None of Ohio State’s new assistant coaching hires expressed much hesitancy in jumping at the opportunity to join the Buckeye staff, and perhaps least of all was Justin Frye.
Despite losing the offensive coordinator tag he carried at UCLA and relocating from sunny Los Angeles to frigid Ohio in the middle of the winter, the Buckeyes’ new associate head coach for offense/offensive line coach had few reservations about reuniting with Ryan Day – his former coworker on staff at both Temple and Boston College.
“You step back and once you make big boy decisions to come to an elite place like this where you can recruit elite talent and develop elite talent and be around some of the best coaches in the country, I would’ve sprinted out here if he told me to instead of getting on the plane,” Frye said Monday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Frye’s new post is made all the more enticing by the fact that he may be the one new Ohio State assistant whose position group does not necessarily need a dramatic turnaround in performance.
Ohio State had the No. 1 total offense in the nation this past year, with an average of 561.2 yards per game, and its 45.7 points per contest also paced the country. The Buckeye pass offense ranked third, with 380.9 yards per game, and even though the Ohio State run game fell all the way to 47th, it still had the third-best yards per carry average in college football (5.54).
While there may be some pressure to maintain such a high standard of achievement, Frye won’t exactly be expected to implement wholesale structural changes to a machine that was rather well-oiled in 2021.
“I don’t need to come in here and reinvent the wheel,” Frye said. “The offense here is really damn good, so it’s my job to come in and supplement that. Being a coordinator there and not just a line guy, coming here, being able to speak language and talk about the perimeter, talk about the outside, talk about how this play action really sets up with this run, which gives this concept openness. I think the experience of being a coordinator and running a room that way is really gonna be beneficial to these guys here, because we’re looking at the big picture together and not just living in the box.”
Frye’s group up front will lose a pair of all-conference Buckeye veterans in 2022, with surefire NFL draft selections Nicholas Petit-Frere and Thayer Munford departing from a unit that gave up the 14th-fewest sacks in the country a season ago.
But Frye will have the luxury of getting back four multi-game starters in the upcoming season, with Luke Wypler, Matt Jones, Paris Johnson and Dawand Jones all set to star in feature roles for the Buckeye front line. Dawand Jones had the highest grade of any of them in 2021, per Pro Football Focus, and Frye has already marveled at the size of the 6-foot-8, 360-pound specimen.
“Some of the door frames aren’t big enough for him,” Frye joked. “When he walks through he’s gotta duck his head. He’s a large human.”
Justin Frye on his first impression of 6-8, 360-pound tackle Dawand Jones: Some of the door frames arent big enough for him. Hes a big human. pic.twitter.com/3lQognu4tD— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) January 31, 2022
Things were not flawless for the Ohio State offensive line last season, though. The Buckeyes averaged their fewest rushing yards per game under Day by nearly 80 yards, and both the Ohio State run game and pass protection fell short of expectations in the scarlet and gray’s first loss to Michigan in a decade.
It’s likely that Frye’s background as an offensive coordinator and past relationship with Day will afford him the ability to tweak things up front, but Frye said his initial conversations with the Buckeye head coach didn’t cite a specific target area for improvement from last year’s line.
“He wanted me to come in and maximize the guys, maximize the room. There was not one specific (thing) or a scheme or any of those things,” Frye said. “Because once again, when you come in, that’s your job as a position coach, first and foremost is to develop and maximize your room. That’s what he knows he’s getting with me and that’s why he brought me here. That’s what I need to do is just make sure we’re just enhancing these guys’ toolsets and playing at a high level when we need to.”
Frye said the identity of his first offensive line at Ohio State will end up molding itself to the strength of its personnel, but there is a trademark element of any line that he coaches that Frye hopes to achieve with his new group in Columbus – a certain unmistakable physicality that the Indiana native often describes.
"When the offensive line position is felt, meaning there’s a presence there, you feel it, it’s something that’s tangible – that’s when you’re cooking,” Frye said. “When my daughter’s up in the 10th row of the stadium and it's 3rd-and-2 and she’s like, ‘Daddy’s gonna run it to the right,’ and everybody in the stadium knows that and you still go do it, that’s when people feel you.
“How do you get there? It’s like beating a dead horse; it’s development, it’s putting tools in the toolbox for these guys so in a certain situation or a certain block, they pull it out and they go do it. That comes with repetition, that comes with film study, that comes with doing your stuff on the field so that when that opportunity shows up where they have to pull that out, then they just go do that. And that’s what I mean by being felt.”
Frye said he won’t be sure about what exactly needs to be tinkered with up front until he gets a better sense of his players’ strengths during spring ball and continues to watch tape on their performances from a season ago. After that, Frye said he can begin honing in on what the Ohio State offensive line will look like moving forward.
“If you’re a jack of all, you’re a master of none, and you don’t get really good at anything. But you can’t just pigeonhole yourself as well and be this all the time when you need a little variation,” Frye said. “That’s as you go through spring, as we go through our cut-ups, we’ll find out really where we need to head and where we need to be.”