Potential isn’t the problem for Ohio State's offensive line. The Buckeyes have enough highly regarded recruits who the coaching staff has focused on molding into Big Ten-level offensive linemen.
Depth and experience, though? That’s another story entirely, especially this spring.
Joshua Alabi has missed four practices due to the flu, but he has taken most of the first-team reps at left tackle. Gavin Cupp and Wyatt Davis have played guard with the starting line with Josh Myers between them at center, and Branden Bowen has played the majority of right-tackle snaps.
But the offensive line that takes the field against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 31 will look noticeably different from the group that has practiced together this spring. Thayer Munford has missed the entirety of spring practice while he recovers from offseason surgery. Jonah Jackson, a graduate transfer, is completing his spring semester at Rutgers before joining the Buckeyes this summer.
“The cohesiveness of the group that's playing, obviously with Thayer out, is not there,” Greg Studrawa said on Monday. “So what we have to focus on is the development and building some depth. Like I said, building Nick Petit and Wyatt and Josh Myers, getting them as much experience as they can get. And then the same thing with the other guys, and then find that cohesive group in the fall.”
Not having Jackson and Munford this spring means the group can’t build chemistry as a full unit, the bedrock of most offensive lines.
“It's hard. It's hard,” Studrawa said. “The good thing is you've got 29 practices. That's one thing I don't worry about. Thayer's had the experience. He'll jump right back in. It won't take him long. And then we have the summer, too. They do a lot of things in the summer that people don't even know about to get ready to build that cohesiveness. So the summer will be huge, too, and then going into camp.”
Among those competing to start at the five positions, only two players – Munford and Bowen – have started more than two games, and both have dealt with injuries, increasing the need for depth on the line. Munford missed the Rose Bowl with a back injury, and Bowen has undergone three surgeries since starting six games at guard in 2017.
Munford, provided he returns fully healthy as expected, will start at left tackle. Davis essentially has the right guard job locked up, and Myers is the likely starter at center. The left guard and right tackle spots remain open for competition.
Munford and Jackson, along with a trio of freshmen – Harry Miller, Enokk Vimahi and Dawand Jones – will enter the fray after spring practice concludes. Thus, those healthy and already in Columbus have played quite a few more reps than they typically would have had Jackson been enrolled and Munford been healthy.
“All those guys are going to be thrown into the mix in preseason,” Day said. “And those guys all mixed in with Thayer, that's a whole other line. That's five guys. So this spring, we've really been working with two lines because we don't have those five guys here practicing in the spring. It's worn down a little bit on the O-line, and so we've got to get those guys here in this preseason so they can inject those bodies and then they can compete for some spots.”
Alabi has worked primarily at left tackle this spring with Munford out, but he’s engaged in a battle with Petit-Frere and Bowen to start at right tackle. Bowen has moved back and forth between both tackle spots, and Petit-Frere has mostly played right tackle.
Cupp, who played offensive snaps in just two games last season, has gained experience this season by repping with the first-team offense. His main competition to start at left guard – Jackson – is still attending classes in Piscataway, New Jersey. Myers has been holding off Matthew Jones, and he’ll have to stave off Miller once the five-star center joins the team this summer.
Those on campus currently engaged in competitions see the incoming talent – given the team only has two healthy lines, it would be impossible not to – but they’re hoping to take advantage of the extra snaps this spring that might propel some into larger roles in the fall.
“Right now, we just handle it as just get as many reps as you can, get better,” Alabi said. “We know we've got good guys coming in the fall. So for right now, we're just focused on the guys who's here right now.”
Studrawa, understanding the starting five up front will look different from the group playing together this spring, wants to improve the depth on the line while developing some of the more inexperienced players who haven’t play much in games.
“We're still fighting, there's no question. With Thayer being out again this spring, that's another blow to another guy,” Studrawa said. “But the good news is those young kids get a ton of reps, and that's exactly what you probably have in the spring is to get those young guys as much repetition as they can get to get better. And then we'll get Thayer back in the fall and then move forward.”