You might as well get used to it now, because you’re going to hear some iteration of the same phrase uttered a lot this offseason.
No position room has more questions to answer over the next several months than the Ohio State offensive line. The same could be said at quarterback, given C.J. Stroud’s NFL draft declaration, but the unit up front will go a long way in determining what level of success Kyle McCord or Devin Brown find in 2023.
The skepticism isn’t because of its collective on-field performance this past season. With two All-American tackles on the outside, only six teams in the country gave up fewer sacks than Ohio State in 2022. With three All-Big Ten performers on the interior, the Buckeye run game finished with the 11th-most yards per carry in the country despite injuries plaguing the backfield all season. And the passing game? Well, that goes without saying.
But three starters from that unit are headed to the NFL, and there’s no clear-cut, five-star prodigy waiting in the wings to replace them. Justin Frye and company landed Louisiana-Monroe transfer Victor Cutler on Wednesday, but only after striking out on four more highly-touted transfer linemen.
Of the unknown variables, though, perhaps one is least worrisome of all. Despite entering the program as a three-star recruit rated just 510th overall in the 2020 class, it’s been clear for a couple seasons that Josh Fryar’s trajectory would lead him to an eventual starting role at Ohio State. The Indiana native’s ho-hum recruiting profile may not drum up much excitement, but both his experience and performance in the opportunities he’s gotten suggest he’s a rock-solid option as a first-team lineman in 2023.
"I think tackle I'm most comfortable at. But like you watched at team up north, I played guard. And I can play center too."– Josh Fryar
Before the Peach Bowl, Fryar tried to remain locked in on the task at hand. But with the chance to become a full-time starter waiting around the corner, Fryar admitted to Eleven Warriors that thoughts about his future were beginning to crystalize.
“I wouldn't say I'm thinking about it right now, I would say more along the lines of just thinking about what we have to do to win the game right now. But obviously, yeah, like that's in the back of your mind, just thinking about that and stuff,” Fryar said. “But I think you just worry about now in the moment, and don't worry about the future, and the future will take care of itself.”
That was before Ohio State’s 2023 roster truly began taking shape. Not even a full three weeks have passed since the official end of the Buckeyes’ 2022 season, but Ohio State now knows it will be without Paris Johnson Jr., Dawand Jones and Luke Wypler next year.
Aside from returning starters Donovan Jackson and Matt Jones, Fryar seems the likeliest to ascend the depth chart over the offseason. But where Fryar will line up isn’t set in stone just yet. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound lineman was a guard prospect out of high school, but has spent most of his time at Ohio State playing tackle. Fryar also says he can play center if called upon to do so.
If he had his preference, though, Fryar would play on the outside.
“I've been playing tackle all the time, or all the three years I've been here. So I think tackle I'm most comfortable at,” Fryar said. “But like you watched at team up north, I played guard. And I can play center too. So I think I'm more comfortable at tackle.”
With Dawand Jones sidelined with injury ahead of Ohio State’s Nov. 12 matchup with Indiana, Fryar got the nod to start at right tackle against the Hoosiers. He ended up playing all 64 snaps with the first-team offense and blended in seamlessly as the Buckeyes put up 56 points in a blowout victory.
Starting right guard Matt Jones missed the Michigan game two weeks later, and Enokk Vimahi got the start for Ohio State. But the veteran reserve only saw snaps on two possessions as Fryar received the lion’s share of reps (62) at the position.
Of course, the final result wasn’t what Fryar or any member of the Buckeye program was hoping for. But individually, Fryar’s performance was far from a catastrophe for Frye’s front line.
“I thought they went pretty well. I mean obviously, if we didn't win the game, that's kind of disappointing overall,” Fryar said. “But I think they went alright for the first time playing guard. And I think Coach Frye did a really good job all around during that game. Just didn't turn out the way we wanted it to. But there's stuff to build from that.”
Fryar finished the year with a career-high 231 snaps as the sixth man on the Buckeye offensive line, playing more than any lineman aside from Ohio State’s five regular starters.
As for 2023, Ohio State’s two vacant tackle spots may be the biggest question marks of all for Frye’s unit. That notion, paired with Fryar’s own comfortability at OT, makes the tackle position appear his likeliest landing spot. But if Matt Jones slides to center in place of Wypler, perhaps the Buckeyes would put Fryar at guard.
Cutler, the newest addition to the offensive line, told Eleven Warriors he’ll compete for the center job at the start of spring ball. Should Cutler win it, Matt Jones could stay at guard with Fryar slotting in at tackle. There’s also the possibility that Ohio State brings in a more proven tackle commodity out of the transfer portal after the spring. But even so, Fryar is well-positioned to start at one spot or another.
However things shake out over the offseason, Fryar has faith in Frye’s decision-making and knows his position coach has the Buckeyes’ best interest at heart.
“He's a very passionate guy. He pours his heart and soul into us and wanting us to succeed,” Fryar said. “And sometimes it may come out a way that you don't want it to, but he's gonna get you there and he loves you for it. And that's what stands out to me, really. It's just his passion for us and his passion for us to succeed.”