the baby -- but we love him.”

The wise cracks and good-natured ribbing actually help make it clear that Decker is welcomed with open arms by the closest position group on the roster.

The Buckeyes bring back more experience and skill than just about any unit in the country up front, though the one hole at right tackle after the graduation of Reid Fragel left some uncertainty and caused some hand-wringing during spring practice for offensive line coach Ed Warinner.

Decker was always the heir apparent for the job after pushing Fragel for it during training camp a year ago as a true freshman, but by his own admission, he didn’t make a convincing enough case when practice ended in April to lock down that role heading into the summer. But as he integrated himself with the tight-knit veterans while continuing to develop a 6-foot-7, 315-pound frame that makes the little brother the tallest and stoutest of the bunch, Decker steadily won over the seniors in building his case as the final piece of the puzzle.

And while still not definitively a starter or finished product, the Buckeyes are already seeing how some of the tests Decker faced over the summer are paying off in August.

“It’s not really been anything too bad,” Decker said. “Honestly, a lot of the times they’re really helpful and just bringing me up the ranks and teaching me how to be an Ohio State lineman. They’re great guys, and since I’ve been here, they’ve been great to me. I’m like a little brother to them, and they joke around with me, but to be said in the same sentence with them would be a huge honor.

“I don’t want to be the right tackle just because I’m the only one there. I want to earn coach’s trust, earn the trust of the guys on the line because they’re great players and I don’t want to be detrimental to their season. I want to help them, because they’re great players and they deserve a great season.”

That’s obviously the expectation in general for a team that will enter the season ranked No. 2 in the nation, but the line specifically is being counted on to be the top unit in at least the Big Ten, charged with protecting quarterback Braxton Miller and building on a year ago, when it was wildly productive in opening holes for the rushing attack.

The Buckeyes already know what they’re getting with four guys who started every game a year ago and have accomplished résumés to show for it. The next step is figuring out who could handle the responsibility of being the fifth member of the band, and the veterans apparently handled some of the auditions themselves.

“Oh yeah, we do that on purpose,” Warinner said. “But it’s all loving. ... There’s an age gap in there, and at the end of the day, he is an offensive lineman and he’s really starting to grow into that unit.

“Those older guys, they pick on him like he’s their little brother. But if anybody else messed with him, they’d jump all over it.”

Official starter at this point or not, that bond might be the surest sign yet Decker is part of the family.

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