When Ohio State signed Paris Johnson as part of their 2020 recruiting class, it was pretty understood that they had just landed their future left tackle.
Johnson was the top-rated offensive tackle in the nation and when he got to campus he was immediately thrown into a competition for the open starting job at right tackle with Nicholas Petit-Frere, who himself was the top-rated tackle in the 2018 recruiting class.
Petit-Frere eventually won the job, but Johnson became a key part of the Buckeyes’ depth up front. Most of Johnson’s time came via special teams, but he did get his most action in the playoffs, and it wasn’t where he was expecting. Having not actually seen time on the offensive line since the Rutgers game nearly two months earlier, Johnson got time in the Clemson game and then again against Alabama. Those snaps surprisingly came at guard, and they are now paying dividends.
“Those reps were really valuable. I would say in those moments, I was just really excited to be out there and playing,” Johnson said. “And I would say in those moments of me being at guard in the playoffs, that it really allowed me to get a taste of the action from a different position that I guess I wasn’t really expecting. So me jumping in there and doing it and being able to do it, it was really exciting. So it made me look forward to if that’s where the team needs me to be at this season, I know I’m able to do it because I’ve shown I’m able to do that job.”
It was expected that last year would be Johnson’s last time at guard and that he would take the reins from left tackle Thayer Munford this year. Instead, Munford chose to use the NCAA’s free year and come back for his fourth go-round as a Buckeye starter.
Munford’s return was welcomed by fans, head coach Ryan Day and his staff, and the rest of the Buckeye football team, but it wasn’t exactly how Johnson had foreseen things when he chose Ohio State.
“Oh, yes, when I first was recruited here, I definitely took a look at the depth chart, and I sort of made some assumptions,” he said. “And I saw that by my sophomore year there would be a spot at tackle. But with everything that’s happened, I’m more than happy to play guard because coach Day said he wanted to have the best five people play and he saw fit with me at being at guard, and I’m more than happy to play that position.”
While there is still a long way to go until the season starts, Paris Johnson is expected to be in the Buckeyes’ starting lineup at guard. He is currently working on the right side and trying to build the same kind of rapport with Petit-Frere that All-American Wyatt Davis had a year ago. That will come in time, and Johnson is more than willing to put the work in.
Still, there is a transition. Even though he is just a sophomore, Johnson has been a tackle for a long, long time, so this is a pretty new situation for him. In attempting to master his new position, he’s bringing in what has worked from his tackle days, while also working on the techniques and fundamentals needed now on the inside.
“I think the biggest thing is, I feel like when you’re a tackle, you’re usually on an island. So you’re working by yourself, or you might have some help from your guard, depending on where the ball is cutting, but a lot of times you’re by yourself,” he explained. “So now at guard, you’re always helping your center. You’re always helping the tackle. So I feel like it’s sort of switching a mindset. You can’t have a tackle mindset at guard. But I’ve learned to take I would say, the abilities that I’ve learned at tackle as far as being able to read linebackers and safeties and corners, I’ve definitely tried to utilize that at guard. So I’m able to see the bigger picture. So I would say that’s definitely helped.”
The talent is certainly there for Johnson, but just as importantly is the willingness. As Ryan Day has said in the past, if a player isn’t in favor of a position move, it’s not going to work out. Johnson doesn’t see a position move as a setback, he sees it as an opportunity, and that attitude is only going to bode well for the Ohio State offense — and poorly for any opposing defense.