How Ohio State is managing offensive line depth to find 'Best Five'

Austin Ward6 months
Aritcle written by:Austin WardAustin Ward


Thayer Munford by Birm-Lettermen Row
Ohio State can count on Thayer Munford to anchor the offensive line. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

COLUMBUS — Greg Studrawa still has plenty to think about with his Ohio State offensive line.

The difference is now it probably won’t keep him up at night.

The transformation of his position group for the Buckeyes in the span of two short years has been staggering. And given all the depth, high-end talent and versatility on the roster now, it’s almost hard to remember that it was only two spring camps ago that Ohio State was simply hoping to survive with one of the most short-handed units on the roster making it hard just to get through practice.

Now the Buckeyes are rolling through three different groups, free to experiment with position changes and rotate reps as they search for their five-best blockers — instead of simply hoping the number never drops below it.

“Oh, I couldn’t be more excited,” Ohio State offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said on Wednesday morning. “I know the state of the room, and you guys do too what it was when I got here. For the first two years, I had five people. I stayed up at night, because if somebody went down it was like: Oh boy, we better get the punt team ready. That was my feeling then, and to have that depth back in the room now — that showed at Michigan State last year. We lost those guys the night before the game. We didn’t lose them the week before the game, so for those kids to jump in there and play like that against a defense like that is a testament to what we’ve done. Those kids were ready to go

“It wasn’t tested and proven to that point. But that now gives those guys confidence when their number is called — or how about: What if I just go challenge this guy? Thayer Munford is pretty good, but what if I go beat him out? Now that’s in that room, and when you go to practice you better be at your best. If you’re not, the other guy is very capable of doing the job as well. That’s the way it should be.”

The Buckeyes don’t even have a full-strength competition going yet across the board, which is yet another reminder of the impressive collection of talent it has amassed since it has had no issues simply rolling along with camp without a couple veteran options on hand. The battles for a couple open starting jobs will get more intense in August, but until then, Lettermen Row is breaking down some key takeaways from spring after Studrawa and a few offensive linemen met with the media on Wednesday.

Paris Johnson-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State offensive lineman Paris Johnson is embracing a role at guard. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Paris Johnson embracing opportunity at guard for Buckeyes

Eventually Paris Johnson will get his shot to fulfill the projected destiny as a superstar tackle. The sophomore knows that’s coming down the road, but he’s not in a hurry to get there if a detour at guard is what’s best for the Buckeyes along the way.

The Buckeyes have two of the best returning tackles in the country returning after Thayer Munford elected to use a bonus year of eligibility and Nicholas Petit-Frere put off the NFL Draft for another year. And even with those seniors around, Ohio State at least considered the possibility that Johnson could unseat them on the edge this spring or in training camp. Instead, Johnson will be the guy to kick inside this year after starting to get reps there during the College Football Playoff and thriving off the bench.

“I’m more than happy to play guard,” Johnson said. “Coach [Ryan] Day said he wanted to have the best five people play, and he saw a fit with me being at guard. I’m more than happy to play that position.

“Being able to get a taste of the action [last year], jumping in there and being able to do was really exciting. It made me look forward to this, because if that’s where the team needs me to be this season, I know I’m able to do it because I’ve shown it.”

Josh Fryar turning heads for Ohio State

The real competition won’t start until the Buckeyes get everybody healthy again on the interior, and the current absences of Harry Miller and Dawand Jones mean no definitive decisions about the starting lineup will be made in spring.

But the fact those reps were suddenly available during these key developmental practices opened up a huge opportunity for Josh Fryar to show what he could do. And after getting a few extended looks in March and April with the first-team offense at left guard, Fryar has put himself squarely in the mix when training camp opens.

“His athleticism is what excited me in his recruitment,” Studrawa said. “He was a basketball player, he’s a guy who is 6-foot-5 but has the ability to bend and play really low. Those two things were what intrigued me about him when we first got him in recruiting, and it’s only gotten better through training with [strength coach] Mick [Marotti]. Now he’s getting stronger, he’s got a little edge to him and he’s a guy who has some grit. He’s got some toughness, and he shows up every day.

“He’s learning, putting things together and he’s got some grit. I like that, and that’s what has got him going.”

Harry Miller-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State center Harry Miller will not have contact in spring practice. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Harry Miller ‘absolutely’ projected as Ohio State starter

Another lost spring isn’t going to be a deal-breaker for Harry Miller.

Certainly the Buckeyes would have preferred to have him healthy as he transitions to the middle as the likely starting center, particularly since that move can require time and reps to get comfortable snapping the football. But with a year of experience under his belt at guard and what should be a clean bill of health this summer, Miller has more than enough time to stake his claim to that critical role up front for the Buckeyes — who still are clearly projecting him as a best-five option.

“Absolutely, there’s no question. I would assume he’s going to be one of the best five,” Studrawa said. “These young guys are getting the reps and getting the work. But when the preseason comes, Harry is going right back into that mix — whether that be at center or at guard. We’re working on the best five, and I would assume [Harry Miller] will be one of them. But we’ll see.”

Luke Wypler pushing for work at center for Buckeyes

Nothing will be guaranteed for Harry Miller when he returns to work, and his spring absence has cracked the door for both Luke Wypler and Matthew Jones at center.

During an open viewing period on Monday, it was Wypler who was lined up with the first-team offense. And coming off his first year in the program, Wypler has made a concerted effort to get as many bonus reps as possible to improve his technique after clearly enhancing himself physically in the weight room as well.

“I know what I’m up against this year,” Wypler said. “With Josh Myers leaving for the NFL Draft and Wyatt Davis leaving for the NFL Draft, there are two open jobs on the offensive line. I want to make sure that I put myself in the best position and be in the best shape and be working on my tools with everything I can possibly do to be the best player I can be.”

Miller will still go into training camp as the odds-on favorite for the job. But Wypler can definitely make it interesting, and if nothing else will provide depth along with Jones and maybe even Jakob James.

“I think it’s going good so far, a lot of guys getting reps,” Studrawa said. “Matt Jones and Luke Wypler are getting the majority of the reps at the center position right now, but Jakob James is getting some too as a young guy. All three of those guys are doing pretty well in there so far and handling things pretty good.”

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