Put them together in the locker room, and there will be plenty of laughs. Put them together in the bed of a three-quarter ton pickup truck, and there might be trouble. But put Ohio’s starting offensive linemen on the line of scrimmage, and quarterbacks and running backs will have time and space to work their craft.
While other units search to fill holes in the lineup during spring camp, Ohio’s offensive line continues to create holes for an unnamed starting running back and to provide protection for an unknown future quarterback. But in addition to people-moving, the linemen inherit a new role: leadership.
“The O-line will probably be the leaders of the offense,” offensive line coach Keven Lightner said. “We’re looking forward to that. We haven’t had to do that in the last few years.”
In all, seven linemen started at least four games last year. Redshirt senior A.J. Strum started nine games at left tackle, and redshirt sophomore Ryan McGrath got the call for the other four. Redshirt junior Vince Carlotta and redshirt sophomore Jon Lechner split time at left-guard.
The same three players comprised the right side of the line for all 13 games last season. Junior center Skyler Allen, redshirt junior guard Eric Herman and redshirt senior tackle Joe Flading were regulars in the trenches.
The combination of Strum, Lechner, Allen, Herman and Flading started five games together on the year, including the final three.
“Having our whole offensive line return is definitely something that helps us based on experience and number of plays each person has gotten so far,” Strum said. “Some of our second-string guys have seen time. It’s just all about experience.”
That experience might come in handy with younger players in Ohio’s backfield. Redshirt senior quarterback Phil Bates split time with Boo Jackson last season but has not practiced this spring. Redshirt sophomore Tyler Tettleton has limited experience, and Kyle Snyder and Derek Roback have not seen time since high school.
The three youngest quarterbacks have taken snaps this spring. Multiple times, a reserve lineman and quarterback have not been on the same page, resulting in a botched or dropped snap. Last year’s linemen, however, are not concerned about who ends up under center.
“I think with practice you learn things about what (the quarterbacks) like and don’t like, then off the field you talk about those things,” Allen said.
All offensive players must be on the same page, Strum said, especially under the fast-paced formula the team has adopted.
“We have a good chemistry,” he said. “That’s something that comes into play out there on the field. Whenever something bad goes wrong, we’re not pointing fingers. We’re not bickering; we just kind of move on.
“The person who’s at fault, they know they’re at fault, and everybody’s like brothers. They pick each other up.”
Despite having all of his starters returning, Lightner said next year’s line will not necessarily be the same. He said he expects competition amongst the tackles, with McGrath and Florida State transfer John Prior challenging Strum and Flading for their spots. Allen has not practiced because of an injury - leaving room for reserves to get reps during camp. Lightner also said he expects to play 10 or 11 players, possibly relying on some to play multiple positions.
“There’s nothing better than competition on a daily level of practice and in the games,” Lightner said. “I think we’ll be able to play more guys up front than we ever have.”
The depth might help keep the pressure off a young backfield, especially with the help of veteran tight end Jordan Thompson.
“We’ve got good skill people along with good linemen, so hopefully we can put that all together and have a team that’s able to make some big plays and put some points on the board,” coach Frank Solich said. “We hope that will be a strong point for us.”
This year, the unit that touches the ball the least might help advance the ball the most. After all, Strum said, their role is simple:
“We’re going to do our job and make sure they can do theirs.”