LOS ANGELES - There were times this season when the Ohio State offensive line looked more like a band of weary soldiers, limping back from battle. They needed a triage nurse on hand just to hold a meeting.
"It was awful, easily the worst year with injuries since I've been here," fifth-year senior Jim Cordle said before a final round of practices and meetings preparing for today's Rose Bowl game against Oregon.
"It seemed like we had more guys hurt than we had healthy at times. It's something you have to deal with, but it is still really frustrating because you want to be at your best," he said.
Cordle needed surgery to repair an ankle injury and missed three games. Junior guard Justin Boren missed a game with a sprained foot, while junior Andrew Miller was knocked out of the lineup with the flu and lost weight while ill.
Because of injuries and illness, the Buckeyes started six combinations on the offensive line this season. In contrast, at wide receiver, quarterback and tight end, the starters were the same every week.
Sophomore tackle J.B. Shugarts injured his leg against Penn State and then missed the next week against Iowa. Sophomore Mike Adams got hit with the flu, and sophomore center Mike Brewster battled a bad ankle sprain for more than half of the season.
"It was crazy," Brewster said. "Guys missed games, guys missed practices, and we just never had a chance to really develop the kind of chemistry you need on the line. It was like a merry-go-round, with guys falling off and other guys climbing on. We never really got settled in with one group."
The Ohio State offensive line started to find its collective footing after the team's dreadful showing in a 26-18 loss at Purdue in mid-October.
After the Buckeyes rushed for just 66 yards, Ohio State gained almost 600 rushing yards over the next two games, and closed the season's five games with 200-plus rushing yards in each contest.
"That's what you're measured by as a line, the rushing yards, and the number of sacks you allow," Boren said. "Up front, it's a war every play, and you really need to be a hundred percent to hold your own."
The Buckeyes' offensive line allowed just 18 sacks in a dozen games, and opened the way for 2,387 rushing yards for the offense.
Speaking at the final news conference before the 96th Rose Bowl, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel declared his offensive line healthy and at full strength for the first time in months.
"It will be good to see those guys at their best for this game," OSU junior running back Brandon Saine said. "They played hurt and still did a great job this season. Now that they're all healed up, that can only help this offense."
WOUNDED KNEE: Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor was a little too forthcoming when Pryor let on earlier this week that he had been battling a knee injury over the last part of the season.
"Obviously, we as coaches don't talk about what injuries are, nor do the trainers or doctors," Tressel said. "But obviously young people can, if they choose to."
Tressel said he will start a fully operational Pryor in today's game. "He's very healthy. He can move around very, very well," Tressel said. "He's done a good job of rehabbing and had a good bowl practice … we didn't see any hints of any problems. I'm sure he's ready to go."
EARLY BLOCKING: In one confusing moment of videotape from the first game of the season, Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount became one the most notorious figures in college football after he sucker-punched a Boise State player after the Ducks lost. Blount was initially suspended for the rest of the year.
He got a reprieve from Oregon coach Chip Kelly and played in the Pac-10 championship-clinching win over rival Oregon State. But this week in Southern California, Blount has become the invisible man. He has not been available in interview sessions, and was the only Duck missing from the team media day Wednesday.
"He said he didn't want to speak," Kelly said. "And I respected him."
Several Oregon players told a bit different story. They said Blount, who has been speaking about the incident at schools and juvenile detention centers in the Eugene area, was in a pseudo witness protection program likely orchestrated by Kelly.
"I think coach was just looking out for him, just trying to protect him, that's all," Oregon receiver Jeff Maehl said.
KRYPTONITE CALL: Oregon knows plenty about Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The Ducks were one of the schools involved in a frantic recruiting chase that ultimately ended with Pryor signing with Ohio State. Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said the Ducks have plenty of respect for the Buckeyes' quarterback.
"We're very aware of Terrelle Pryor, but until we see him in person, we'll have to wait," Aliotti said. "Is he Superman, or is he a good player that we can stop and corral? I think we'll see."
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