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Five Questions as Buckeyes continue building talented, deep offensive line unit

Spencer Holbrook06/20/22
Luke Wypler by Birm -- Lettermen Row
Luke Wypler will help lead Ohio State on the offensive line. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

The summer offseason is in full swing, and Lettermen Row is trying to survive it with our annual Position Week breakdowns. By the time all nine units and coaching staff at Ohio State have been covered, training camp and media days will nearly have arrived, and the return of football in the Horseshoe will be just around the corner. Our positional weeks roll along with the talented Buckeyes offensive line unit.

COLUMBUS — Ohio State was good enough on the offensive line last year.

But good enough, well, isn’t good enough, especially when competing for national titles.

Ryan Day and his staff want to win championships, not Rose Bowls. They want to be the country’s best offense, which needs to feature a dominant rushing attack. They simply didn’t have that a year ago. So after an 11-2 season and a Rose Bowl win, Day decided to make a change from offensive line coach Greg Studrawa to newcomer Justin Frye.

Day knows they need to be better up front. Frye understands his assignment, too.

“He wanted me to come in and maximize the guys, maximize the room,” Frye said when he was introduced this winter. “I mean, there was not one specifics of a scheme or any of those things. Because when you come in like that, your job as a position coach is first and foremost to develop and maximize your room. And so that’s what he knows that he’s getting with me. And that’s why he brought me here.

“That’s what I need to do is just make sure we’re just enhancing these guys tool sets and playing at a high level when we need to.”

The Buckeyes are fully loaded with one of the best starting lineups in the country. But the depth behind the first unit is shaky, to say the least. That’s where the breakdown begins as Lettermen Row is kicking off the fifth positional week of the summer with Five Questions for the offensive line.

How good can Paris Johnson be at left tackle?

The hype surrounding Paris Johnson has been building since he committed to Ohio State as the top-ranked tackle in the 2020 recruiting class. It hasn’t slowed down, even as he enters his third season with the Buckeyes with no career starts at tackle. Johnson earned experience and showed versatility as an interior guard for Greg Studrawa’s offensive line a year ago. Now he finally has a chance to kick outside and become the first-round pick at tackle that he wants to be. Johnson will play left tackle for Ryan Day and the Buckeyes, tasked with protecting the blindside of a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback. If he can do that at a high level, expect Johnson to hear his name called early in the NFL Draft next spring. That has always been the expectation for him. He now has a chance to live up to it a few years into his Buckeyes career.

Can Buckeyes be better on interior of offensive line this season?

The experiment of having a pair of tackles playing guard a year ago didn’t quite pan out for the Buckeyes offensive line. Thayer Munford and Paris Johnson weren’t bad, but Ohio State certainly could have been better on the interior. With Johnson sliding out to his natural position at left tackle and Munford gone to the NFL, Ohio State will call on the experience of Matthew Jones and the ultra-high ceiling of Donovan Jackson to build a dominant offensive line. Jones has plenty of game experience from years of being the key fill-in starter from the bench. Jackson was a five-star who is already turning heads as a starter this offseason. With Luke Wypler as the second-year starting center, the interior of the Ohio State offensive line can take a major step forward — and potentially be one of the best units in the country.

Will Dawand Jones take another step forward?

Dawand Jones wasn’t originally in the starting lineup at this time last season. But a shuffle at offensive line in training camp before the season was mostly induced by Jones’ performance on the field. Jones was one of only two Big Ten offensive linemen with a run-blocking grade of at least 90 last year, and he had good moments in pass-blocking. But that’s where he needs to be better at times. Jones can become better at pass-blocking on the edge, and if he does, he’ll have a chance to be an All-Big Ten performer at right tackle for the Buckeyes. Paris Johnson will receive a lot of the attention on the outside at Ohio State, but Jones has a massive chance to get better this fall and become everything the Buckeyes need him to be.

Who can Ohio State rely on as key backup options?

The starting five already appears to be set for Ohio State. And it could be one of the best starting fives in the Big Ten and around the country. But behind the already-set starters? It’s a cloudy picture. Coach Ryan Day repeated the idea that Ohio State needs to solve its depth issues up front, especially since it was missing a key reserve during the spring. Can Josh Fryar and Enokk Vimahi become the next two in line if an injury occurs on the offensive line? Beyond those two, there weren’t many standouts in the spring. The Buckeyes need steps forward from Jakob James, Trey Leroux, Grant Toutant, Ben Christman, Zen Michalski and other young, developing offensive linemen. If they don’t get that, they’ll have depth issues this fall.

How will Justin Frye fill out first Buckeyes recruiting class?

The Buckeyes already have three offensive linemen committed in the class of 2023, and they’re all from the state of Ohio. Luke MontgomeryAustin Siereveld and Josh Padilla are already in the fold, but all three may be guards at the next level. That’s where the Buckeyes offensive line recruiting gets interesting in this cycle. Ohio State has hosted a pair of tackles during the last two official visit weekends, bringing in three-star offensive tackle Miles Walker and DeMatha Catholic’s (Hyattsville, Maryland) Oluwatosin Babalade in back-to-back weekends this month. The Buckeyes will host top tackle target Olaus Alinen, a four-star from Windsor, Connecticut this upcoming weekend. All three will have seen what Justin Frye and the Buckeyes can offer by the end of the month. And from there, Ohio State can evaluate where it stands with the tackle targets on the board — and figure out who might be the next big tackle on the Buckeyes roster.