Tristan Gebbia Josh Proctor Buckeyes

Ohio State Football Notebook: ‘You’ve got to bring it every day’

Left In Good Hands

Replacing Paris Johnson is not going to be easy. As a junior last year for the Buckeyes, Johnson earned Consensus All-American honors and was selected sixth overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2023 NFL Draft. It was the highest an Ohio State offensive lineman has been drafted since Orlando Pace went No. 1 overall in the 1997 NFL Draft.

Ohio State offensive line coach Justin Frye has turned to fourth-year junior Josh Fryar to replace Johnson. Fryar has played all over the line for the Buckeyes and been solid wherever he has been placed. Last year he played right tackle and was also used as an extra tight end.

The versatility is an example of Fryar’s athleticism and mobility, which is a requirement for any quality left tackle. The performances last year, this winter, and this past spring leave Frye confident that Fryar will be able to answer the call this season.

“Very. He’s training his butt off right now,” he said. “Spring was good for him to find some kinks in the hose that he needs to maybe undo. And then also some other stuff that he did well. It’s like, ‘Well, I gotta keep supplementing this.’ So he’s one of the leaders in the squads right now again, voted by his teammates, so he’s doing all the right stuff right now. We’re gonna have 20-, 30-some practices in the fall, then you got game week leading up to Indiana, so we’ve got a lot of ball ahead of us.”

Premium Insurance

The Buckeyes don’t normally go overboard when reaching into the transfer portal. Some schools treat it like a shopping spree gameshow, but the Buckeyes prefer to peruse — and while doing so maybe get some sticker shock every now and again.

This being the new age of college football, however, the portal is becoming a more and more important tool for not just improving a team, but insuring it against the unforeseen. It’s also a way to build experienced depth that could be ready to play immediately.

When the Ohio State coaches and personnel department looked at the roster after the season, defensive line coach Larry Johnson saw a need a defensive tackle.

“You always want to protect because of injury, right? You always want to make sure you have enough depth going through the season,” Johnson said recently. “We felt that we might want to go and take a look at a guy that we might need down the stretch in case something happens. The interior guys are the guys that really get banged a lot. And so just having a little bit of depth, rather than put in a true freshman right off the bat. To have an experienced guy — who knows, a true freshman may win the job, I don’t know that yet — but it was a chance for us to grab some depth out of the portal.”

The eventually zeroed in on former Ole Miss tackle Tywone Malone, who Johnson recruited in the class of 2021.

Malone was a four-star prospect out of New Jersey who ultimately chose Ole Miss over Ohio State because he also wanted to play baseball in college. After only playing in a handful of games on the baseball team over his first two years, Malone entered the portal this past spring with the renewed desire to focus solely on football.

When Johnson saw Malone in the portal, he saw a player that he was already very familiar with, and one who was going to be hungry to learn.

“We felt like it was someone we knew. That was the first thing,” Johnson said. “We weren’t strangers to him. We knew he could fit our culture. That was a key because you want to make sure you put the right guys in the room. And we felt like he met all those criteria and it was good chance to get him. It was a good get for us.”

No Magic Numbers

Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has said in the past that his system is a “safety-driven defense,” and this year’s Buckeye defense will have four safeties with starting experience.

This spring, the first-team was generally managed by senior Lathan Ransom at strong safety, sixth-year senior Josh Proctor at free safety, and fourth-year junior Cameron Martinez at nickel. All three have starting experience. The Buckeyes also added Ja’Had Carter out of the portal from Syracuse. Carter was a three-year starter for the Orange, and he spent the spring as the No. 2 nickel before suffering an injury during camp. The injury was relatively minor, and he is still very much expected to contend for a starting job in fall camp.

The list of starters, however, does not include true sophomores Sonny Styles and Kye Stokes, both of whom had their moments as freshmen. Knowles even went into the spring looking to put Styles through a series of “experiments” so that he and safeties coach Perry Eliano could gain a better understanding of everything he can do. And what they learned was that he can do quite a lot.

Fourth-year junior Kourt Williams is also returning from injury and could be a factor in Knowles’ hybridized defense as well. The names are plentiful, but so are the opportunities, and Eliano isn’t keeping secrets on how to make it happen.

“You earn the right to play,” Eliano said. “You earn the right to start. If you’re doing the necessary things that we’re asking you to do on a day in and day out basis, then then you’re gonna get your just due. And so I don’t have a magic number, or ‘it’s got to be this.’ I don’t want to put myself into a corner where that’s it.

“It’s up to the players, and they know that it’s fair game. It’s about competition. And the beauty of it once again is we have the numbers to where you’ve got to come bring it. You’ve got to bring it every day, whether you’re in a weight room, whether it’s nutrition, whether it’s academics, whatever. You’ve got to bring it every day. So that’s the cool thing. And that’s what I’m excited about this summer going into fall camp.”

Inniss In Early

Freshman Brandon Inniss was the only first-year receiver for the Buckeyes this year who didn’t enroll early. Carnell Tate, Noah Rogers, and Bryson Rodgers all took part in winter conditioning and spring football, and they each made significant strides.

Inniss — the highest-rated of the four receiver recruits — may not have enrolled early, but he did get to campus about a month before the rest of the summer enrollees. Even that little bit of extra time has proved to be a positive for him, according to OSU offensive coordinator Brian Hartline.

“Yeah, I think it’s helped him a lot, getting indoctrinated into how we do things and what we do,” he said. “I think his body’s already starting to change a little bit. He’s mentioned to me he already feels a little stronger. And so any time you can get on campus and get rolling with how it’s going to go, it’s going to help you. That first month can be a lot of things happening. To do it a month earlier than would have happened, quote unquote, is a huge bonus.”

Go to discussion...