Going into preseason camp, there appeared to be two certainties for Ohio State’s 2021 offensive line: Thayer Munford starting at left tackle and Nicholas Petit-Frere starting at right tackle.
Instead, there's a distinct possibility that Ohio State is planning to play both of them at new positions this year.
During the portion of Tuesday’s practice that was open to the media, Petit-Frere lined up at left tackle and Munford lined up at left guard with Harry Miller at center, Paris Johnson Jr. at right guard and Dawand Jones at right tackle.
The logic behind those potential changes is simple: Ohio State wants to get its best five offensive linemen on the field, and Jones has performed so well in the first week of preseason camp that Ohio State offensive line coach Greg Studrawa now believes Jones is one of those players who should be in the lineup.
At 6-foot-8 and 360 pounds with athleticism that earned him Division I basketball offers, Jones has always had the upside to be one of Ohio State’s best offensive linemen, but now, entering his third year in the program, he’s beginning to show the consistency and attention to detail that Ryan Day and Studrawa have been waiting to see. And while Jones feels more comfortable playing at tackle, Studrawa believes Munford can be an asset at guard.
“Thayer is a powerful young man that has the ability to play both positions,” Studrawa said Tuesday. “And the fact that Dawand is coming along so well right now gives us the best opportunity to have Thayer move, if that works out, and give us the best line.
“A guy that that’s big and athletic and physical, him coming on, how do you not find a place for that guy to play?” Studrawa said of Jones. “And Dawand right now has been dominant as a pass protector on that edge.”
Throughout the spring and even through the first few days of preseason camp, it appeared that the fifth starter on the offensive line would be either Josh Fryar, Matthew Jones or Luke Wypler, with some combination of one of those three and Miller starting at left guard and center. And Studrawa says he’d still feel confident with any of those three starting, too, believing he has 10 offensive linemen – also including Enokk Vimahi and true freshman Donovan Jackson – who would start for most college football teams right now.
For now, though, the plan appears to be moving Munford inside to that left guard spot, which is an idea Munford actually approached Studrawa with himself. Though some players in the shoes of Munford – who said this spring that he wanted to be the best offensive tackle in next year’s NFL draft – would probably bristle at being asked to move to guard after three years as a starting tackle, Munford is embracing the potential position change because he wants to do what’s best for the team, and because he believes Dawand Jones deserves the opportunity to play.
“I talked to Dawand, I was like, ‘Hey, I might be coming back.’ He kind of felt like ‘Ah, ok,’ down in the dumps. But I did tell him like, ‘If you can prove to me that you can, like during workouts, you can prove to me that you’re on top of your stuff and do the right things all the time, I would consider moving to guard,’” Munford said. “And if that happens, it happens. If it’s a permanent change, it’s a permanent change. Wherever they put me at, I’ll be happy.”
Jones said that conversation with Munford increased his motivation to prove he belongs in the starting lineup this year.
“I felt like I let them down too much going through the spring and through summer for the past before and I was like, ‘I gotta turn it on,’” Jones said. “These guys are believing in me and they know I can do it, and I just had to keep doing it.”
“A guy that that’s big and athletic and physical, him coming on, how do you not find a place for that guy to play?”– Greg Studrawa on Dawand Jones
Munford’s goal hasn’t changed – he still wants to be the best offensive lineman in college football this year, regardless of where he lines up – and he believes playing guard this season can elevate his NFL draft stock, as it’s possible a move inside could be in his future at the next level anyway.
“If I do this now, I can play wherever in the next level,” Munford said. “And I’m fine with whatever. Tackle or guard, left side or right side.”
Moving to left tackle could be an opportunity for Petit-Frere to elevate his NFL draft stock, too, though Studrawa doesn’t view that as a huge change since Petit-Frere does have some experience playing left tackle. Petit-Frere said it has been a transition for him to adjust to playing on the left side rather than the right side, but like Munford, he says he’s willing to line up wherever he’s asked to.
“I’m kind of learning that there’s a little different timing to it,” Petit-Frere said of playing left tackle versus right tackle. “It’s early right now, so I’m still working at it. But I’m willing to try out anything, and it’s a new challenge.”
Ohio State’s offensive line, as it looks as though it will be constructed, certainly has massive upside. Collectively, it would be one of the biggest offensive lines in the country, while featuring three five-star recruits in Petit-Frere, Miller and Johnson, a preseason All-American in Munford and a rare physical specimen in Jones.
That lineup could also be viewed as a gamble. With Petit-Frere, Munford and Miller all changing positions, Ohio State would not have a single offensive lineman starting at the same spot as last season. And the Buckeyes won’t have much time to work through the kinks early in the season, as they’re set to face Oregon and arguably the nation’s best pass-rusher, Kayvon Thibodeaux, in their second game of the year.
Studrawa expressed nothing but confidence, though, that Petit-Frere will be up to the task at left tackle and Jones will be up to the task at right tackle if they end up starting at those spots. Asked if he had any concerns about making changes at tackle ahead of the looming Sept. 11 matchup with Oregon, Studrawa replied concisely: “None. Zero.”
“When (Dawand) sets in pass pro, believe me, there’s nobody going around him. And they’re not going through him,” Studrawa said. “We got the best pass-rushers in America that we go against every day. That’s how I judge it. If we’re blocking those guys, I’m not worried about any game we play.”