Paris Johnson is no longer Ohio State’s left tackle of the future. After taking a side quest to right guard last year as a true sophomore, Johnson is now the Buckeyes’ left tackle of the present.
It has been three years in the making, but the former five-star prospect is now where he was always supposed to be.
So how’s it going for him this spring?
“I’m enjoying it,” he said recently.
Johnson is hardly the first offensive lineman to move around throughout his career. Even though left tackle was always the endgame, the depth at the position made it so that Johnson had to wait his turn.
He moved to right guard last year because that’s what the team needed from him. Now that he’s back where he was always destined to be, he’s had to make a few adjustments from his former life as a guard.
“I would say the biggest switch was not physical,” Johnson explained. “I would say it was mental, because in order for me to be a great guard I had to think like a great guard. And I couldn’t think like, ‘I’m a tackle but I’m playing guard,’ you know what I mean? You’re not gonna be able to compete. Versus I had to think, ‘I’m a guard now,’ you know? So now I guess I’m taking my mindset back to where I’m at right now.”
Johnson doesn’t think about being a guard anymore. That’s no longer where his mindset is. Just like last year, he couldn’t think about not being a tackle. If an offensive lineman is not fully immersed with what he is doing, he will eventually be fully immersed with the bench.
Even late last year when he knew his guard days were numbered, he remained steadfast.
“I never kept the tackle mindset in the back of my mind,” he said. “I was always ‘I’m a guard, I’m a guard, I’m a guard.’ And then even when the Rose Bowl came around, ‘I’m a guard, I’m a guard.’ Not, ‘Ooh, tackle is right around the corner,’ because that’s when you start to slip up. I had to fully be a part of that identity. I was still in that guard mindset until I was told ‘Paris, you’re moving back to tackle.’ I was like, ‘Alright, cool.’ Switch gears, ‘Tackle!'”
The change in mentality will still need to be met with a change in physicality, of course. A guard and a tackle may only be separated by a couple of feet, but they can be miles apart when it comes to job descriptions.
At guard last year, Johnson had a teammate on either side of him to make him stronger or more difficult to get around. At tackle, however, that luxury is rarely there, unless the tight end is on the same side and staying in to pass block. If it were up to Johnson, however, that’s one luxury he’d rather not partake in.
“It doesn’t feel the same way when you have a tight end with you,” he admitted. “At least to me internally, the intrinsic value of a successful pass play with a tight end chip or something, it just doesn’t feel the same. You know what I mean? So honestly, [I like] the plays where there’s no tight end that’s chipping — because that’s more work for me. If [chipping] is a scheme that we have in the game on Saturday, okay, that’s cool. But with me being able to go from being in that box when I was at guard to being back out in space, I value the reps that I get just one-on-one in space.”
Johnson may now be out on the island that he’s always wanted, but in order to operate as well as he’d like, there’s still a process to undergo. It requires constant work on the field, in the weight room, and in the film room with offensive line coach Justin Frye and others.
In order to maximize his goals, he has been meticulous in how to get there. He has a long list of things that he wants to accomplish in preparation for that first start at left tackle. As the saying goes, it’s a marathon and not a sprint, and Johnson is using each practice from now until September to check every box on his list.
“It’s just a list that I have to myself,” he said. “And then that’s my mindset I go into each practice with, and when I feel like I’m not hitting on that goal, then I talk to Coach Frye about it. And then we talk to them and talk about it. And now he knows that’s where my mindset is. I haven’t gone in and listed every single thing, but once something is like ‘I’m not hitting that exactly how I want to,’ then I bounce it off of him and he’ll take care of it.”