August 16, 2008

Freshman linemen learning from veterans

COLUMBUS - When it comes to Ohio State's offensive line situation this year, there isn't much to think about. The positions along the offensive front are falling perfectly into place and the depth behind the starters is equally impressive.

With three senior leaders anchoring the offensive trenches in Alex Boone, Steve Rehring, and Ben Person, the Buckeye offensive line looks as if it is ready to duplicate the success of last season.

"I'm feeling really good. I think everyone is feeling great," Boone said. "We're confident and fired up. We're looking forward to seeing what Beanie (Wells) and Todd (Boeckman) are going to do for us this season."

As sure as Boone is excited to see what the Buckeye backfield can do for the team, both Boeckman and Wells are surely more excited to see what the line can do for them.

And as camp progresses, the entire offensive line corps, not just the starters, are working together in order to provide the offense with the protection and holes needed to successfully move the ball.

While the emphasis in practice is surely located on the first team line, the second team and the youngsters have also been worked in quite a bit in order to provide the necessary depth to stay successful in the Big Ten.

"The core group of us, the starters, have been playing together for a long time. Even when we weren't starters we were still playing together so there is a lot of chemistry there," Rehring said. "The (younger players) are competing. Every day they are out there competing and camp is rough for freshman. You are away from home, I know Michael (Brewster) and J.B. (Shugarts) are from Texas and Florida, and that is far away from home. Getting through it is rough for them."

Something is unquestionably going right in camp.

And why wouldn't it? After all, the hype from three super-recruits Michael Brewster, Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts could hardly be contained in the Horseshoe.

With the talent the trio has combined with the experience and knowledge of the upperclassmen that surround them, the freshman are right on track in terms of where the coaches want to see them, if not ahead.

"Guys have been competing and getting a little bit better as we see all of the challenges that the defense gives us," said offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, who also holds the offensive line coaching duties. "That is the thing that is really so neat about our situation is to compete against our defensive line every day and they are really doing a great job. There are a lot of great players there. Those guys are really something.

"It is a challenge so you take steps by inches and we are inching along. We aren't ready to go, but we are getting closer."

While Adams has been held out for precautionary reasons because of injury, both Brewster and Shugarts have been making a lasting impression on the team at camp. While all three enrolled at Ohio State early, injuries kept them out of any significant reps during the spring.

As the three are starting to get back into the swing of things, Boone acknowledged how important working with the older linemen is for the freshman as they prepare for their first season at the Division-I level.

"It is good for them because coming in it is a hard system. People are like, 'It's going to be easy,' but it is probably one of the hardest systems I have ever had to learn because there is a different call for everything," Boone said. "I understand it is hard so we are telling them over and over and over again what to do. We are trying to help these guys out, but we know it is hard.

"They are coming along, they are learning, and the hardest things at your first camp to do is focus. They just need to focus, hunker down, and realize that everybody has to do it. You can see them get distracted by other things sometimes, so you just need to tell them to focus."

Perhaps the most impressive freshman so far for the Bucks is Shugarts, who has been working with the second team line some, which is compiled of Andy Miller, Kyle Mitchum, Andrew Moses, Conner Smith, and Josh Kerr.

Shugarts, who is pushing for playing time in the role of a backup, has been drawing praise from fellow offensive lineman.

"J.B. (Shugarts) has impressed me the most," Boone said. "He's big and can move. I'm excited for Mike (Adams) to get healthy and see what he can do. Overall, everyone is doing a great job and staying focused."

While the season is still some time away, the Buckeyes have made a solid balance in providing experience to the younger players while preparing the veterans for the season, which in turn is the perfect formula for solid depth.

Bollman is certainly pleased with what looks to be in the works for the offensive line this year.

"I think overall the eight or nine guys competing for those backup spots are doing pretty well," Bollman said. "That's great, because we have a chance to have more depth than we've had for a couple of years."

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