The Buckeyes are now under four weeks away from the start of spring practice, and one of the things that the Ohio State coaches will attempt to figure over the course of those 15 practices is who will be starting at offensive tackle.
Offensive line coach Justin Frye has the unenviable task of building an offensive like that has lost both of its starting tackles from the year before. All-Big Ten tackles Paris Johnson and Dawand Jones are both off to the NFL, and Frye now turns to anybody who remains.
There was some thought that starting left guard Donovan Jackson could slide outside to left tackle, but head coach Ryan Day said recently that Jackson is going to remain at guard. Given the inexperience returning on the offensive line, this could be seen as a positive sign for the situation at tackle.
Fourth-year junior Josh Fryar was the No. 2 right tackle last year, and is a safe bet to start this year. Zen Michalski was Johnson’s backup last year at left tackle as a redshirt freshman. George Fitzpatrick is another promising option who redshirted last year as a true freshman. Tegra Tshabola played in four games at guard last year as a true freshman, but has moved to tackle to contend for a starting job this year.
The Buckeyes have also signed a pair of tackles in the 2023 recruiting class, and also grabbed former Louisiana-Monroe starting left tackle Victor Cutler out of the transfer portal. Cutler is currently projected to play center for the Buckeyes, but they won’t ignore any possibilities.
“Yeah, it’s a good chance for all those young guys,” Frye said of spring ball. “We got Josh, who has played a little bit. Zen has played some sparingly a little bit. And then you look at George, and you look at the new guys coming in. You get a chance for a lot of these young guys to go operate at the tackle position to see what happens.”
There are plenty of unknowns, but the good news for Frye is that those unknowns are going to dissipate with each of the 15 practices this spring.
“I’m just excited to see what happens in the competition,” he said. “You’re sitting there behind an incumbent guy, or I’m behind Paris Johnson, I’m fighting my butt off, I’m training because my number could be called at some point, an injury or whatever. Well, now Paris is no longer there. Now it’s go time.”
Along with finding out who can play, Frye will need to figure who where they can play. Some guys are better on the right side. Some are better on the left side. Then you have the case of Josh Fryar, who is the most experienced of the tackles, but his experience is almost exclusively on the right side. What is he like as a left tackle? That’s what spring is for, according to Frye.
“You’ve got to see how guys function that way,” he said. “I mean, some guys are right brain and left brain, some guys are left brain, some guys are internal guys who can play guards and both sides. That’s just a feel thing right now. So we’ll figure that out. But we’re gonna play our five best, or six best.”
Fryar was one of those six best a year ago, coming in as an extra tight end in short-yardage situations. But he also did well as a spot starter. He will be one of a handful of players competing for a starting spot, even if Frye doesn’t know what that spot will be just yet.
“At the end of the year at some point last year, Josh was playing tight end,” Frye explained. “So he’s in a left-handed stance one play, right-handed stance the next play. Those are all things that we’ve got to figure out through the spring, and we will. I’m not dodging the question, I just don’t know right now, other than I’m excited to see who steps up and who fights and battles.”