Paris Johnson Jr. Eager to Transition Back to Offensive Tackle in 2022 After Year Spent at Right Guard

By Griffin Strom on December 25, 2021 at 8:35 am
Paris Johnson Jr.

One inquiry elicited an animated response from Paris Johnson Jr. during last week’s on-campus Rose Bowl media day.

After 12 games spent starting on Ohio State’s interior offensive line as the Buckeyes’ right guard in 2021, the top-rated tackle prospect in the class of 2020 leaned back in his seat, grinned and let out a laugh when asked if he was ready to transition back to his natural position at the conclusion of this season.

It was as though a sense of relief had washed over the second-year Buckeye at the very thought of the move.

“Yeah I am. I definitely am,” Johnson said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been out there in practice, but I’m definitely excited to take that step when it happens.”

But don’t expect to see Johnson at tackle until after the final game of the year. The Cincinnati, Ohio, native said he’s been repping exclusively at guard during bowl practices, and that his only opportunities to work on any tackle techniques this past year have been “in the hallway for fun.”

Johnson said his mind has wandered to his future at tackle at times, but he’s reeled his focus back in on the task in front of him.

“I can’t really constantly have my mind on (being a tackle). I took a little time to think, ‘OK, what are the things I need to work on to be a great tackle?’ But I can’t focus on that right now at all, even in the slightest, because I’m playing guard in the Rose Bowl,” Johnson said. “So there’s no need for me to think about what can I do, what can I work on, because it’s not over yet. And I still want to have a great game at guard, so it’s all about what can I do to be the best guard for my teammates in the game? 

“When that time comes, I’ll have to reevaluate, but I haven’t been in that stance in a minute, so I feel like when that time comes then I’ll figure it out, the things I need to work on specifically.”

Playing guard has been far from unsuccessful, as Johnson was a second-team All-Big Ten selection by the conference’s coaches and a third-team media selection after his first full season ever playing inside. But the preseason decision from offensive line coach Greg Studrawa to start two natural tackles – Johnson and Thayer Munford – at guard this season has come into question at times throughout the 2021 regular season.

Against Michigan in particular, the Buckeye run game managed just 64 yards on 30 carries, and C.J. Stroud was sacked four times by the end of the game. Studrawa moved Munford back out to left tackle at times during the contest, something that happened here and there throughout the season, but against the Wolverines it seemed to signal that Ohio State didn’t like what it was getting from its starting alignment.

Johnson said if he had a choice in the matter, he wouldn’t have played guard at all, although he’s picked up some indispensable knowledge along the way.

“Looking back before the season, if I had to choose, I would’ve chose to be a tackle and come back and return and be one of the best tackles to come back,” Johnson said. “But I feel like where I’m at right now, I feel like I can’t really trade the things I’ve learned being at guard. I feel like learning to be a great guard for my tackle so I know what he wants will help me be a great tackle next year. So I can look at my guard and be like, ‘OK, I know what you can give me on this play, I know what you can’t, what’s realistic, what’s hard for you.’ So I feel like I’ll just work better with my guard. I already have been in that situation.”

Before this season, Johnson said he thought a guard could simply do “anything that I needed a guard to do,” but has since learned he was holding an unrealistic expectation for the interior linemen he had lined up next to for most of his football career.

“In practice, it just made it easier when you had Wyatt Davis next to you for some reps. In high school I didn’t know what a guard really did, so I feel like I have an appreciation for what guards do, and centers too,” Johnson said.

Ohio State’s starting tackles this season, Nicholas Petit-Frere and Dawand Jones, have yet to announce their plans for 2022. Both players are draft-eligible, but both have the option to return to the Buckeye program as well. Still, Johnson seems confident he’ll be playing tackle one way or the other during his third season with the Buckeyes.

Johnson said he put on close to 10 pounds last offseason to get up to 315 in order to handle the strength of opposing interior linemen, but he could drop a few pounds ahead of next season as he transitions back out onto the edge.

The 6-foot-6 Ohio native believes he’ll hold some distinct physical advantages over Big Ten edge rushers once he’s back at tackle, and a return back to the position at which he made his name might just help him unlock the potential that many saw in the five-star recruit in the first place.

“Going back to tackle and having time and space on my side I feel like would be really fun to get back to,” Johnson said. “I’m going against guys that are 300 pounds plus every play. I’m sure going against a guy that’s 280 might be really fun when that time comes.”

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