No More Mr. Nice Guy
How Ed Warinner Transformed Ohio State’s Offensive Line
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Somewhere along the line something was lost.
Photo by Jim Davidson
It was in the early-morning hours, just as the sun was threatening to brighten up the day in Columbus, Ohio, when Corey Linsley really met Ed Warinner for the first time. Like most of his teammates, Linsley hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, and he certainly wasn’t sure what to expect.
The Buckeyes had squandered a chance to finish the 2011 season with a winning record by allowing not one, but two special teams touchdowns in a 24-17 loss to Florida in the Gator Bowl.
Morale was low and the decay of a 6-7 season had crept into nearly every corner of the OSU football program. Nowhere was that more apparent than on the offensive line, especially when three of them were late for Urban Meyer’s first team meeting as the new head coach.
“It wasn’t a good way for them to start off with their first meeting with the new head coach and the first meeting with their new position coach,” Warinner said.
“It was a wake-up call that we weren’t where we needed to be, and the problems of the past had to stop, and we had to move forward.”
At first glance, Warinner is a very likable guy who relates easily to his players and fellow coaches. He was a baseball player and running back at the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio.
He got his start at Akron coaching the running backs back in 1984, but Warinner also spent 15 years coaching at the service academies – first at Army and then Air Force – before he became the offensive line coach at Kansas in 2003.
“He was a good dude when I first met him,” Linsley said of the 51-year-old Warinner.
“He was a cool guy, easy to talk to, but then they all kind of found out about the offensive line. Not that he didn’t know coming in, but Coach Meyer really exposed our reputation as being soft and lazy, not really playing up to our ability.”
Before last season’s offensive meltdown, the Buckeyes ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten in both scoring and total offense during the 2010 season, but much of that was the ability of quarterback Terrelle Pryor to escape pressure in the backfield.
Ohio State’s offensive line would eventually produce an NFL second-round draft pick (Mike Adams) and another guy (Michael Brewster) who is starting at guard as a rookie for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“You look at guys like Mike Adams and Michael Brewster playing in the NFL right now, and J.B. Shugarts is a tough dude, going to get picked up eventually,” Linsley added.
“Those three guys left last year and I wouldn’t consider any of them lazy or soft.”
All three of them are gone, but even when they were here, the OSU offensive line never dominated the line of scrimmage the way people expected when the Buckeyes landed the trio of hulking blue chippers in the class of 2008.
“I guess our production numbers didn’t equal out to the level of recruitment we had here,” Linsley said, “so maybe that’s how we got the reputation of being lazy and soft.”
However they got it, it certainly seemed to fit, especially in the eyes of the new head coach. Almost immediately, Meyer targeted the offensive line as one of the major weaknesses of the team during offseason conditioning, even going as far as to call the group ‘nonfunctional’ before the start of spring practice.
It was Warinner’s job to change that perception.
“The first impression through winter workouts was ‘Man, this guy is getting on me’,” Linsley added.
“I wasn’t really sure if I liked him or not, but you grow to love Coach Warinner because he’ll scream and yell on the field, but that’s only because he loves you and wants you to become a better player.”
That was exactly the type of line coach Meyer was looking for; another Steve Addazio, now the head coach at Temple, who produced a number of high-profile NFL offensive linemen under Meyer at Florida.
Photo by Dan Harker
“I wanted to hire a tough guy that's very involved in the game planning, because sometimes line coaches just go live in their world,” Meyer said.
“All line coaches have got to be hard. My vision of a line coach is the toughest coach on your staff. We have a very tough coach and they have to be pushed. The good thing is they are responding.
“I’ll do this someday: I’d love to push play on April 2 and then push play now. That’s how different of players they are. Really marked improvement.”
A lot of the credit goes to strength coach Mickey Marotti, who reshaped the bodies of Ohio State’s previously ‘lazy’ offensive line in the offseason. But it was Warinner who forced this group to come together with his Drill Sergeant mentality.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re so close is that Coach Warinner pushes us so hard and makes us do our best at everything we do,” said Linsley.
“We have to get together and say ‘Coach is riding us, but that’s his job. It’s our job to be positive and bring us all together.’ That’s how we get better.”
It’s Linsley who made possibly the biggest transformation of anyone on the team this offseason. He went from a career under-achiever with a dimly-lit future to now being called the apex of Ohio State’s rushing attack.
“He’s without question the No. 1 most improved guy on our offense,” Meyer said.
“(He’s) gone from nobody to the apex of our offense. I love Corey. I love who he is. I love the seriousness. It wasn’t always that way.”
Not for any of these guys. Even Jack Mewhort, one of the two returning starters on the offensive line, found himself in hot water during the offseason, but Ohio State’s offensive line has slowly become the strength of this football team.
So much so, that the entire starting five was named Offensive Player of the Week following Ohio State’s win over Michigan State in East Lansing.
“Our offensive line is the whole reason why we're where we are today,” Meyer said this week.
“Tell it the way it is. Our offensive line is coming on. We called that group nonfunctional, because they were.”
Only they’re not anymore.
“It’s a great feeling knowing your hard work pays off each week,” Mewhort said.
“As we’ve grown as an offensive line, and matured and gelled each week, we’ve gotten better and better. We’re really starting to execute schemes, but we need it to start happening earlier for us. We still have a lot to improve on. We’re going to come back next week even better.”
They know Coach Warinner will see to that.
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