April 28, 2012
It's not a stretch to say that Ohio State is one of the most successful college football programs in the history of the NCAA. The numbers back it up. The championships and trophies earned as a team and by individual players back it up, so there's little need to go too far into the history of the Buckeyes. Most of you already know it anyway, right?
One area of the field that the Buckeyes have been regularly and historically successful is the offensive line. Since 1960, there have been 54 offensive linemen from Ohio State taken in the NFL Draft, including 18 taken in the first three rounds. Two Buckeye offensive lineman - John Hicks and Orlando Pace - even finished within striking distance of the Heisman Trophy; finishing 2nd and 4th, respectively.
It's a historically successful and vital position for a program known for "three yards and a cloud of dust". Yet the previous ten years, arguably the program's most successful decade ever, has seen the once proud Buckeye offensive line fade from premiere to mediocre. In fact, from 2008 — 2011, there was not a single Ohio State offensive lineman drafted. Zero. In four straight NFL drafts. Let that sink in.
From 2004 — 2011, the Buckeyes averaged 4.58 yards per carry as a team, a number that indicates that despite an apparent drop in NFL talent in the offensive trench, the Buckeyes still found a way to be successful on the ground. Was that more a result of consistent talent at running back coupled with athletic quarterbacks capable of extending plays when protection broke down? Was it offensive linemen who had peaked in college and were coached to their fullest potential by professional caliber coaches?
How does a program with Ohio State's stature and its recent successes (105-24, 81-percent winning percentage in the previous ten years, 66 players drafted in that decade) continue to succeed at that level with such a void of NFL talent at one of the games most crucial positions?
In 2008, the "Brew Crew" recruiting class at Ohio State featured three of the nation's top offensive linemen in Michael Brewster, Mike Adams and JB Shugarts. All three were ranked as five-star prospects, and as a group would regularly be used as validation by supporters of Jim Bollman and the status quo.
"Well, clearly Bollman has a connection with these kids and he can obviously recruit."
Fast-forward to the NFL draft that's going on in the background as I write this somewhat aimless blog. There have been 226 selections off the board, and of those three five-star talents, only one has been called to the NFL up to this point. The Steelers ended the Buckeye OL drought when they selected Mike Adams, the 6-foot-7, 324-pound left tackle that missed half of his senior season for his role in "Tatttoogate", in the second round.
Mike Brewster started 49 of the 51 games that the Buckeyes played during his career. In fact, he started the final 49, good for second all-time in Ohio State history (only Luke Fickell, with 50, has him beat). A fan-favorite for the voracity with which he helped sell Ohio State to his fellow recruits in 2008, Brewster's career was consistent and solid. Sadly, his senior season was derailed by the actions of those he so eagerly petitioned to join him at Ohio State, and at times it became apparent he was pressing and trying to do more than he was capable of. The coach he committed to and believed would guide his career was shamed into resignation. His position coach, a man he loved and trusted with his talents, failed to develop him beyond the natural gifts he possessed as a wide-eyed and optimistic freshman.
Now that the entire offensive staff responsible for the black hole of offensive line talent has departed, Ohio State's new staff is seriously behind the eight ball, scrambling to plug the leaking dam. Two offensive tackles were secured late in the game for the 2012 class and one has pledged for the small 2013 group. Urban Meyer and his staff need two more in order to feel that the ship has been righted, and with only a handful of open scholarships remaining, it becomes an even more pressing need.
Of course, as the previous staff showed us, recruiting highly ranked prospects is only half of the battle. We have ten years of evidence to support that Bollman's eye for offensive line talent was keen, but that his ability to "coach them up" was suffering.
With a steady influx of talent heading north and to other Big Ten teams, Meyer's coaches will need to get more out of the talent recruited by Bollman et al, or the Buckeyes will likely see a few years of struggling against an ever-improving Big Ten.