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COLUMBUS, Ohio - At his introductory news conference on Nov. 28, Urban Meyer spoke highly of quarterback Braxton Miller. After he met the team, he heaped praise on John Simon, Zach Boren[/db] and Jake Stoneburner.
The accolades never arrived at the offensive line. And there's a reason for that.
"He told us we didn't look like an offensive line he'd want to play with," junior center Corey Linsley said.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Already behind the eight-ball, the line didn't make things any easier when a group of them showed up late to Meyer's first team meeting. After it happened a second time, the entire team was condemned to an entire week of 5 a.m. workouts.
Soon thereafter strength coach Mickey Marotti started his 6 a.m. workouts that last throughout the winter. Slowly but surely, Marotti would whip the offensive line - and the rest of the team - into shape. The line shed more than 450 pounds of fat while putting on 500 pounds of muscle.
Still, when spring practice began, Meyer didn't see an offensive line he could win with. Their tempo was off and the defensive line was dominant, putting a disastrous possibility into focus. They could be forgiven for their lack of skills, however. After all, this is a ragtag group who was replacing three starters, two of which - Mike Adams and Mike Brewster - will certainly have their named called in the NFL Draft this week.
Linsley, used primarily at right guard in 2011, has taken over the starting center position vacated by Brewster, Jack Mewhort, a captain in the spring game who's received lofty compliments from Meyer, has moved from right guard to left tackle, Andrew Norwell occupies the left guard spot, Marcus Hall, who's played almost every position on the line, is at right guard, and former tight end Reid Fragel is the starting right tackle.
As the spring wore on, Meyer and offensive line coach Ed Warinner were beginning to see progress. It culminated Saturday in the spring game. Meyer sees it and the players are experiencing it.
"Their bodies are changing and the attitudes are changing," Meyer said.
"Since the beginning of the winter, we've come leaps and bounds," Mewhort added. "Guys have grown and matured a lot."
Every starter on the offensive line has an intriguing story - Norwell is the only one at the same position. None offers a more gripping testimonial than Linsley, though. The redshirt-junior from Youngstown was in the conversation to be a starter this season, but no one would have guessed it would be at center. Brian Bobek was thought to be the heir-apparent to Brewster.
"Coach pegged him as the center from day one," Mewhort said. "He accepted that role and he's more confident than I've ever seen him."
The rise in confidence came at a time when Linsley was at his lowest point. He wasn't motivated at improving his skills and his devotion to Ohio State waned. Linsley said his career was at a crossroads.
"I really think I made a 180 in my life, on and off the field," Linsley said. "I feel rejuvenated.
"I had to make a decision to make myself a better player and better person or continue down the path I was going down."
The makeover for the new Corey Linsley began with the 5 and 6 a.m. workouts. At first, Linsley wasn't too keen on the pre-dawn schedule. But the realization of what the coaching staff wanted out of its players became a clearer picture to him. He then began arriving early to work on techniques with Warinner and snapping the ball with Miller.
"At first, those were the hardest things I've ever done," Linsley said of Marotti's grueling regimen. "I was like, 'Am I really going to quit through this?' And the answer was absolutely not. I'd be constantly telling myself I wasn't going to quit. It was layer upon layer of building confidence."
Linsley is the first to admit that if his attitude hadn't changed, he wouldn't be at Ohio State.
"I really feel like right now I'm 10 times a better player than last year," he said.
His coach would agree.
"Corey's a fine player," Meyer said. "And he'd be the first to tell you he wasn't a fine player a year ago. His complete commitment to Ohio State wasn't there. It is now."
Not just that, but Linsley and the line's cohesiveness have raised eye brows. What just a month ago was looked at as a weakness on the team, may end up being a strength.
"That grind of workouts just really wiped the slate clean," Linsley said. "I really feel like we have a chance to be the best offensive line in America."
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