COLUMBUS, Ohio — Preparations for Ohio State’s 2023 football season officially got underway Tuesday as the Buckeyes hit the practice field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for the first of 15 spring practices that will culminate in next month’s Spring Game.
Ohio State is set to return seven offensive starters and six defensive starters from last year’s team that finished 11-2 and came agonizingly close to knocking off eventual national champion Georgia in a College Football Playoff semifinal matchup. Still, despite the returning talent, Ohio State is not without plenty of questions that will need to start being answered in the coming weeks and months in hopes of returning to the Big Ten Championship Game for the first time since 2020.
Following Tuesday’s practice, head coach Ryan Day met with the media to recap the day and size up his roster as it currently stands entering March.
“I think when you look at our depth at running back and receiver, I think it’s pretty strong there,” Day said when asked about his confidence level at each position. “At tight end, we’re building that depth, so I feel pretty good about that. This is the first time that we’ve had three quarterbacks, and we’ll have a fourth one coming in this summer. It’s been a while since we’ve had that many quarterbacks on scholarship, so that’s good. Offensive line is certainly an area where we have some guys we have to replace and build that depth, so that’s an area we have to focus on.
“On defense, up front, I feel good about the first group and a half. I think we have to keep building the twos and threes, but we have some good, young players there. Linebacker, it’s the same thing. I feel good about the first three or four guys and then we gotta keep building the depth there. Safety is something where we brought (Syracuse transfer) Ja’Had (Carter) in, we brought (Ole Miss transfer) Davison (Igbinosun) in at corner, so that helped that depth. But I think we’ll get a better feel for where everybody’s at going into this year probably by the time we get back from spring break and get to that first scrimmage on that Saturday (March 25).”
Offensively, all eyes figure to be on the quarterback battle between Kyle McCord and Devin Brown as the two compete to fill the sizable void left behind by C.J. Stroud. Perhaps even more importantly, however, is how Ohio State figures to go about replacing three starters on the offensive line, including both tackles and its center. Tuesday’s brief media viewing window in practice offered at least some insight into how the battles at those positions are beginning to take shape.
Fourth-year lineman Josh Fryar will be first in line to start at left tackle after making his lone start last season at right tackle in the absence of Dawand Jones. Day said the coaching staff felt that Fryar had enough experience to move him to left tackle, a move with which Fryar was comfortable, Day added.
With Fryar likely occupying the left tackle spot, Day said Tegra Tshabola and Zen Michalski will both compete to start at right tackle after both played elsewhere on the line a season ago. Tshabola lined up at right guard last season, while Michalski was a depth lineman behind Paris Johnson Jr. at left tackle.
Day said there was considerable discussion about whether or not the position changes were the right move, but after landing on Fryar’s move to left tackle, the staff felt it best to allow Tshabola and Michalski to compete for the other tackle position.
At center, Carson Hinzman and Louisiana-Monroe transfer Victor Cutler Jr. will split reps this spring to decide who replaces two-year starter Luke Wypler.
Of course, with players not wearing pads for the first two days of practice, Day noted there is only so much that can be evaluated at the moment. However, he added that moving forward, coaches will get to see how capable each of those players are in starting at Ohio State given the talent they’ll be lining up against all spring.
“It’s the first day, so it’s kind of hard to tell, but I don’t think anybody looked out of place,” Day said. “And they’re going against a good front with J.T. (Tuimoloau), Jack (Sawyer), Tyleik (Williams), and Ty (Hamilton), so we’re going to get a great evaluation as we go through 15 practices.”
One name Day didn’t mention in the group of standouts returning along Ohio State’s defensive line was sophomore Caden Curry, who made the most of his opportunities in a reserve role as a true freshman last season. Day said Curry was a playmaker last preseason and through the first quarter of the season before his production “leveled off as the season went on,” suggesting consistency is the only thing standing in Curry’s way of breaking into the rotation.
“We talked to him about that, (defensive line) coach (Larry Johnson) talked to him about that, and then he’s really picked it up this offseason,” Day said. “I think we’ll probably have a better feel for that as we get through the spring on where we want to utilize him, but he has to reestablish himself in that area because he does have the ability. He has a high motor, makes plays, and he’s just a football player. He’s done a good job with his body, and I think heading into year two, he’s going to make a push here.”
Ohio State will return to the practice field on Thursday morning for practice number two of the spring.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.