COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State left guard Michael Jordan paused to think when asked to pick one word to describe the defining characteristic of an offensive lineman.
“Nasty,” he said.
A chip on the shoulder may help make the Buckeyes linemen play nastier this season. Or at least motivated to prove they’re not the team’s weakest link.
The unit absorbed a good amount of criticism last season when the passing game broke down against better opponents. The weaknesses and lack of depth were on full display in the 31-0 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff, making for a long offseason.
Jordan — 6-foot-7 and 310 pounds but still just 18 years old — stepped in by necessity last season on a thinned-out unit, becoming the first freshman to start on Ohio State’s line in two decades. He could have used a little more seasoning.
“It was kind of like being thrown into the fire,” Jordan said this week. “I was just trying to survive.”
Even more glaring were the gaffes of right tackle Isaiah Prince, a sophomore who missed blocks and assignments, frequently allowing defenders to crash in and send quarterback J.T. Barrett fleeing from the pocket to try to make something of nothing.
Coaches not only had to work on Prince’s technique but also his psyche. He got down himself and coach Urban Meyer had to be reassuring.
“He was just like, ‘You’ve got to keep going, I still trust you to get the job done. It’s your first year starting and you’re going to make mistakes,’” Prince said.
Meyer said Prince has responded, becoming one of the preseason’s most improved performers.
“He’s a very serious player right now,” Meyer said.
“I think it’s just confidence,” senior left tackle Jamarco Jones said of Prince’s development. “That first year starting, he was a sophomore so he was still young, it’s hard. It’s hard on all of us, and we have to keep each other going.”
Four of the five starters return to the line. One of the more intriguing position battles in camp is for the right guard spot vacated by Billy Price, who moved over to center upon the departure of All-American Pat Elflein.
Junior Demetrius Knox, whose broken foot limited him last year, is in the race with sophomore Matthew Burrell and Malcolm Pridgeon, a huge and highly touted junior-college transfer who had to redshirt last year after injuring his knee in fall camp.
No matter who wins the spot, the Buckeyes will be left with some depth that was lacking. Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa is breathing a little easier these days.
“It’s way different from where it was last year, the confidence in guys,” Studrawa said. “There are three guys in some spots getting reps because they’re doing so well. That’s exciting. That creates competition and lets you build a cohesive line.”
Meyer this week singled out the offensive line as one of the team’s standout units. It’s early yet, but he’s pleased with the development of the entire offense.
“I just like the chemistry in the offensive staff room, which we all know how important those type of things are,” Meyer said this week. “But I think the one area that’s really improved is the offensive line play, too. Obviously that’s where this whole thing starts.”