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Buckeyes must fill big holes up front on offense PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, March 27, 2014 8:20 PM

Associated Press

COLUMBUS — The point, Ohio State assistant coach Ed Warinner told his players, is to not sweat all the outside stuff.

“All you have to do is your job. If you think about things outside of your job, then you get overwhelmed a little bit,” Warinner told the candidates to fill the gaping holes on the offensive line. “You don’t have to cover for each other, just do your job. And that’s all we’re having them focus on. I think they’ll be fine.”

Warinner, the Buckeyes’ co-offensive coordinator and line coach, is charged with a mighty task — replacing four big players with big personalities up front who were the backbone of the team.

Their departure leaves Warinner and Taylor Decker to pass on the unit’s legacy of clearing running lanes, sealing off the passer and sticking together like a long-haired band of brothers in some action flick.

“They were definitely great players,” Decker said of the graduated Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall. “We just need somebody to lead these (new) guys. Because it’s a talented group of guys, who just have to get experience.”

The coaching staff, in the midst of spring workouts, likes the returning personnel.

Decker, a junior, has shifted from right to left tackle. Jacoby Boren, brother of former Buckeyes Zach and Justin Boren, has the inside track at center, replacing Linsley. Antonio Underwood and Pat Elflein, who started in the Big Ten championship game after Hall was suspended for fighting and then flashing his middle fingers to the crowd at Michigan, will likely fill the guard spots. Darryl Baldwin, a former defensive lineman who made the move to the other side in the spring of 2012, is a fifth-year senior who will probably get the nod at right tackle.

A lot, of course, could change before the Buckeyes open their season on Aug. 30 against Navy in Baltimore.

Mewhort, Norwell, Linsley and Hall were brimming with confidence. Head coach Urban Meyer called them the most important part of an offense that scored more points (637, an average of 45.5 per game) than any team in Ohio State’s 124 seasons of intercollegiate football.

They also were team spokesmen, not afraid to offer public encouragement or private criticism or crack a joke if it brought the Buckeyes closer and ultimately made them better.

“They were good leaders but we have the guys,” Elflein said. “Taylor’s taking over a leadership role and Jacoby and myself. We’ll keep that same culture as it was a year ago and keep it going.”

Boren, a 4.0 student, said he’s been biding his time until this moment.

“I think I’m really ready,” he added. “I’ve learned a lot from Corey over the last two years. I’ve been waiting for two years. It feels good to be here.”

A year ago during regular-season practices and particularly in the workouts leading up to the Buckeyes’ 40-35 loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl, Warinner blended a lot of players in with his mainstays on the line.

As a result, all of this year’s possibilities at least have an idea of what it’s like to protect Miller and keep the offense moving forward.

Most position coaches who lost 80 percent of their starters are reticent to express high expectations. But spring is a time for optimism.

“I’m pretty confident,” Warinner added. “Because everything that you want to see at this point we’re seeing: a great work ethic, tough guys who are very well conditioned, guys who want to learn, guys who come with energy to practice. The only thing they lack is just experience and sharpening their skills.”

Manziel wows elder Bush, others at pro day

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Johnny Manziel’s NFL pro day had a former president, lots of swag, a Drake soundtrack and even some football, too.

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner threw for 75 officials from 30 teams on the Texas A&M campus Thursday.

He also had some special guests, as former President George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara — and her two dogs — rolled into the facility on golf carts about 10 minutes into the workout.

The always flashy Manziel was true to his over-the-top Johnny Football persona, trotting into the facility with his receivers as a tune by his buddy Drake blasted through the building. He wore camouflage shorts, a black Nike jersey with his white No. 2 and caused a stir by wearing shoulder pads and a helmet.

Manziel didn’t understand why it was a big deal.

“You play the game in shoulder pads on Sundays,” he said. “Why not come out and do it? … For me it was a no-brainer.”

Manziel threw about 65 passes to six receivers, including A&M teammate Mike Evans, who like Manziel is expected to be a first round pick in the May draft. Only two passes weren’t caught and Evans grabbed a third long pass out of bounds.

“I felt like it was good,” Manziel said. “(I) was obviously going for perfection. So had a couple balls hit the ground. One was on me. One was a little bit high. I could’ve got it down for him a little bit.”

Quarterback guru George Whitfield ran the workout. Manziel has worked with Whitfield throughout his career and has spent a big chunk of the last 2½ months working with him in California. Whitfield raved about his competitiveness.

“This wasn’t just merely a set of routes that he was just going to go through and throw,” Whitfield said. “It just feels like … life is riding on every pass with him.”

Eight NFL general managers and eight head coaches were among the group, including Texans general manager Rick Smith and coach Bill O’Brien. Houston has the top overall pick in the draft. Smith and O’Brien liked what they saw from Manziel, but both cautioned that this is just one step in a long process.

Manziel, who started at A&M for two seasons, planned to meet with several teams on Thursday afternoon after the workout.

Several coaches were impressed that Manziel called all the NFL officials onto the field at the end of his workout to personally thank them for coming.

Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith, who grew up in Big Sandy, Texas, enjoyed seeing Bush at the event.

Bush sat in his golf cart during the event and posed for pictures with dozens of people afterward. But Secret Service agents shooed away reporters looking to talk to the 41st president.

Several more Drake songs played after his introductory one and he looked loose during the workout, at times bobbing his head, covered in the matte black helmet, to the beats. There was a brief hitch in the playlist, though. When he began the workout the explicit and expletive-laden versions of the songs were played. When the 89-year-old Bush entered the building, the soundtrack quickly switched to an edited version of the same songs.

He worked under center, making throws of all distances, on the run and in the pocket. Whitfield added some challenges to the workout, waving a broom and chasing him with it on several throws.

