COLUMBUS — Had the late, great poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow instead been a 21st century sportswriter, he might have used the following words to describe what goes on within the realm of the big fellows in the Ohio State football program.
“Under the spreading Buckeye tree, the linemen smithy stands.”
Yeah, that’s a bit of an abuse of poetic license. But remember what former Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker – his skills honed in battles with defensive end Joey Bosa five or so years ago before both became first-round NFL draft picks – said about the forge that was the daily battles in offseason workouts and in-season practices.
“Iron sharpens iron,” Decker said.
With that in mind, incoming five-star offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. told reporters the other day he embraces the idea of that grind. It’s one of the factors that saw the blue chipper from Cincinnati’s Princeton High School hold strong to the commitment he made to sign with Ohio State, even as the program transitioned from head coach Urban Meyer to Ryan Day from 2018 to 2019, thus making Johnson one of the crown jewels of Day’s first full recruiting class of 2020.
It also helps explain why Johnson opted to be one of the Ohio State-record 14 early enrollees from that class who started school in January and are taking part in winter workouts.
“That’s another big reason I came here, because I feel like me just doing work against high school offensive linemen, I’m not going to get the same look that I’m going to get here,” Johnson said. “Going against a Tyreke Smith, going against Tyler Friday, going against Zach Harrison and all these other guys, I feel like that’s going to be the best development that I can get.”
The three fellows he named are some the defensive ends returning from the three-straight Big Ten championship team whose lone major departure from the group is expected-top-three NFL draft pick Chase Young. Also returning is ringleader Jonathon Cooper, who sat out almost all of last year due to a severe high-ankle sprain.
“That’s some of the top defensive ends in the country,” Johnson said. “So if I put up good reps against them, you know, that’s going to improve my stock in playing early. It’s going to improve my ability.”
Make no mistake, he does have designs to further sharpen and make a bid for a starting job early on the offensive line. That’s even if history shows that in the last 25 years only two fellows have managed that feat at Ohio State: In 1994, Orlando Pace, now a member of the college and pro football halls of fame; and in 2016, Michael Jordan, now a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Before I can think about what I can do in the future to prove it, these workouts right now [directed primarily by football performance coordinator Mickey Marotti will prove]: ‘Can we trust Paris to be on our line as a freshman?’” Johnson said. “So right now I’m trying my best to put on a show that you can put Paris in the competition to start.”