- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Spring practice is just around the corner, and that will be a time for Big Ten teams to locate replacements for departed stars. We're taking a look at how each team might fill the roles of two key contributors no longer on campus.
Today, we turn our attention to Ohio State and its Urban renewal projects. The Buckeyes didn't lose a whole lot of seniors, and they already experienced what it was like to play without departed seniors Dan Herron and DeVier Posey for large stretches of last season. So we'll focus our attention on the offensive line:
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Mike Brewster, C
Why: Brewster was a fixture in the Buckeyes' lineup, making 49 consecutive starts after debuting as a true freshman. He was one of the best centers in the Big Ten for the duration of his career, and was named an All-American in 2010. He also provided good leadership -- especially in a year when some other seniors ran afoul of NCAA rules.
The skinny: One reason to temper expectations about Urban Meyer's first year in Columbus is a dangerous lack of depth on the offensive line. The Buckeyes were already thin there last season, and lost three senior starters. If anyone other than Bobek is starting at center, it's probably because of an injury or something else unforeseen. The former blue-chip high school prospect spent last season as Brewster's understudy, and saw some time in mop-up duty. He should make a smooth transition to starter this spring, though living up to Brewster's production won't be easy.
Linsley has played guard in the past for the Buckeyes ,but likely will be one of the starting guards this season, along with Jack Mewhort. O'Connor and Boren project as guards, but could play center in a pinch -- a situation Ohio State hopes to avoid.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Mike Adams, LT
Why: Adams missed the first five games of 2011 while serving a suspension, and his absence was notable. He was one of the best offensive linemen in the Big Ten during his three years as a starter, and the 6-foot-8, 320-pounder has been projected by some as a first-round NFL draft pick this spring. The Buckeyes' offensive line played much better last season once he returned.
Replacement candidates: Andrew Norwell (6-5, 308, Jr.); Marcus Hall (6-5, 315, Jr.); Antonio Underwood, (6-3, 305, Soph.); Tommy Brown (6-5, 320, Soph.); Chris Carter (6-6, 350, R-Fr.); Taylor Decker (6-8, 310, incoming freshman); Kyle Dodson (6-5, 315, incoming freshman).
The skinny: Here's another place where a successor is in place, but things could get shaky if something goes wrong.
Norwell started the first five games at left tackle last season while Adams was suspended before sliding back to guard. He should take over the blind side full time this season, and he has good instincts for the position. Everything else at tackle this spring is a little bit up in the air, as Meyer plans to convert tight end Reid Fragel into a right tackle. He and Hall will likely battle for that starting spot, with Hall potentially ending up as a super sub along the line.
Underwood started the Purdue game when J.B. Shugarts was injured but was pulled after a poor performance. Hopefully, another year of coaching will help him develop into a solid contributor. Brown and Carter are largely unknowns at this point, but at least have big bodies. Don't be surprised to see at least one of the true freshmen crack the two-deep this season. They're both very talented, and unfortunately for Ohio State, they don't have a ton of competition ahead of them.