Fragel Battling Decker, History at Tackle
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS — This was all his idea, so don’t feel sorry for Reid Fragel.
He wouldn’t want the sympathy.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The senior out of Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich. is locked in a tight battle with true freshman Taylor Decker for the starting right tackle spot, but it’s a fight he welcomed when Urban Meyer became the head football coach at Ohio State back in November.
“I personally respond well to pressure,” said Fragel, who was last seen as the starting tight end for the Buckeyes in the Gator Bowl.
“He's a really great athlete, a great kid. I Respect him. It is a battle. Every day I'm trying to get better and better to try to make it less of a battle.”
Fragel started the Gator Bowl only because of a knee injury to Jake Stoneburner, but he was a key part of Ohio State’s offense last season. As the backup to Stoneburner, Fragel was often called upon to lead the way for Boom Herron and Jordan Hall as the blocking tight end.
Except those don’t really exist in Urban Meyer’s offense, at least not the way they did under the previous regime.
“I knew when coach Meyer came in, his offensive philosophy was different,” Fragel said.
“Being a pro-style tight end, I couldn't fit in as more of a spread tight end. I also knew I had some blocking ability and size to work with. So moving to tackle, I figured would be the best for me because I didn't want to leave the school.”
Fragel isn’t the first tight end to make the move to tackle, and it was actually something Ohio State’s previous coaching staff had considered during last season, mainly because they were razor thin at offensive tackle.
That’s what Meyer saw as well, especially with the departures of Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts. Decker wasn’t even committed to Ohio State when Fragel approached his new head coach with the idea.
Photo by Jim Davidson
In fact, Decker was slated to go to Notre Dame, while Kyle Dodson was headed for Wisconsin back when Fragel made his decision. The Buckeyes knew he could handle the rigors of playing up-tempo in the running, which is anything but finesse according to offensive coordinator Tom Herman, but there have been obvious mental hurdles for Fragel along the way.
“Right now, it's all mental,” he said.
“I have no doubt in my mind physically I can block anybody.”
Especially at the point of attack, where Fragel’s size and strength are enough to overwhelm most opposing defenders in the running game. It’s learning the art of pass protection, however, that has kept Fragel from winning the job outright in his battle with Decker.
“It's just learning new footwork for pass protection,” he said.
“Our offense is different in the aspect of where there tackles have to know just as much as the quarterback does, so not only learning a new offense your first year at tackle and the responsibilities that come with that adds some challenge to it.”
That challenge can easily be understated.
While Fragel is learning the tackle spot for the first time – as opposed to Decker who came to Ohio State as a ready-made pass protector – he certainly has the edge in strength, physical stature and understanding of the offense.
All of that can be undone, however, according to one former Ohio State offensive lineman.
“It all starts with footwork. Guys that are strong as an ox will still struggle in pass protection if they don’t have good footwork,” he said.
“You can be weaker and have good footwork and make up for a lack of strength and still play well. The way a tackle can move his feet with change of direction is critical on the edge.”
Given time, Fragel has the right body frame, athleticism and mentality to become an excellent pass blocker on the outside. The problem, however, is that Fragel is out of time. He is making this switch on the eve of his senior season at Ohio State, and the Buckeyes need someone who can protect Braxton Miller against opposing pass rushers.
“If he opens up the right away, but has bad footwork, he allows a shorter and easier path to the quarterback,” said the former OSU offensive lineman.
“It's learnable but it goes back to athletic ability. Guys who have good athleticism can be taught, but guys who aren’t as athletic will struggle.”
He believes Fragel does have the right athleticism to become a good pass protector on the outside, over time, but it’s a hard thing to learn in one offseason. It goes beyond the physical, and even mental side of football.
It has to become instinctual. Even if Fragel understands the offense and what he needs to do on the outside, and has the size and strength to match up with opposing defensive ends, he still has to train his body to react quickly to anything coming at him on the edge.
That has been a problem for him this fall as he tries to solidify the final starting spot on the offensive line.
“The two guards are playing very well, the center's playing well, and the left tackle's playing well. The right tackle's got to get a little better,” Meyer said recently.
“They're trying. One at times looks like a freshman because he is and one looks like a guy that just moved from tight end.”
Eventually, one of them better start looking like a veteran offensive tackle or the Buckeyes are going to be rotating both players at right tackle this season.
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