- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.
Who's back: The line as a whole returns almost entirely in one piece, but there is one huge cog missing heading into the second season of the spread offense at Ohio State. Jack Mewhort blossomed into one of the nastiest, stoutest blockers in the Big Ten last year, and the Buckeyes are expecting even more from him both on the field and off as a senior. They'll need that production and stability from him on the left side with Reid Fragel out of eligibility and heading to the NFL after his banner campaign at right tackle, transforming himself from a reserve tight end into one of the most reliable members of the offensive front. After dueling with Fragel nearly all the way through training camp in August, Taylor Decker is primed to take over the starting duties opposite Mewhort as the Buckeyes try to take the offense to an even higher level.
New face: Despite finishing with the No.3 recruiting class in the country, the Buckeyes didn't land as many signatures from linemen as they wanted, which clearly seemed to bother Urban Meyer as he looks toward the future and sees four seniors who will be gone after next season. That experience is obviously a huge blessing for Ohio State at the moment, but neither Evan Lisle nor Tim Gardner have enrolled yet and won't be able to get a jump on their development in the trenches until the fall.
Projected depth chart: Mewhort will anchor the line at left tackle again, with Daryl Baldwin likely hanging on to the backup job he held last season. Decker is poised to take over the starting gig at right tackle, with competition for the second-team spot open for guys like Kyle Dodson, Chase Farris or Antonio Underwood as they try to crack the rotation.
Numbers game: There might not have been enough depth to ever let the coaching staff exhale, but the Buckeyes never had to find out what would happen if one of the starters went down with a significant injury. The first-team line was the most stable group on the team during the perfect season, combining to make every start and provide invaluable continuity for a dominant rushing attack and the highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten.
One to watch: The flipping of Dodson from Wisconsin was cause for a huge celebration for the Buckeyes on signing day a year ago, but a shoulder injury kept him on the shelf during his first year with the team and ended up forcing him to redshirt. Given time to fully recover and dig into the conditioning program, the 6-foot-5, 315-pound athlete should be able to start showing what all the fuss was about. Decker has the edge going into camp after battling Fragel for playing time a year ago, but now it's Dodson's turn to dial up the pressure and fight for work.
He said it: "Jack Mewhort is already there, he's already a leader. We're asking him to take over a position that maybe a [John] Simon took, the overall heart. I love him, he's a tough guy." -- Meyer in January
5dDan Murphy and Austin Ward