Next Man Up: How Buckeyes can replace All-American Wyatt Davis up front

Spencer Holbrook4 months
Paris Johnson by Birm-Lettermen Row
Paris Johnson had to step into the lineup in the Sugar Bowl. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State had an incredible season last year on its way to the national title game, where it beat Clemson in the semifinal and fell short against Alabama. Many of the key players from that team moved onto the NFL. Who could step in to make plays similar to what the former Buckeyes made last season? Lettermen Row is breaking down key plays and who could make them. Next up: How the Buckeyes can replace an All-American at right guard along the offensive line.

COLUMBUS — Ohio State has come a long way in two years along the offensive line.

If the Buckeyes were attempting to replace a two-time All-American guard just a few years ago, they might have been in trouble. They were thin enough at guard after the 2018 season to go into the transfer portal, poaching Jonah Jackson from Rutgers and into the starting lineup.

That’s not necessary for Greg Studrawa and the Ohio State offensive line anymore. Replacing a legendary interior offensive lineman such as Wyatt Davis will certainly still provide challenges, but the talent level inside the offensive line room is far ahead of where it was two years ago.

Even with the loss of Davis, Studrawa is excited about his group of linemen ready to lead the charge for one of the country’s best offenses yet again this fall.

Wyatt Davis-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Ohio State is losing a two-time All-American in Wyatt Davis. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“Oh, I couldn’t be more excited,” Studrawa said during the spring. “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.”

Ohio State would love to have Davis returning, but the Buckeyes have talented options to fill the void he left behind for a draft selection to the Minnesota Vikings. Davis won’t be easy to replace, but Lettermen Row is breaking down the options to do it and who could step up to take the place of a two-time All-American for the Buckeyes.

Ohio State options

Paris Johnson Jr.: The second-highest ranked offensive lineman to ever commit to Ohio State, Paris Johnson could start at offensive tackle for nearly every team in the country. But the Buckeyes return their top two tackles from last season with Nicholas Petit-Frere and Thayer Munford back, meaning they don’t have a spot as a bookend for Johnson to become a dominant tackle. The former five-star will happily play guard if that means he’s in the starting lineup. Johnson is too good to keep off the field, and he’ll likely start at guard for a season before moving out to tackle and becoming a star from the outside. The opening at right guard is his job to lose.

Matthew Jones-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Matthew Jones made the most of his opportunity as an Ohio State backup last season. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Matthew Jones: Matthew Jones was the No. 1 center prospect coming out of high school in 2018. He certainly has the talent to win a starting job for the Buckeyes. Last season when the roster was flooded with COVID-19 cases, Jones stepped in and started games in place of Harry Miller at left guard. He has the ability to play anywhere in the interior of the offensive line. He’ll have a hard time showing he’s better-suited than Paris Johnson to start for Ohio State. But he’ll have a chance to prove himself and win a job in camp.

Luke Wypler: A second-year interior guard/center, Luke Wypler has already proven he’s versatile enough to play guard or center, depending on which position he is needed to play. He earned most of the reps at center during spring practice. He’s more likely to win the center or left guard jobs than win the right guard spot.

Josh Fryar-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State offensive lineman Josh Fryar could be making a push. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Josh Fryar: With the injury to Harry Miller, Luke Wypler and Matthew Jones took snaps at center, and Josh Fryar began to see time at left guard. He hasn’t played right guard but if he is one of the best five offensive linemen on the roster, his chance could come on the right side of the interior.

Ben Christman: True freshmen rarely ever become starters during their first fall. Ben Christman enrolled early, giving him valuable reps on the offensive line in the spring, but he needs more development before being considered for a starting role on the Ohio State offensive line.

Donovan Jackson: One of the top-six offensive linemen to ever commit to Ohio State, Donovan Jackson didn’t enroll early and is only arriving on campus now. He is certainly talented enough to push for playing time as a freshman, but the long climb up the depth chart may be too much for Jackson to earn a starting role.

Paris Johnson-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Paris Johnson earned snaps at guard in the national title game. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

The pick: Paris Johnson

While Paris Johnson planned to take over at one of the tackle spots following his freshman season, Thayer Munford decided to return for a fifth Ohio State season. That gives the Buckeyes two of the top returning tackles in the country back for another year, but it also leaves them finding a role for Johnson, who is too talented to be on the bench.

Would Johnson rather be playing tackle than guard? Sure. But he’ll do what’s needed to get on the field.

“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.”

The temporary move to guard — until the 2022 season, when he’ll likely kick back out to tackle — gives Johnson a chance to flash some versatility and learn yet another facet of playing at Ohio State. He has control of the starting right guard slot heading into the summer. Don’t expect him to give it up until next year, either.