Paris Johnson Jr., Dawand Jones Prospering As Ohio State Offensive Tackle Pairing Through Five Games: "There's Been Some Good Play"

By Griffin Strom on October 7, 2022 at 1:15 pm
Paris Johnson Jr., Dawand Jones
Adam Cairns, USA TODAY Sports

Paris Johnson Jr. was scrolling through social media “looking for some memes” when he stumbled upon a post his mom retweeted.

It was a stat from Pro Football Focus that said the third-year Buckeye offensive lineman hasn’t allowed a sack since the 2020 season, a span that includes 611 pass-block snaps. Johnson hadn’t exactly been keeping track of that streak but said it was “cool to see” his hard work highlighted in such a manner.

Johnson is only five games into his tenure as Ohio State’s starting left tackle, having spent all of 2021 as a guard following the return of both Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere. Not to mention the emergence of Dawand Jones, who Ryan Day has praised on multiple occasions over the past week due to his improved play at right tackle. But so far, the move has paid off in spades for the Buckeyes.

Johnson and Jones lead an Ohio State offensive line that has given up fewer sacks (3.0) than all but six teams in FBS college football through five games, and in terms of sack yardage allowed, the Buckeyes are tied for second-best in the nation. Pass protection has been on point for Ohio State, and there are plenty of stats to prove it.

Day knows his starting tackles haven’t faced their stiffest tests just yet on the outside, but he’s pleased with the results up front.

“I think making the transition to tackle, (Johnson)’s done a good job. He's got some bigger challenges coming. But you know, he's made some progress for sure,” Day said at a press conference Tuesday.  “I think all the guys up front have. Again, as we continue to build throughout the season, we'll start to see more and more growth for all those guys. I think you're seeing that across the board with the guys up front. Still a lot to work on, though. 

“But there's been bright spots, there’s been flashes, there's been good play in the run game and in the passing game, but still a lot of things we want to continue to clean up. But you're right, I mean, for a first-time starting tackle, there's been some good play.”

Johnson admitted in the preseason that the move to tackle, the position he was recruited to Ohio State to play, saw some bumps in the road early on. Since the season started, though, it’s hard to argue that his lack of sacks allowed is anything other than a clear indication of his five-star potential.

Johnson ranks among the top-40 tackles in overall PFF grade, and although he may not be paying close attention to such metrics, he knows they’ll only continue to trend upward if he can shore up what he’s identified as weaknesses in his game.

“I've definitely enjoyed the transition. And I thank Coach (Justin) Frye and Coach (Mike) Sollene for helping me make it smoothly. But again, it's only been five games in and I know I still got a lot of things I got to improve on,” Johnson said Wednesday. “But I think that's also the exciting part, is that I'm starting to see that success. But yet again, there's things I still have to upgrade and continue to improve on physically, but also on the mental side.”

Jones ranks even higher in PFF’s grading system, which has him at No. 21 in the country with a score of 78.1. Jones flirted with a possible exit to the NFL following his first season as a starter with the Buckeyes but returned for another year in the program to help improve his draft stock. 

Day said he’s seen the improvement on the field through five games and credits much of it to Jones’ commitment to shedding some pounds and changing his body over the offseason.

“I think it's a direct correlation to his body weight. Quite honestly, I think his body weight is allowing him to do things that maybe he couldn't do last year,” Day said Thursday. “ And that's a daily fight for him. But I think you're starting to see a better version of him in all areas. … And I think he feels like in the offseason, he got challenged to enhance some of his strengths and improve his weaknesses. And I think you're seeing some of that going on.”

Teammates have seen a change in Jones’ approach as well. Senior defensive end Zach Harrison, who has to contend with Jones’ massive 6-foot-8 frame in practice every day at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, said film study has been a major part of the strides he’s taken in his fourth year.

"I think you look at the way his body looks right now, you look at his energy, you look at his attitude, you look at the way he's preparing – yeah, now you're starting to see better play,”– Ryan Day on Dawand Jones

“Dawand's definitely improved a lot from last year, just in his sense and his mentality, how he approaches the game,” Harrison said Wednesday. “I see him watching film all the time and asking me questions and watching NFL pass rushers, watching NFL O-linemen, just being a student of the game and learning. And you can definitely see it on the field, the way he's practiced and definitely the way he's played.

Jones’ pass blocking isn’t all that’s impressed his peers this season. While not named a Buckeye captain ahead of the season, Day said Jones’ leadership has been a bright spot for Ohio State and has even lifted his spirits during the dog days of the long grind.

“I've been impressed with his energy and his attitude. I think you look at the way his body looks right now, you look at his energy, you look at his attitude, you look at the way he's preparing – yeah, now you're starting to see better play,” Day said. “It all works hand in hand. And I mean, he's brought me up in practice at times. Kind of smacks me on the shoulder and just kind of says, 'Come on Coach, let's go.' That energy is infectious, and seeing that out of him, and because of all those things, you're seeing better play.”

This weekend, Ohio State takes on a Michigan State defense that’s 13 sacks through five games are tied for the most of any opponent the Buckeyes have played thus far. But that hasn’t stopped the Spartans from giving up 275 yards per game through the air, which ranks 115th in the country.

C.J. Stroud is coming off the lowest single-game passing yardage of his career as a starter (154), but even on the road for the first time in 2022, the play of his starting tackles should give the Buckeye quarterback a great chance to make fans forget about any shortcomings against Rutgers in the passing game.

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