It was a simple question, but it yielded an answer that ended up begging more questions than an episode of Jeopardy.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day met with reporters on Wednesday to answer questions about fall camp and provide updates on position battles. One of those battles is occurring at right tackle, where redshirt sophomore Zen Michalski, redshirt freshman Tegra Tshabola, redshirt sophomore San Diego state transfer Josh “Jimmy” Simmons, and true freshman Luke Montgomery are all battling.
It was seemingly one of two competitions happening on the offensive line, as center is also up for grabs this month in camp. The Buckeyes are also replacing first-round pick Paris Johnson at left tackle, but fourth-year junior Josh Fryar was there in the spring, and was there again on the first day of camp. The assumption being that the job was essentially his.
But when Day answered the question about the situation at right tackle, the first name he mentioned was Fryar. And with that, everything that was thought to be known quickly moved into the realm of the unknown.
“We’ve been moving some guys around to figure out what the right mixture and combination is going to be,” Day said. “So when you say right tackle, yeah, I like the progression that we’re making. I think that when you look at Josh Fryar, when you look at Tegra, and you look at Jimmy Simmons, and you look at Luke Montgomery, all four of those guys are competing at a high level.
“Zen [Michalski] is also in there, and George [Fitzpatrick] is getting better. But those four guys are competing, and we’re trying to figure out what is the best mixture of right and left. But I’m encouraged. I’m excited. I think we have a chance to be good at that position.”
In reality, there was a warning that this was going to happen. Simmons didn’t arrive until after the summer, which meant they were going to have to factor him into the competition. Simmons started at right tackle for the Aztecs last year as a redshirt freshman, but offensive line coach Justin Frye said back in May that they would look at both right and left tackle for Simmons.
So if he’s getting a look at left tackle, it would make sense to also see how things work with Fryar at right tackle. As to how things are going for Simmons, Day is optimistic.
“He’s off to a great start, and I think Luke Montgomery has a really bright future ahead of him,” he said. “So again, these are all exciting things. Tegra does a lot of good things. Josh Fryar has done good things. I can’t tell you that one’s in front of the other. What we’re trying to do is project out how this all shakes out down the road, and what’s best in the long term. I think by this time next week, I’ll have real good answers for you. Right now, this is all stuff that we’re yelling at each other about in the meeting rooms.”
A week ago when camp opened, it was Fryar with the ones at left tackle and Michalski with the ones at right tackle. Tshabola also mixed in with the ones with Michalski. Simmons, being his first day, was running with the threes, which is typical for transfers that early in camp.
Simmons quickly got his feet under him, however, which should only be seen as good news for the overall health of the Ohio State offensive line. And while this past week has been productive, the first scrimmage of camp on Saturday will inform the coaches even further on where things stand.
“Yeah, I think there’ll be some direction at the very least,” Day said. “Guys start to pull away, but those competitions continue even into the season. But this week is a defining week for us for sure, and I think coming out of the weekend, we’ll have more of an idea of where we’re at.”
The familiar refrain every year is that the Buckeyes are simply trying to find their five best offensive linemen, and then fit them in where they work best. Until fall camp began, however, they had incomplete data. They hadn’t practiced with Simmons in the lineup until last week, and full pads only went into effect on Wednesday.
Ohio State will practice Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, gaining more and more information with each rep.
“I mean, we always have to figure what the best five is and then where their best position will be,” Day said. “We’ve had guys that have swung before, you guys know that. And some guys, it’s easier than others. Josh [Fryar] has been able to kind of move back and forth pretty good, which really helps his value. Other guys, it’s a little bit harder. But for the most part, all four of these guys are pretty athletic, and they’re not really too right-handed or left-handed, so they can handle it a little bit better.”
Day wants to have things settled following the scrimmage, or at least a better idea of where the competition needs to continue. The process to this point has been about both development and due diligence. Soon, however, it must turn to solidifying an offensive line that needs to be cohesive and in command.
“The further you go down the road, one path, it’s harder to return back, and we just want to make sure that we’re doing the right thing here,” Day said. “Doesn’t mean that we have the answer right now or that we are going to make a long-term change, but having a couple practices moving them over to see how they react isn’t a bad thing to do.”