The offensive tackle situation at Ohio State has been rather interesting over the last year or so.
Last season, the Buckeyes had both of their starting tackles from 2020 returning. Left tackle Thayer Munford and right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere were arguably the best duo in the nation. During fall camp, however, the world’s largest wrench was thrown into the mix when Dawand Jones was put at right tackle, Petit-Frere went to left tackle, and Munford went to left guard.
The move was made in order to get the five best offensive linemen on the field, which is also why former five-star left tackle Paris Johnson was starting at right guard as a sophomore.
Fast-forward back to the present and things are once again worth watching at tackle for the Buckeyes. Paris Johnson has now finally moved to left tackle, and Dawand Jones returns as a starter at the same position he played a year ago.
Neither player is a finished product, of course. New Ohio State offensive line coach Justin Frye has now spent the last five months with the both of them, trying to maximize their considerable potentials.
As to where Johnson and Jones made their largest strides in spring ball, Frye cited the mental side of things.
“Just understanding the inner workings of the game,” he said. “The tackle position, Dawand has taken a lot of reps, Paris is moving back out there. Just the understanding of when I have help, when I don’t have help. From one slide side versus man side, what can I do cutting my splits, doing some things. I think the inner workings and tools of the game really, those guys started to gravitate and grab on to like, ‘Oh, this is the play where I can do this and this will help me.’ So that eliminates and trims some of the fat in the plays as you go.”
Working on the nuances can also be considered finishing touches, which is where both players are in their respective careers. Jones could have left for the NFL after last year and let the chips fall where they did. Instead, he bet on himself to have an even better hand this year. At 6-foot-8 and 360 pounds, Jones is impossible to miss. There will be a lot of NFL eyes on him, and he won’t be alone because Johnson is already popping up in the top 10 of mock drafts for 2023. He has the size and athleticism that left tackle requires, but now it’s time to put the proof out there for all to see.
“He’s a highly skilled guy,” Frye said of Johnson. “He’s going to blow the Combine out of the water. He’s gonna test well, he’s going to jump well, he’s going to do the interview phase well. I mean, this a high-level player, we just have to get him there to play that. Because ultimately, that’s what you’ve got to do. When you press play, you gotta play like a first-round draft pick. So yeah, all these guys respond to that.”
Even though Johnson is only a true junior, people look at his recruiting rankings and his considerable potential and assume this will be his last year at Ohio State. It very well may be, but the last Buckeye offensive linemen who left after his true junior season and was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft was Orlando Pace in 1997. It’s just not easy to do.
Likewise, Jones could come back in 2023 thanks to the COVID year, but most expect this to be his last season with the Buckeyes.
If each player focuses on simply becoming the best version of himself, the draft will be a tremendous byproduct. But could it create a different level of pressure for the players? Even if it does, Frye doesn’t see it becoming a distraction because both Jones and Johnson have been extremely focused to this point.
“Personally, I wouldn’t know [if it creates extra pressure],” Frye chuckled as he shared experiences from his own playing days. “I was always that guy who was, ‘Eh, he’s a starter, he played a lot of games. He’s tough.’ You know, all those adjectives. ‘He’s a tough guy. He’s a great kid. He’s a smart football player,’ which just means you’re just not good enough. So I never had that problem.
“I would assume so, but Paris and Dawand, all those guys that are coming into the back end of their career now and start seeing the stuff. They’re locked in. I get videos and calls from Dawand at home right now and he’s on his break, like ‘Coach, I’m doing this set. Is this good?’ They’re just workers. They just want to be great. So, you know, whatever you guys write, whatever’s on the TV, yeah that’s out there. You can’t say ‘oh, they don’t see it.’ But I just have a good feel with these guys right now. They just want to work and be their best. Whatever happens is supposed to happen.”