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OSU O-line: From 'nonfunctional' to team leaders

OSU O-line: From 'nonfunctional' to team leaders

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Andrew Norwell says when he and the rest of Ohio State's offensive linemen walk into a room, the conversation stops and everyone takes note of the small group of large men.

People are noticing them even more these days, now that they're central figures on a team that is unbeaten and ranked No. 8.

Coach Urban Meyer credits the line for the Buckeyes' big wins the past two weeks against nationally ranked Michigan State and Nebraska. Meyer used to denigrate the position.

No more.

Last spring, he said the front wall was ``nonfunctional.'' Slowly but surely, he has become the unit's biggest fan.

``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.''

After the Buckeyes' 17-16 win at Michigan State two weeks ago - a game in which the line allowed Ohio State to run off the last 4 minutes while playing keep-away with the ball - every member up front was designated by the coaching staff as a player of the game.

In the wake of Saturday's 63-38 beatdown of No. 21 Nebraska, Meyer again heaped praise on the big guys after they forged the openings that led to 372 rushing yards. For a coach famous for his spread attack, for fleet receivers and sprinters who line up in the backfield, he also said something curious.

``We're kind of a `pound you' offense right now,'' he said after midnight on a crisp Saturday at Ohio Stadium. ``I don't mind that. I've not had a lot of those. But that's a `pound you' offense.''

So, it's almost as if the offensive line - tackles Jack Mewhort and Reid Fragel, guards Marcus Hall and Norwell and center Corey Linsley - has changed Meyer's mind as much as he's changed his mind about it.

There are a lot of theories why the line has gotten so much better. Some say it's because it goes up against the likes of John Simon and Johnathan Hankins, the Buckeyes' two man-eating D-linemen, every day in practice.

Others say it's because the linemen are so close they are almost indistinguishable from each other.

``All of us are friends, all of us came in in the same recruiting class except for Norwell, and he's one crazy dude and fits right in with us,'' Linsley said. ``There's no separation within the line. There's nobody looking at each other: `Oh, man, why isn't he playing well?' There's none of that on the sideline or in the locker room or anywhere. It's all positive reinforcement, we all know each other. We all feel like we're brothers.''

Fragel, converted from tight end to starting right tackle this spring, is the tallest at 6-foot-8, although the group averages 6-6. Linsley is the ``lightest'' at 295 pounds, even though there's only a 20-pound variance between him and the heaviest, Hall.

They're used to standing out.

``When we walk into a room together, go out to eat, all eyes are on us because we're not average people,'' Norwell said.

He said it's not togetherness but plain old effort that made them more than functional.

``It was just hard work, coming in every day and getting coached hard,'' said Norwell, his long hair tied back in a ponytail. ``You take baby steps and just move forward.''

Even opposing coaches have noticed the transformation. The Buckeyes play at Indiana (2-3, 0-2) on Saturday night.

``Everybody talks about the spread. You can talk tempo, you can talk shotgun, but the game is still a physical game,'' Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson said. ``It's (requires) a physical presence and it starts in a couple of areas. (Up front) they're making some great strides. I've been very, very impressed with their line.''

Now if there was just more of them. Meyer frets that even the slightest injury to anybody arrayed along the front wall could be a disaster for the paper-thin Buckeyes.

``Our backups are nonfunctional,'' Meyer said. ``God bless us, if a shoe string breaks or something, we're going to call timeout and get a new shoe string because we just don't have the depth there right now (to sub somebody else in).''

The starters, however, continue to play every down and make every play. They've helped turn quarterback Braxton Miller into a Heisman Trophy contender and the running attack into a facsimile of what it used to be back in the glory days of Archie Griffin and Eddie George.

``We're not a finished product there. We still have a lot of things to continue to grow and clean up and get better at,'' line coach Ed Warinner said. ``But they're really playing hard and they're starting to understand what we really want in the spread offense.''

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Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap

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7 things to know about Capitals head coaching candidate Todd Reirden

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USA TODAY Sports

7 things to know about Capitals head coaching candidate Todd Reirden

For now, Todd Reirden appears to be the frontrunner to be the new head coach of the Washington Capitals.

But who is he? 

Here are some things to know about the Capitals head coaching candidate:

1. Reirden spent the last four seasons with Washington on Barry Trotz's staff

Should Reirden be hired, he would bring a measure of familiarity with him few teams get after a coaching change. Reirden was hired by Trotz in 2014 when Trotz was putting together his staff. He was brought in to coach the team's defense and immediately improved the blue line.

In the year prior to Reirden's hiring, the Caps allowed 2.74 goals per game, good for only 21st in the NHL.