He finished the day with a long completion to Evans and yelled ‘Boom!’ and the assembled crowd broke into applause.

Whitfield was pleased with how the day went and thinks Manziel has improved since the end of the season.

Colter: ‘We know what we’re doing’ with union idea

BRADENTON, Fla. — Kain Colter is not completely sure what the landscape will one day look like if college athletes are allowed to unionize. He’s just more convinced than ever that it’s become necessary.

The former Northwestern quarterback, now essentially the face of the movement that could completely reshape college sports, said Thursday that a federal agency’s decision to allow the Wildcats to form a union was an expected victory — but also represents just the first step in what he knows will be a lengthy process.

“There’s so many different components,” Colter said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But what this does … it ensures that players have a voice and whatever route this goes and whatever structure comes from college sports, we have input. We’re out there sacrificing so much. We’re a big part of what college sports is today and the revenue that’s generated off of it. We deserve to have a say in that. We deserve a seat at the table.”

A 2-page online letter that he wrote might have made it all happen.

Colter, 21, wasn’t the first to question why athletes feel like their rights in college are limited but it was an online rant that he sent to the National College Players Association that started the roll of this now-enormous snowball. From that note, an idea was born and the notion got legitimized Wednesday when a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board said Northwestern’s players should be allowed to unionize.

The university will appeal. Colter isn’t worried.

“You saw how strong of a ruling it was and that we won every single claim,” Colter said. “It’s going to be something that’s really hard to overturn.”

At the root of Colter’s argument for change is that he believes college athletes lack basic protections, such as the guarantee of medical coverage and the promise of a 4-year scholarship at most institutions. It’s common for scholarships to be renewed annually and athletes have long felt that they could be vulnerable in situations like a change in coaches or philosophy.

He stresses, though, that he enjoyed his time at Northwestern. He raves about Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald, calling him the best in college football. His experience was not a bad one but Colter still can’t understand why his attempts to talk to the NCAA about possible changes were repeatedly turned down.

It would be very simple for the 6-foot, 190-pound Colter to just worry about himself right now.

He accounted for 5,023 yards and 50 touchdowns — 18 passing, 28 rushing and four receiving — in his four years at Northwestern,and plans to try to make the NFL as a receiver. He’s not expected to be drafted and if he gets picked, it almost certainly won’t be until the latest rounds. He’s preparing for a pro shot at IMG Academy on the southwest coast of Florida, where he told reporters his training regimen Thursday was “business as usual.”

Which it was, except for a few rounds of interviews and having a car service get him to all the stops on his media tour of sorts. In between it all, he was working out and said football is his top priority — even with all this legal talk swirling around him.

He insists, his group has a plan, and knows exactly how to proceed.

Union ruling comes at bad time for NCAA: They’re battling in courtrooms and could one day meet over a bargaining table. About the only things the two sides in the debate over big-time college athletics agree on is that things are changing.

Schools bringing in hundreds of millions in television contracts. Coaches making kind of salaries that the late UCLA legend John Wooden wouldn’t recognize. Athletes insisting on rights, if not outright cash.

And now a union for football players at Northwestern that would previously have been unthinkable in college sports.

A ruling that the Northwestern football team can bargain with the school as employees represented by a union may not by itself change the way amateur sports operate. But it figures to put more pressure on the NCAA and the major conferences to give something back to the players to justify the billions of dollars the players bring in — and never see.

“While improvements need to be made, we do not need to completely throw away a system that has helped literally millions of students over the past decade alone attend college,” the NCAA wrote in a statement.

There’s huge money at stake — nearly $18 billion alone just in television rights for the NCAA basketball tournament and bowl games. Already fighting a flurry of antitrust lawsuits challenging its control of college athletics, the NCAA can’t afford too many more defeats.

“This is a colossal victory for student athletes coming on the heels of their recent victories,” said Marc Edelman, an associate professor of law at City University of New York who specializes in sports and antitrust law. “It seems not only the tide of public sentiment but also the tide of legal rulings has finally turned in the direction of college athletes and against the NCAA.”

For the NCAA, the timing of a National Labor Relations Board opinioncouldn’t have been worse. In the middle of a tournament that earns schools close to $1 billion a year, it is being taken to task not only for not paying players but for not ensuring their health and future welfare.

Add in revelations like Florida coach Billy Donovan’s new $3.7 million-a-year contract and the $18,000 bonus that Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith got for one of the school’s wrestlers winning an NCAA title and some are frustrated with the NCAA’s contention that everything it does is done for the benefit of athletes who play for the glory of their school.

“Fifty years ago the NCAA invented the term student-athlete to try and make sure this day never came,” said former UCLA linebacker Ramogi Huma, the designated president of Northwestern’s would-be football players’ union. “Northwestern players who stood up for their rights took a giant step for justice. It’s going to set a precedent for college players across the nation to do the same.”

The players currently at Northwestern may have already graduated by the time the team gets a chance to bargain — if it ever does.

According to federal law, Northwestern football players have 30 days from Wednesday’s decision to vote on whether to authorize the College Athletes Players Association, or CAPA, to represent them. But Northwestern is expected to appeal the landmark ruling to the NLRB by an April 9 deadline, potentially stalling the union vote. The NCAA is also likely to continue to fight the description of college athletes as employees.

By itself, the ruling could be little more than an irritant to private universities and the NCAA. But combined with the antitrust lawsuits — one filed just last week by a prominent attorney called the organization an “unlawful cartel” — they present a clear challenge to the unique way college sports operates.

The model of coaches and administrators making millions while the athletes providing the labor are paid in room and board and books is one that could be difficult to defend in court.

 

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