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COLUMBUS —When Urban Meyer arrived at Ohio State last winter, he sized up the offensive line and shook his head.
It was going to be a long season.
“He told us we don’t look like an offensive line he’d want to play with,” junior center Corey Linsley said.
Like many of his teammates, Linsley was overweight and less than enthused about the new coaching staff’s 6 a.m. winter workouts. Meyer said a handful of lineman missed his first team meeting, then a couple missed his second.
The first-year boss sentenced the team to a week of 5 a.m. conditioning, but continued to worry about the competence of a unit that lost three potential NFL players from last year.
“And that was off a group that was not very productive a year ago,” Meyer said. “So that kind of tells you where we’re at.”
Over the spring, however, Meyer believes no group has shown more progress. The front five embraced the demands of strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti — and then some. St. John’s graduate Jack Mewhort, one of the few players to impress coaches from the start, reported the line has lost 455 pounds of fat and gained more than 500 pounds of muscle. Linsley said he’s made a “180, on and off the field.”
“Their bodies are changing, attitudes are changing,” Meyer said after Saturday’s annual spring game at Ohio Stadium.
That growth is among the many reasons Meyer said he left the spring feeling better about the Buckeyes than when it began.
Although many questions remain, a clearer picture of who will play this fall has emerged.
Meyer said he expects a defense that returns nine starters to “get very close to Ohio State standards here very soon.” And he has seen enough from the offense to effectively reveal his first depth chart.
Meyer on Saturday said the team’s top playmakers surrounding quarterback Braxton Miller are in order running back Jordan Hall, tight end Jake Stoneburner, tailback Carlos Hyde, and receivers Corey Brown, Michael Thomas, and Devin Smith, with Hall projected as a run-catch hybrid filling a similar role as former Florida star Percy Harvin.
He has also set his starting line, entrusting Mewhort as the unit’s leader and anchor.
Mewhort, who moved to the edge after starting at guard last season, is joined by junior left guard Andrew Norwell, Linsley at center, junior right guard Marcus Hall, and senior Reid Fragel, a converted tight end, at right tackle.
The motley crew — Norwell is the only returning starter in the same position — is beginning to look the part.
“Since the beginning of the winter, we’ve come leaps and bounds,” Mewhort said. “Guys have grown up a lot and matured.”
Perhaps the best example is Linsley, who admits he was less than fully devoted to the program his first three seasons. The Youngstown native overcame the early shock of pre-dawn workouts, then started arriving at the practice facility earlier than required, often at 5:20 for walk-through drills with offensive line coach Ed Warinner. Meyer now considers him so valuable that he pulled Linsley after one quarter in Saturday’s spring game.
“Corey’s a fine player, and he’d be the first to tell you he wasn’t a fine player a year ago,” Meyer said. “His complete commitment to Ohio State wasn’t there. It is now.”
Asked where he would be if he didn’t change, Linsley said, “I wouldn’t be at Ohio State.”
“I just really feel like right now I’m 10 times a better player than last year,” he added.
“That grind of [off-season conditioning] just really wiped the slate clean. I really feel like we have a chance to be the best offensive line in America.”
Contact David Briggs at email@example.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.