COLUMBUS, Ohio - Fall camp might be over for the Ohio State football team, but the fight to be the Buckeyes' starting right tackle appears to be far from finished.
Senior Reid Fragel is listed as Ohio State's starter at the position on the team's depth chart for its season opener against Miami (OH) on Saturday, but Buckeyes' offensive line coach Ed Warinner said that the competition between Fragel and true freshman Taylor Decker is anything but done.
"Still very close race there in terms of there isn't a lot of separation there," Warinner said. "Reid's a little older and more veteran and a little more ready to go."
Although Fragel is getting the first start of the season, Warinner said that Decker will get his chance to play with the Buckeyes' first-team on Saturday, in an effort to see what the true freshman can do in a game-situation while playing alongside the OSU starters.
"I'll pick out a spot early on where I'm going to put him in the game unless, you know, they punt the ball to us and we're coming off the 2-yard line," Warinner said. "I might not put him in there for that being the first play of his college career. But, you know, if we have decent field position and it's early in the game and we have a decent feel for what they're doing defensively, I'll throw him in there.
The battle to start at right tackle for the Buckeyes has been an intriguing one, if not for any reason other than the uniqueness of its two participants.
A tight end in the first three seasons of his college career, Fragel gained 30 pounds and converted to tackle once Urban Meyer arrived as the Buckeyes' head coach following the 2011 season. Decker, on the other hand, was a four-star prospect coming out of Butler high school in Vandalia, Ohio who switched his commitment from Notre Dame to OSU following Meyer's arrival, but the fact remains that he's played in as many college games at right tackle as Fragel has.
Throughout fall camp, the Buckeyes' head coach admitted that there has been some growing pains in having two players with no college experience at the position vying to play the right tackle spot.
"It's not a battle of all-Big Tens yet," Meyer said. "They're trying hard, they're talented guys, they're great people. But our production at right tackle is not where it needs to be right now."
Despite Meyer's assessment, Warinner insisted on Monday that both Fragel and Decker are game-ready, and that they could even find themselves on the field at the same time on Saturday.
"He would be the first guy in the game at right tackle or left tackle, Taylor," Warinner said. "He works both sides. So he's kind of our swing guy."
Decker insisted that although he and Fragel are competing with one another to replace three-year starter J.B. Shugarts, the two have maintained a strong relationship as each learns how to play on the offensive line at the college level.
"Me and Reid, I think all of the offensive linemen, we have a good relationship with everybody 'cause we're in the trenches battling together. We're all just trying to learn," Decker said. "Reid, coming from a tight end, he's really athletic. So he has a great physical ability, it's tough to compete against a guy like that, but I'm doing my best."
While he may be heading into Saturday as a starter, Fragel admitted that he's still learning the position.
"It's more of a mental part, just learning the position and recognizing certain looks on the defense. Obviously like I said before, pass protection, just getting the footwork down, which I think has come a long way," Fragel said. "Right now, I think it's just repetition and learning the plays and getting the looks in against the defense."
Just how long OSU's right tackle situation will remain fluid remains to be seen, but regardless of who emerges as the full-time starter at the position, Warinner is comfortable with both Fragel and Decker taking snaps for the Buckeyes.
"We've had a great battle at the right tackle position all during training camp," Warinner said. "Reid Fragel and Taylor Decker both can be good players for us."