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COLUMBUS — They are studying the film and using the practice field at Ohio State as if it’s a 100-yard long chess board covered in artificial grass. The solid offensive arrangement of 2010 is gone, pockmarked
by losses to graduation, and the upcoming suspensions of four critical starters.
Although this is just practice, they are moving the pieces around like this is Bobby Fischer vs. Boris Spassky in the world chess championship of almost 40 years ago. The Buckeyes hoped to have this all figured out by Saturday’s Scarlet & Gray game, the official end of spring practice.
But the lineup is still written on a dry erase board, and the chess pieces continue to shift.
St. John’s Jesuit grad Jack Mewhort is one of the numerous Buckeyes caught up in the constant traffic on the depth chart. Pegged as a likely starter at guard for 2011 after a redshirt season in 2009 and a solid backup role last year, Mewhort has worked there, at center, and been part of the crucial auditions at left tackle.
That position is the football equivalent of the captain of the palace guard. Nobody gets to the quarterback on the blind side without getting through the left tackle.
Mike Adams, an All-Big Ten first-team choice last season at left tackle, is one of the five Buckeyes who will sit out the first five games while serving an NCAA-mandated suspension for selling OSU memorabilia for cash and discounts on tattoos.
“We’re moving a lot of guys around, trying different combinations and really giving everyone a lot of reps at different positions,” Ohio State’s All-American center Mike Brewster said. “Jack’s in there working hard too, and demonstrating his versatility. He’s played there [left tackle] before, so that’s plus for us.”
Mewhort manned all three positions along the offensive line during a standout career at St. John’s, where he was All-Ohio and then a member of the gold medal winning Team USA in the 2009 Junior World Championships.
Doug Pearson, Mewhort’s coach at St. John’s, said he is not surprised to see Ohio State tap into Mewhort’s versatility.
“Jack liked playing center so we mostly kept him there, but he’s demonstrated he can handle all three line positions,” Pearson said. “Ohio State played him at all three places that first spring he was down there, so I think they’ve been keeping that flexibility in mind all along.”
Mewhort (6-foot-6, 300) has indicated that he will plug in where the Buckeyes need him, and not worry about which position that might be. He enrolled at OSU early, took part in spring football while his St. John’s teammates were still in high school, then used his redshirt year and last season to gain strength and familiarity with the nuances of the offense.
“My coaches told me to be patient and get myself ready because my time would come, and I feel like I’ve done that,” Mewhort said in the past. “I’m a lot more comfortable, and I feel like I’m a lot more ready to play and help this team out in any way I can.”
Tressel has not addressed the media since spring practice began about three weeks ago, so Ohio State’s specific plans up front on offense are still not clear. Pearson said he believes the coaches are very pleased with Mewhort’s development, and the prospect of having him on that offensive line for the next three seasons.
“When I’ve talked with Jack, everything has been real positive,” Pearson said. “The coaches say Jack is very physical, and that things are going well. In the time he’s been there, he’s practiced against some of the best players in the country, so I’m not surprised to hear that he keeps getting better. He’s a dynamite kid who is a tireless worker, so it makes sense that he figures prominently in their plans up front.”
Pearson said Mewhort’s size, strength and skill will earn him a place with the 2011 Buckeyes whether he starts at left tackle and then moves back to guard when Adams returns, or remains at guard the whole season, or rotates between all three line position.
“Jack will do what they need done, and he’ll do it well,” Pearson said. “The fact they are taking a look at him at left tackle says a lot. If you can play left tackle, you can play anywhere.”
Ohio State’s spring practice wraps up Saturday with the 1:30 p.m. Scarlet and Gray game in Ohio Stadium.
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.