The Buckeyes head into the 2023 season needing to replace some very talented offensive linemen. Left tackle Paris Johnson was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, center Luke Wypler was a productive and consistent two-year starter, and right tackle Dawand Jones was as solid as any Ohio State right tackle in recent memory.
Ohio State offensive line coach Justin Frye has been tasked with replacing each of them. In the spring, he turned to fourth-year junior Josh Fryar to be the Buckeyes’ left tackle, and redshirt freshman Carson Hinzman got the bulk of the first-team reps at center.
None of the three jobs were necessarily set in stone following spring practice, and that was especially true for the situation at right tackle. That fact was made even more evident when two weeks after camp ended, the Buckeyes went into the transfer portal and landed San Diego State starting right tackle Josh Simmons.
Going into the portal isn’t something the Buckeyes do lightly. They prefer to rely on their recruiting and development. Despite that preference, however, Simmons was the second offensive linemen Ohio State added through the portal this year, as he joined Louisiana-Monroe lineman Victor Cutler who was added in the winter.
Turning to the transfer portal can be a difficult situation for the returning players to accept. They have been the ones competing for the job, so to see someone else brought in to muddy the waters can cause some drama.
But as Justin Frye explains, better to get the drama out of the way as soon as possible.
“Let’s start generically with no names in it. If you bring in new competition for people, and people shy away, then you’re getting what you want because you don’t want those people playing first,” he said. “Now that’s not Tegra, that’s not Zen, that’s not Josh, that’s not our guys. But if that were to be a case for someone, then that’s good because you know now instead of third-and-seven in a critical situation.”
The best way to have a disappointing offensive line is to put five players on the field who didn’t have to compete for their jobs. If nobody is pushed, then how far are they actually going to get?
While Justin Frye would certainly prefer to have a returning starter like Dawand Jones at right tackle, this is college football and rosters are fluid. New starters every year is part of the job, and his hope is that the competition at right tackle pushes somebody far enough forward that it becomes a position of strength and reliability this season.
“For those guys, they’re fired up. All of them,” he said. “They’ve been working. You call back from on the road and ‘How’s it going?’ And, ‘Oh coach, we’re just meeting again and we’re going over this. We’re going over that.’ So there’s a lot of things that go into the competition part of it of guys learning it better, wanting to teach a guy better.”
The Buckeyes will open fall camp in early August, but the competition at right tackle can only go for about two weeks before it starts to cut into game preparation. That won’t be a lot of time for somebody to win the job, but it could be plenty of time for somebody to lose it.
It is likely that only one of the three will be starting this season, and the other two will have to accept the situation. They won’t have to like it, but they will need to stay engaged because their time could come at any moment. And their response to it will be the key to whether or not they win their next battle down the road. Despite the ups and downs, there will be no ‘woe is me’ allowed in the building.
“Ultimately, everybody wants to win. So we’re gonna play our five best,” Frye said. “So I’ve seen none of that, sensed none of that. And the fall camp is going to be really good because now get excited. You want it? Go get it. There’s not a better opportunity right now. There’s a few vacant seats up there. Who wants to go sit in them? Fighting for that will bring out the best in the guys that are honestly supposed to win it, and the ones that aren’t, why didn’t we get there yet?”