CHICAGO – One of the major reasons two-time defending Big Ten champion Ohio State has taken a back seat to Michigan in this preseason’s league championship prognostications is due to the many question marks on offense.
But while it’s natural for most folks want to focus on the quarterback situation, where transfer and former five-star prospect Justin Fields appears to be the heir apparent to Big Ten passing record-setter Dwayne Haskins, arguably just as important is the quandary over the makeup of the starting offensive line.
The lone returning starter is left tackle Thayer Munford, who missed the Rose Bowl (and subsequently spring drills) due to injury while Joshua Alabi ably filled his spot in the win over Washington. But the last couple of days here at the annual Big Ten preseason media soiree, new coach Ryan Day made it clear that Munford’s starting job is the only one on the front that’s sure as the Buckeyes head toward the Aug. 2 start to preseason camp.
Not that Day was singing the blues about the line situation, because he sees it as questions with multiple choice answers for the first time in many years.
“Up front, that’s a battle, because we have a bunch of guys who can play,” Day said. “Finding that out in August is going to be fun to watch.”
Branden Bowen, Jonah Jackson and Gavin Cupp at left guard, Josh Myers and freshman Harry Miller at center, Wyatt Davis and Matt Jones, at right guard, and perhaps Alabi, Nicholas Petit-Frere and Max Wray at right tackle are some of the possibilities.
Jobs are up for grabs, “because Wyatt played good down the stretch, but he still has to win that job,”
Day said of the former five-star prospect. “And there’s a bunch of guys vying for the right tackle and the center and left guard positions.”
Some made strong impressions in the spring and the workouts since then, said Ohio State defensive end Jonathon Cooper, one of the players who represented the Buckeyes here the past two days.
“Josh Myers has caught my eye,” Cooper said. “He’s matured. He’s a really strong guy. And he goes extremely hard.”
In other words, he thinks the former guard and five-star prospect has what it takes to replace Michael Jordan, now in the NFL.
Another rising former five-star prospect is Petit-Frere, who showed up last year on the light side at 268 pounds, but otherwise appeared to be gifted with what it takes to play major college tackle.
“He’s grown a lot,” Cooper said. “He’s grown from a guy who was just learning to a guy who became a really solid tackle.
“I’m proud of him. He put more weight on [up to about 295 pounds]. He’s gotten stronger, gotten bigger. His technique is better.”
But is he capable of earning that starting job?
“I feel like there’s no reason why he shouldn’t,” Cooper said. “He’s talented. He goes hard.
“But I mean, a lot of guys on our offensive line are talented and go hard. He’s going to have to earn his spot.”
The chance to claim them is coming up quickly.