One way or the other

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- During fall camp, the Ohio State coaches saw plenty of positives in both options presented to them as the battle raged for the starting spot at right tackle.

With former tight end Reid Fragel, they were evaluating a player with a slight size advantage and the edge in experience, who not at all ironically plays on occasion like a former tight end.

The other share of the reps went to Taylor Decker -- a natural on the offensive line who enrolled early and went straight to work impressing the coaches during spring practice. Not at all ironcally, though, the true freshman is prone to a few mistakes.

When it comes time to choose a starter, however, it might come down to which guy has better succeeded at overcoming a perceived negative over which he has had no control. Fragel can't change his established history at another position, and Decker can't magically make himself a veteran.

"The area that's still up for grabs is right tackle," coach Urban Meyer said. "Reid Fragel and Taylor Decker are in a battle -- and it's not a battle of All-Big Tens yet. It's guys, one's still learning how to play it and one is a freshman. They're trying hard, they're talented guys, they're great people, but our production at right tackle is not where it needs to be right now."

The Buckeyes clearly expect one of the two to eventually provide that production, though, because they haven't entertained other candidates to fill the first unit's only spot remaining.

Fragel spent his previous 39 games with the program at tight end, but he was considered more of a blocker than a receiver. And after making the move to tackle and bulking up to more than 310 pounds, he has done nothing that would suggest he should have stayed where he was.

Decker hasn't played in a game with Ohio State yet, but his knowledge of the position and ability to quickly absorb the playbook could easily make up for the lack of experience. Also, he has not done anything that would make the Buckeyes re-evaluate his potential for being a long-term contributor up front.

For now, there's room for only one of them in the starting lineup. And heading into the final week of preparation for Saturday's opener against Miami (Ohio), the coaching staff hasn't tipped its hand one way or the other.

"I don't know where the coaches exactly stand; they don't tell us a whole lot," Fragel said before the final scrimmage of camp. "They just tell us to compete, and that's what I do every day -- go out and be the best I can be. We're still getting reps with the ones, splitting it up, and it's just a battle every day.

"It's not negative by any means. We don't avoid each other or anything like that. It's not like two gunslingers walking past each other. I'm definitely trying to help him out. ... But at the end of the day, if Coach wants to call it a battle, I'm going to do everything I can to beat him out."

And Decker has returned the favor, extending the decision-making process and keeping the race too close to call.

In the end, if the Buckeyes wind up comfortable with either a former tight end or a freshman in the starting lineup, with the other ready in reserve, that might just make Meyer the winner.