COLUMBUS, Ohio — The last starting position Ohio State settled on offensively is now the first one that’s open again.
The bad news for the Buckeyes, of course, is that the season-ending injury right guard Branden Bowen sutained Saturday is forcing them to fill a spot that appeared to be stable after so much uncertainty during training camp. While there is nothing good about a broken leg, the fact that Bowen’s injury affects that specific position might count as something of a silver lining.
If the competition at right guard was so close in August with a field that included at least four viable options, it’s possible that the gap between Bowen and his replacement this week at Nebraska was never all that large. The first real test of depth on the offensive line since Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State might actually provide some encouragement as the unit prepares for life without Bowen.
“Next man up,” Meyer said. “Right now looks like Matt Burrell, and we’ll see if there’s any competition at that spot.
“That was alarming, but Matt played OK. So we’ll see what happens there.”
The Buckeyes haven’t typically had to deal with that sort of wait-and-see approach with the offensive line in the middle of the season under Meyer. Since taking over in 2012, Meyer has benefited from an incredible run of good health from his blockers that hasn’t forced any injury-related decisions to be made after training camp.
That means Ohio State hasn’t been forced to find out how much talent it had in reserve. And more often than not, the depth on the offensive line has been the biggest doubt about Meyer’s roster.
“There’s been a lot of questions, a lot of questions about our offensive line depth in particular, and I think there’s a lot of improvement that has happened,” center Billy Price said. “Guys still have a ways to go, but we go put our [backups] in during the middle of the third quarter and we’re still able to score points. I think that’s a huge testament to those guys, continuing to prepare for whenever a situation like today happens.
“The depth is continuing to grow, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Whoever they’re going to put in there, I’m going to have 100 percent confidence in the coaches and will make sure that guy is up to par, whoever that choice might be if they open it up.”
The Buckeyes might not need to hold another audition at right guard based on the way Burrell performed coming off the bench in the blowout win over Maryland. And as the first guy into the mix following the injury, it’s reasonably safe to assume that the redshirt sophomore has the edge as Ohio State returns to the practice field ahead of the visit to Nebraska to take on the Huskers on Saturday night.
But even if Burrell is the likely favorite to slide into the lineup, players such as Malcolm Pridgeon and Demetrius Knox could push for that role if it happens to be up for grabs.
“With Branden Bowen going down, that creates a new battle for itself,” Price said. “Each week is a new challenge. Matt came in there and performed very well [Saturday]. We always say you never know when your number is going to get called, so you have to make sure you’re prepared.
“The word battle itself might not be appropriate. That’s not my decision. … We’re losing one of the key cogs of the offensive line, but we’re going to bounce back. We’ll be fine. We’re going to put the work in this week and we’re looking forward to going against Nebraska.”
Somebody new is going to be joining Price and the rest of those first-team linemen against the Huskers at right guard.
That’s obviously not great news for the Buckeyes, but it might not be quite as bad as it first seemed.
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