With four starters gone from the season-opening offensive line Ohio State rolled out last year, competition along the front is ramping up in camp as jobs are up for grabs.
Thayer Munford returns as a junior after starting 13 games a season ago. Munford missed last year’s Rose Bowl win and then spring practice due to a back injury, but he has been active in practice and is a safe bet to start again at left tackle.
The return of Munford gives offensive line coach Greg Studrawa a solid piece to build on, but past Munford, the list of guys with starts under their belts is short, albeit full of talent.
Wyatt Davis started the Buckeyes’ final two games last season, in the Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl, after Demetrius Knox went down with a foot injury in the closing minutes of their 62-39 romp of Michigan. Prior to being forced into the starting lineup, Davis saw playing time in all 12 games of the regular season.
The top-ranked guard in the 2017 class, according to 247 Sports, Davis is expected to take control of the right guard position ahead of the 2019 season. Studrawa wasn’t shy — but very unique — in praising Davis’ readiness to begin the season as a starter.
“I love the kid,” Studrawa said. “If I had my car parked at night and was walking out of a bar late, I’d be like, ‘Wyatt, are you here?’ And I’d feel comfortable getting to my car. He is a fighter, he is a technician, he is a perfectionist.”
Ohio State turned to the graduate transfer route to further add to the guard depth, landing Jonah Jackson from Rutgers. Jackson was a team captain for the Scarlet Knights last year and started 11 of their 12 games at guard, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.
Jackson is looked at as a “plug and play” player at left guard, providing instant Big Ten experience and, according to Studrawa, a strong example for others to follow.
“You talk about a guy who provides leadership without saying a word,” Studrawa said of Jackson. “He is professional … He doesn’t say a word, he does his job, he goes hard every play he’s in there, and then goes back in and does it again. So, he’s starting to lead by example.”
The center position at Ohio State has become accustomed to high-level production for years, and the Buckeyes will need to break in a new one for the 2019 season. After serving as the backup to Michael Jordan last season, Josh Myers has been practicing with the first team and is in line to start there when the Buckeyes open the season Aug. 31.
Studrawa said Myers is becoming “a great player” and “exactly what I thought he would become.”
Perhaps the lone true battle for a starting position on the offensive line is at right tackle, where redshirt senior Branden Bowen and redshirt freshman Nicholas Petit-Frere are both very much in the mix.
Bowen started six games at guard during the 2017 season before suffering a broken tibia and fibula that ultimately led to three surgeries and cost him all of the 2018 season. Now, Bowen feels he is fully ready to go and is strictly working at tackle as he works to land a starting gig.
Despite his playing time coming at the guard position, Bowen said he feels “more natural” at the tackle position.
Petit-Frere came to Ohio State as the highest-ranked recruit in its 2018 recruiting class and with the hype that is sure to accompany such a ranking. However, Petit-Frere had plenty of work to do in getting his body ready to play major college football, to the tune of a 6,000-calories-per-day diet to get his weight to where the coaching staff expects their tackles to be.
Following Thursday’s practice, Studrawa said Petit-Frere is up to around 295 pounds and has shown considerable growth in the weight room.
Bowen and Petit-Frere are alternating reps with the first-team offense as the competition rolls on.
Joshua Alabi, a redshirt senior, will provide quality depth at tackle. Alabi started in Munford’s absence in the Rose Bowl.
Rotation a possibility
During his opening press conference of preseason camp last Friday, head coach Ryan Day said he felt as good about the offensive line depth as he has since he’s been in Columbus, adding he could rotate or “roll” players throughout the line if enough guys proved ready to play.
Asked Thursday if he felt that could be the case, Studrawa said he believed so and that it is “definitely a possibility.”
Studrawa has been effusive in his praise for the current state of the offensive line unit, calling it the best he’s ever been around, including his seven seasons coaching at LSU. He mentioned true freshman Harry Miller, who was a top prospect in last year’s recruiting class, and guys like Enokk Vimahi and Dewand Jones, both of whom Studrawa said are looking great physically, as big parts of why the depth is so good.
“Those guys I can’t even get in with the twos to get reps right now,” he said. “And then with the guys coming in (with the next recruiting class), I’m so excited about those guys. Yes, it is awesome.”
Studrawa added, “But that’s how it should be. You should have athletic, young cats that are ready to take over … We’re building that depth to be exactly where it should be at Ohio State.”
When asked specifically about Miller and what has allowed him to see time with the twos already, Studrawa said it has everything to do with how advanced Miller is mentally, especially for the center position. “He’s out there making the checks in a blitz pickup period that I don’t think I’ve ever had a freshman do. Ever.”
Myers echoed Studrawa’s praise of Miller’s mental capacity.
“I’ve never seen a young guy pick up on an offense as fast as he has, especially as a center,” Myers said of Miller.
Studrawa said that while there are other guys snapping the football in camp as potential backups should Myers go down, his hope is that Miller will soon be ready to hit the two-deep roster at center.
Today will serve as scrimmage day for the Buckeyes, as position battles will begin to take shape. Day is scheduled to speak with the media following the scrimmage.
Look for further coverage of Ohio State’s 2019 fall camp in upcoming editions of The Gazette.