Ryan Day Seeing Progress on Ohio State’s Offensive Line Entering Preseason Camp, But Building Depth Remains A Priority

By Dan Hope on August 2, 2022 at 8:35 am
Enokk Vimahi and Ben Christman

Ryan Day hasn’t hidden what his biggest concern is going into the 2022 season.

Day expressed qualms about Ohio State’s offensive line depth on multiple occasions this spring, admitting that the Buckeyes’ defensive linemen often got the best of their backup offensive linemen during spring practices. When asked last week at Big Ten Media Days what his biggest questions were going into the start of preseason camp, his concern about offensive line depth came up again.

“I do think the depth of the offensive line is something that we have to continue to work on,” Day said. “And then which of the guys are going to step up? Because we do have a lot of good players, but who are the guys that we’re going to be able to count on in that first game? We'll learn more about that in the preseason.”

That said, Day also had plenty of positive things to say about Ohio State’s offensive linemen last week in Indianapolis – and not only about the starting five.

Barring any surprises or injuries in preseason camp, Ohio State’s starting lineup up front already appears to be set: Paris Johnson Jr. at left tackle, Donovan Jackson at left guard, Luke Wypler at center, Matt Jones at right guard and Dawand Jones at right guard.

There’s no shortage of talent in that lineup – Johnson and Jackson were both five-star recruits, Wypler and Matt Jones were both rated as top-two centers in their recruiting classes and Dawand Jones is as physically gifted as any of them – and Day believes in all of their talent.

“Paris and Dawand, they're both very talented. Both have played a lot. Paris, not as much at tackle, and that was the reason why I wanted to get Paris in there last year to play, because even though he was a guard, he still played a lot of football,” Day said. “Matt Jones has played more now. Luke had a great year. And then Donovan is going to be younger, but we think he's very talented. So when you look at those five, you think that those are five really good offensive linemen.”

While the Buckeyes are replacing two starters from last season in Nicholas Petit-Frere and Thayer Munford, Ohio State returns three starters in Johnson, Wypler and Dawand Jones, though Johnson is moving from right guard to left tackle. Day believes their collective experience will be beneficial to the unit, and he’s been particularly impressed by what he’s seen this spring and summer from Jones, who was listed at 360 pounds last season but has slimmed down this offseason.

“I'm really excited about the offseason that Dawand Jones has had,” Day said. “He's lost a bunch of weight. He's in really good shape.”

Matt Jones also saw regular playing time last season (459 snaps to be exact) as the offensive line’s sixth man, and Day believes the combination of Jackson and Jones could be an upgrade in the run game over last year’s starting guard tandem of Munford and Johnson.

“Both of those guys are built like guards, and they’re a little bit more road-graders inside, so we’re hoping we can get a little bit more push inside than last year. But they're also going to have to hold up in (pass) protection,” Day said. “Paris and Thayer both did a really good job inside last year, too. It wasn't like they didn't do a good job. But I think they were a little bit more tackle body types, and Matt and Donovan built a little bit lower to the ground, a little bit more of guards.”

The big question that continues to linger over the offensive line is who will be the next man up if any of the starting five are sidelined for any amount of time.

One reason why that question remains unanswered is that several of the Buckeyes’ backup offensive linemen missed time with injuries this spring, including Josh Fryar and Zen Michalski, who are likely the top candidates to back up Johnson and Jones at tackle. Day said both of them are expected to be back on the field when preseason camp Thursday, and he likes what he’s seen from them this offseason along with fourth-year lineman Enokk Vimahi, who’s expected to be a top backup at guard and also has experience playing tackle.

Day isn’t quite ready to commit to any of those offensive linemen being first off the bench, though. Day still wants to see more from them in preseason camp before he’ll feel comfortable playing them if needed, while he also wants to see how the rest of the Buckeyes’ offensive linemen – including true freshmen George Fitzpatrick, Avery Henry, Carson Hinzman and Tegra Tshabola – fare over the next month.

“Having Josh back is going to be important. Zen has had a really good offseason. Enokk has had a really good offseason,” Day said. “So we're getting some of the younger guys in there. We have all the freshmen in there, so we're able to see maybe if those guys can help kind of like Donovan did last year. So yeah, feeling better about that, but I'll know more probably in the first couple of weeks in the preseason.”

Starting Thursday, Ohio State will hold 25 preseason practices leading up to the Sept. 3 season opener against Notre Dame, and how the offensive linemen perform in those practices will determine who Day, Justin Frye and the rest of Ohio State’s coaching staff feel they can trust up front against the Fighting Irish.

The offensive linemen themselves, though, have expressed plenty of confidence in the progress they’ve made this offseason and that they’ll be ready to go when it’s time to take the field for game action next month.

“I feel like everyone's having great player development in terms of training and everything in the summer,” Jackson said at the Special Skills Football Invitational last month. “In terms of O-line depth, I feel like we're gonna be solid. There are guys obviously that just came in or guys who are coming back that are more motivated than ever. So we're just trying to work hard and see where it can go.”

View 65 Comments