Here is what the defense has done in Reirden's four years in charge of the defense:

2014-15: 2.43 goals against per game, 7th in the NHL
2015-16: 2.33 goals against per game, 2nd in the NHL
2016-17: 2.16 goals against per game, 1st in the NHL
2017-18: 2.90 goals against per game, 16th in the NHL

In those four seasons combined, Washington allowed 2.45 goals per game, lower than every team in the NHL but one. He was also in charge of the team's lethal power play.

2. Reirden has been a head coach before

While he may never have been a head coach in the NHL, Reirden does have some head coaching experience.

Reirden was promoted to head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2009 when Dan Bylsma was promoted to head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. While head coach, Reirden led the team to a 55-43-8 record.

3. Reirden came to Washington from the Penguins

Reirden joined the Penguins organization in 2008 as an assistant coach with their AHL affiliate and took over as head coach later that season. He joined the Penguins' playoff staff during the 2009 Cup run. He was promoted to a full-time assistant coach under with the NHL team under Bylsma in 2010 and was there for four years until Byslma was fired. Reirden was not initially fired, but was allowed to seek other opportunities. When he was officially fired, the Capitals hired him the same day.

4. Reirden had a lot to do with Matt Niskanen signing with the Caps

Reirden was hired by the Caps on June 25, 2014. On July 1, Matt Niskanen signed with Washington.

Reirden and Niskanen developed a strong relationship while in Pittsburgh. Niskanen dealt with confidence issues after getting traded from Dallas to Pittsburgh in 2011. Under Reirden's tutelage, Niskanen developed into a top-pair defenseman. Niskanen's agent said at the time it was "no secret" that Reirden and Niskanen had bonded while both were in Pittsburgh.

Brooks Orpik also signed with the Caps as a free agent that year, the second defenseman from Pittsburgh to sign in Washington showing the level of respect they felt for Reirden.

5. Reirden nearly became the head coach of Calgary

Reirden interviewed for the head coaching job in Calgary in 2016 and was considered a finalist for the position before eventually losing out Glen Gulutzan.

Gulutzan was fired by Calgary after the 2017-18 season and is now an assistant coach in Edmonton while Reirden is the frontrunner to become the head coach for the defending Stanley Cup champions. Sounds like things worked out for Reirden.

6. The Caps have been grooming Reirden to be a head coach

Reirden was promoted to associate coach in August 2016 after Calgary had passed on him. Since then, the Caps have not allowed him to interview with other teams for head coaching positions. The implication was clear, this was someone the team wanted to keep.

"You know I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach whether for us or someone else," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan Monday.

7. Reiden played in 183 career NHL games

Reirden was a defenseman drafted in the 12th round by the New Jersey Devils in 1990. After playing four years at Bowling Green, Reirden went pro with several seasons in the ECHL, IHL and AHL. He made his NHL debut with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1998-99 season. Reirden would also play with the St. Louis Blues, Atlanta Thrashers and Phoenix Coyotes. 

For his NHL career, Reirden scored 11 goals and 46 points in 183 games.

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With Barry Trotz out, Jay Gruden is now your longest-tenured major head coach in D.C.

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With Barry Trotz out, Jay Gruden is now your longest-tenured major head coach in D.C.

Jay Gruden is many things, including honest, witty, one of the greatest Arena League quarterbacks in the history of the universe and, as of June 18, the longest-tenured head coach of a major D.C. sports team.

With the Capitals and Barry Trotz parting ways, Gruden is now officially the area's most experienced boss (while Gruden was actually hired a few months before Trotz back in 2014, they both have led their teams through four seasons up to this point, which is the number that matters here).

Scott Brooks, meanwhile, has overseen the Wizards for two campaigns, while Nats manager Dave Martinez is in the middle of his first year at the helm.

This designation will pair nicely with the fact that Gruden will also be the first 'Skins headman to hold his job into a fifth season in the Dan Snyder era. You don't need to make plans to visit his statue yet, of course, but this is some uncharted territory the 51-year-old is currently hanging out in.

Now, his overall record of 28-35-1 certainly needs work, or else he'll be in danger of handing the longest-tenured distinction over to Brooks. However, Gruden does deserve credit for bringing an amount of stability to the Burgundy and Gold, a franchise that is usually as stable as Metro's Wi-Fi connection.

So, with all due respect to DC United's Ben Olsen, the Kastles' Murphy Jensen and whatever legend is in charge of your kid's dynastic flag football team, when you think of the man who's been roaming the sidelines longer than anyone else in D.C., be sure to think of this man and only this man:

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