There's an old saying in football—you're only as good as the 300-pound offensive linemen in front of you.
Well, that's not an actual adage, but it might as well be for Ohio State this season.
The Buckeyes are undergoing a near-complete overhaul up front in 2014. Urban Meyer and offensive line coach Ed Warinner need to replace four senior starters, all of whom spent multiple years in the first-team rotation.
Ohio State's season—and on a secondary level, Braxton Miller's Heisman Trophy hopes—will be riding on the wide shoulders of those big guys in the trenches.
We have some good young players and some older ones who haven’t played much. What we lack is experience, but I think we’re going to have enough talent. I know we have a good work ethic. They’re tough. They train hard.
Taylor Decker, the sole returner who started all 14 games at right tackle last season, is moving to the left side to protect Miller's blind side. He'll be expected to lead a very young group through spring practice.
Through one week, Decker thinks the competition is lifting the unit's energy.
“Guys are flying around trying to make a good effort and make a good impression on the coaches," Decker said, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors. "That’s good to have, guys working hard giving it all they have every play.”
Contenders are already popping up. Darryl Baldwin, a redshirt senior, is working at right tackle.
With the edges taken care of, Pat Elflein—who played very well for the suspended Marcus Hall late last season—should anchor the interior at right guard. Jacoby Boren is getting the first look at center, and Antonio Underwood and Chase Farris are battling for the left guard position.
Elflein knows that however the group shakes out, they'll need to step up and dominate like last year's group.
“We definitely have some big shoes to fill, but we’re capable of it,” Elflein said, via Rowland. “We have good chemistry, a good culture on our offensive line."
That good culture was established by those departed seniors—left tackle Jack Mewhort, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Corey Linsley and right guard Marcus Hall.
Those four paved the way for the most explosive offense in school history. The Buckeyes were most potent on the ground, averaging 308 yards per game, which ranked fifth in the country, according to NCAA.com.
That offensive line also helped Miller win his second consecutive conference MVP award.
Next season, Miller's chances of earning more prestigious hardware are contingent on the group blocking in front of him. The Buckeyes have some very talented skill-position players and a deep stable of running backs, but protection and blocking will be key.
According to Zack Meisel of The Plain Dealer, that's what assistant head coach Stan Drayton is most worried about:
Braxton Miller did those things behind four veteran offensive linemen. To me, that's the issue that we think about in that war room there is how we put five guys in front of him where he can feel comfortable. … You can grow and not feel comfortable around your surrounding cast and still stunt your growth.
If this year's offensive line gels like last year's unit, though, Ohio State and its quarterback could be on the verge of a huge season.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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