COLUMBUS — Ohio State isn’t ever going to be bashful about the expectations.
The Buckeyes expect to have the best offensive line in America. The pieces are in place for that.
The competition is supposed to be the most fierce in the country. This spring should be a prime example of it.
And even when it comes to individuals, Ohio State isn’t afraid to talk about winning the top trophies in the sport — even when it comes to a guy who hasn’t ever started a game yet for the program. Paris Johnson is the focus of all three of those conversations, putting a ton of pressure on some shoulders that sure look capable of handling it all.
“Paris would be a starting offensive tackle at 99 percent of the universities in the country this season,” former Ohio State center Josh Myers said late in the season. ” … I don’t know if I should say this or not because it’s pretty early on in Paris’ career — but in my personal opinion, if Paris isn’t an Outland Trophy winner before he leaves here then he’s screwed something up, because he should be by the time he leaves. In my opinion, he’s that talented.
” … [Last season] was a great year for him to just continue to get better, and he has just all year. He’s gone hard, and he’s been committed to getting better.”
The Buckeyes still might not have room for him at tackle this year, which perfectly sums up just how much depth, high-end talent and versatility the program has amassed on the offensive line. When a potential Outland Trophy winner is battling for his first starting gig at guard, that should be a scary thought for the rest of the Big Ten. Heading into camp this month, though, that’s the situation for Ohio State and where the latest Spring Forecast starts for Lettermen Row.
The Stakes: Ohio State loses two stars, still expected to dominate
A pair of captains and NFL Draft picks are heading out the door: One was named to the Big Ten’s All-Decade team and the other was the anchor of the offense at center. Few programs anywhere would be talking about being able to potentially fill that void and improve, but that’s the conversation for the Buckeyes with five-star talent waiting in the wings to take over for both Wyatt Davis and Josh Myers.
Those departures are still significant, even for a unit that has some ready-made options on hand. Davis was an absolute mauler and one of the finest overall guards Ohio State has ever had. Myers was somehow under-rated nationally during his two seasons as the apex of the attack, because he had a legitimate claim to the Rimington Trophy during both years. So, it’s worth a reminder that nothing is guaranteed until it’s proven on the field — and those two guys were proven stars.
The Candidates: Buckeyes have options to weigh on inside
Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere already made a case as the best tackle tandem in the country last season. Munford finally was able to get healthy and was a rock on the left side while Petit-Frere grew into his five-star potential on the right side to give Ohio State just about everything it could ask for at the position. It was certainly a pleasant surprise for the Buckeyes that both elected to return for another season, and that has given the unit a talent surplus that will likely spill over to guard.
If the need arises, Paris Johnson will undoubtedly be next in line at tackle. But he’s far too talented to just sit and wait his turn, so he’s close to a lock to take over one of the guard spots this spring with Harry Miller sliding over to center. That creates a brutally-competitive battle for the last opening up front, with Matthew Jones, Dawand Jones, Enokk Vimahi and Luke Wypler all pushing for a shot. Both Johnson and Dawand Jones can play on the outside, and both Matthew Jones and Wypler could handle the snapping duties at center. As position coach Greg Studrawa tries to get the best five players on the field, he has no shortage of options or flexibility.
The Forecast: Buckeyes should have lineup settled in spring
Ryan Day prefers not to set any deadlines in spring, preferring to look at practices in March and April as merely the first 15 before picking back up with No. 16 in August. So, the Buckeyes probably won’t be putting out an official depth chart or confirming the lineup on the offensive line any time soon — especially because it also wants to keep promoting open competition for every spot.
But that doesn’t mean the likely rotation won’t start becoming apparent by the middle of next month. The bet here is that Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere will continue to man the edge with Paris Johnson sliding to left guard. With a full offseason to transition to center, former five-star recruit Harry Miller will now have the preparation and training he needs to thrive in the middle. And while the final position is truly up for grabs, Matthew Jones showed he was ready for the responsibility in his two spot starts last season and could have the edge heading into camp — and leaving it.