COLUMBUS -- It was a hair-raising assignment for any offensive lineman -- much less one in his first week at a new position.
Positioned at left tackle opposite Ohio State's most disruptive pass-rusher during a recent practice, Jack Mewhort received a not-so-friendly welcome to life on the edge. All-Big Ten senior John Simon forced the St. John's graduate off balance then shoved him to the turf en route to the quarterback.
"I was thinking, 'Wow, I've got to get a lot better at this if I'm going to be doing this in the Big Ten,' " Mewhort said.
In truth, however, he is navigating the move to the line's most critical position just fine.
Despite the early humbling, OSU coach Urban Meyer calls the fourth-year junior "probably our best, most consistent lineman."
Mewhort, who started at left and right guard last season, is the anchor of an OSU front scrambling to learn new roles and a new no-huddle spread offense.
Of the Buckeyes' first-team offensive linemen this spring, only junior left guard Andrew Norwell is manning the same position as last season. Junior right guard Marcus Hall and junior center Corey Linsley have made a combined six career starts, while senior Reid Fragel is a converted tight end serving as a stopgap at right tackle.
Asked to explain the shift of Mewhort and Fragel to the edge, Meyer offered a simple answer.
"We have no tackles," he said, later calling the team's depth on the offensive line "a problem."
Meyer, though, is encouraged by his patchwork starting line. He calls the unit "adequate," which passes as praise during a spring where few have been immune from criticism.
"Obviously they have to be better than adequate," he said. "But they're getting better."
A case in point is Mewhort. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Toledo native has not played tackle exclusively since his sophomore year at St. John's -- he was mostly at center -- but he showed Ohio State's new staff enough in the winter to entrust him with protecting the blind side of quarterback Braxton Miller.
Mewhort, who also played basketball his first two years of high school, possesses the ideal blend of agility and attention to technique. Coaches also knew he would devote himself to the new responsibility. During spring break, for instance, he returned to Toledo for daily workouts at St. John's.
"Just a tremendous worker," St. John's coach Doug Pearson said. "A lot of guys went away to Florida or Mexico. Jack was over here running gassers every day."
OSU offensive line coach Ed Warinner said Mewhort can capably play every position on the line.
"Just our evaluation of him in the offseason program and where we thought he was at athletically, with his experience-level, we felt that [left tackle] was the best place for him in our system," said Warinner, who spent the last two seasons at Notre Dame. "This is the fifth time I've gone to a school and installed the spread, so I kind of have a feel for that. We really felt like he could be comfortable anywhere."
Mewhort said the biggest adjustment has not been the position switch or the Buckeyes' hurry-up offense but embracing a more pronounced leadership role. While Mewhort deferred to senior linemen Michael Brewster, Mike Adams, and J.B. Shugarts last season, he is now the big cheese.
"It's more of a leadership thing for me, stepping up and being a guy the other guys can look to," he said.
On all fronts, the early returns are positive.
Contact David Briggs at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.
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