COLUMBUS — The collective goal of Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa is to get the five best linemen on the field together this fall, and on Tuesday, a glimpse was offered into what that may look like for the 2021 Buckeyes.
In the early periods of Ohio State’s sixth practice of fall camp, all the familiar faces were out there together representing the first unit. However, the positions they were playing caught the attention of the media contingent in attendance.
Super senior Thayer Munford, who rather surprisingly elected to return for one more season this past winter, was not lining up in his customary spot at left tackle. After spending the last three seasons starting at the position, Munford spent the early periods of practice on Tuesday getting his repetitions at left guard.
Munford was joined on the left side by Nicholas Petit-Frere, who started last year at right tackle, and Harry Miller and Paris Johnson Jr. were slotted in at center and right guard, respectively. The four would hardly be a surprise should they take the field together next month, but it’s the man beginning to assert himself at right tackle who is forcing the reshuffling.
Perhaps the biggest surprise —about 360 pounds worth — of the entire camp thus far has been the emergence of Dawand Jones, a 6-foot-8 junior who is forcing the hand of his coaching staff to get him on the field. Jones earned his first and only career start a year ago at Michigan State as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak, but he has also appeared in a total of 17 games since arriving on campus as an unheralded recruit in 2019. His remarkable combination of size and athleticism has always made him a tantalizing possibility in spurts, and it now appears the consistency factor is beginning to catch up as well.
“He’s grown a lot in three years. I think he was a basketball player trying to figure out how to play football,” Day said of Jones on Monday. “I kind of laugh sometimes and say he’s the largest skill player of all time. But he’s done a really good job in the offseason of being serious and coming to work every day, and now in the first five practices, he’s flashed. Several of the offensive linemen have come up to me and said Dawand has done a really good job in his approach.”
“It’s been unbelievable,” Studrawa said of Jones’ development. “It’s like anything else with linemen, it’s maturity. You go through recruiting and you recruit a guy like that, that has the enthusiasm to get where he wants to be, and Dawand has always had that. His athleticism is incredible. His attention to detail and learning football has always been the issue.”
Studrawa alluded to Jones’ high school background as a basketball player, noting it’s taken some time to develop him on the football field in a sport that was never his first love.
“Now, his attention span is different, his attention to detail is different, his want to be great in football is totally different, and there’s the fact that you have a 370-pound man that can move,” Studrawa said. “And when you’re tested against our pass rushers, if you can block them, I don’t think anything during the season is going to be an issue.”
While it remains to be seen if the group that practiced together on Tuesday sticks for the Buckeyes offense, the lineup certainly appears to be more than simply experimentation during the early stages of camp. Asked if moving Munford to guard as part of a lineup including Jones could be something the Buckeyes stick with heading into the season, Studrawa answered emphatically, “Yes, absolutely.” Later asked if the current group would be the starting five if the season were to start this weekend, Studrawa said, “I’d have no problem with it.”
Whichever way the lineup ultimately shakes out, critical opportunities lie ahead this week for players to state their case. Day said on Monday he expects to identify the five best offensive linemen on the roster “probably into the end of this week and maybe early next week.” Studrawa pointed to Saturday’s scrimmage day as being “a big deal” in solidifying what the starting offensive line will look like heading into game preparation.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-414-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.