Observations from Ohio State’s First Practice of Preseason Camp: Josh Fryar and Cody Simon Take First-Team Reps, J.T. Tuimoloau Makes His Debut

By Colin Hass-Hill and Dan Hope on August 4, 2021 at 9:40 am
J.T. Tuimoloau

It begins again.

With 29 days to go until the Sept. 2 season opener at Minnesota, Ohio State returned to the practice field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Wednesday for its first of 25 practices in preseason camp. Media members were welcomed back to the facility to watch the first six periods of the early morning practice, allowing us to get our first glimpse of the Buckeyes in on-field action since the spring game.

We’ll start with the obligatory quarterback update: C.J. Stroud was at the front of the quarterback line, just as he was whenever we saw practice this spring, followed by Jack Miller and Kyle McCord. Ohio State continued to split the reps among them evenly during each drill, but Wednesday did nothing to dispel the idea that Stroud is the frontrunner to start.

More observations from Wednesday’s first practice of August:

Fryar with the ones

For much of the offseason, Matthew Jones and Luke Wypler have been viewed as the two leading candidates to start along with Thayer Munford, Harry Miller, Paris Johnson and Nicholas Petit-Frere. However, the first day of camp highlighted why an under-the-radar second-year lineman – Josh Fryar – should be kept front of mind.

Just as the media began to get shuffled out of the facility following the viewing period, Fryar ran onto the field along with the starting offensive linemen to begin their team run period. He had also lined up beside Miller and Munford during at least a portion of the Buckeyes’ individual drills.

Both times, Fryar – a three-star recruit from Indiana who played only four offensive snaps last season – was positioned at left guard.

Should he now be viewed as the frontrunner ahead of Jones and Wypler? Is it his job to lose? Those are difficult questions to know the answer to this early in camp, especially since he didn’t come into Wednesday’s practice as the presumed leader by those outside of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. 

Going forward, however, it’s certainly fair to view this as a three-man battle for the fifth starting offensive line spot: Fryar vs. Jones vs. Wypler.

First day first-team defense

Everything in this practice report comes with a caveat: It’s the first day of camp! Things can and will change!

With that in mind, we got a chance to look at the starting defense for the first time this fall. 

Tyreke Smith and Zach Harrison were at defensive end, Haskell Garrett and Taron Vincent were between them at defensive tackle, Teradja Mitchell and Cody Simon lined up at inside linebacker, Ronnie Hickman was the bullet, Cameron Brown and Sevyn Banks at cornerback, Marcus Williamson at cover safety and Josh Proctor at free safety.

A few notable takeaways from this group…

  • Garrett and Vincent playing together is new. They’ve mostly been 3-technique defensive tackles since they arrived. By lining them up side by side, it indicates that Ohio State is willing to shift at least one of them to nose tackle – which Garrett mentioned in the spring to be a possibility. 
  • Simon played just 14 defensive snaps as a true freshman in 2020, but he’s clearly being considered for meaningful playing time in his sophomore season. This was Dallas Gant’s first practice since last fall, because he missed essentially the entirety of spring camp with a foot injury, and it remains uncertain whether USC transfer Palaie Gaoteote will be eligible to play this fall (though Gaoteote was on the practice field Wednesday). So things can change. But Simon’s squarely in the mix.
  • Hickman got the initial first-team reps at bullet ahead of Craig Young. That’s a key battle to watch. Hickman’s a former blue-chip recruit who began his Ohio State career with an ACL tear and two position coach changes. He has seemed to settle nicely into his new role.
  • Williamson got the first look at cover safety. Lathan Ransom has been a hot name this offseason at the position, but he wasn't working with the starters during the portion of practice that was open to the media.

J.T. makes his debut

While Quinn Ewers hasn’t yet arrived at Ohio State to begin practicing with the Buckeyes, Ohio State’s other new freshmen were all on the field for Wednesday’s practice, including the other five-star late addition to the class of 2021: J.T. Tuimoloau, who took his first reps with Larry Johnson and the Buckeyes’ defensive linemen on Wednesday.

While it's too early to say exactly where Tuimoloau might fit in on the depth chart, it wasn’t hard to see why he was such a highly coveted prospect, as his athleticism for a 6-foot-4, 275-pound defensive lineman stood out even while just going through individual drills.

Additional Observations

  • Palaie Gaoteote, wearing No. 21, participated in practice with the linebackers and was listed on the team's camp roster, even though he hasn't been added to the team's official online roster yet.
  • Steele Chambers, who has been said to be cross-training between running back and linebacker, was also with the linebackers (and wearing a white defensive jersey) for the entire portion of practice that was open to the media. He was also listed on the roster distributed to media in attendance solely as a linebacker.
  • Even though Master Teague was back as a full participant in practice after being sidelined during the spring, Miyan Williams was the first running back in the drill line during the individual portion of practice – which is often an indicator of who’s in line to start, especially if it’s a younger player in front of an older player.
  • Demario McCall, now wearing No. 1, remained at cornerback, where he practiced in the spring. He made a pass breakup during the half-line scrimmage period that the media was allowed to watch.
  • Gee Scott Jr. also continued to practice with the tight ends after moving there from wide receiver during the spring.
  • Jaxon Smith-Njigba, as expected, was with the first-team offense as the starting slot receiver. He’s long been projected to take over there, with Garrett Wilson moving outside to join Chris Olave.
  • Kamryn Babb was the only injured player seen working off to the side separate from the rest of the practicing. Mitchell Melton, who also suffered an injury this spring, did not appear to be on the field during the portion of practice that was open to the media.
  • Not much has changed in terms of how Ohio State has structured practice over the years, including dating back to the Urban Meyer era. They begin in a similar fashion – stretching, then special teams, then individual drills, then short field, then inside run, etc. – and look nearly identical in many respects to reporters who’ve been watching practices for awhile. 
  • Kerry Coombs is still spending much of his time with the defensive backs, and Kevin Wilson is still helping out with the offensive tackles, along with his tight end duties.
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