Josh Fryar has seen the suggestions that offensive tackle is Ohio State’s biggest position of concern entering the 2023 season. That’s only giving him more motivation to prove he’s ready to be the Buckeyes’ starting left tackle this year.
Four practices into the spring, Fryar is currently atop Ohio State’s left tackle depth chart. Needing to replace both Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones at offensive tackle from last season, the Buckeyes opted to give Fryar the first crack at winning the starting left tackle job as their most experienced tackle currently on the roster, while Zen Michalski and Tegra Tshabola are competing for the starting right tackle job.
Fryar hasn’t locked down the starting job yet. When asked if the left tackle job was Fryar’s to lose, Ohio State offensive line coach Justin Frye didn’t want to go that far, saying “nothing’s set in stone” with 11 spring practices and preseason camp still to come. Ohio State tried to add a transfer offensive tackle during the winter transfer window and could pursue additional transfer options at the position during the post-spring transfer window, so more competition for the job could still potentially come Fryar’s way.
In Fryar’s mind, though, there’s no need for anyone to worry about his ability to get the job done.
“I think I'm very prepared,” Fryar said Thursday after Ohio State’s fourth spring practice. “Honestly, just hearing everybody talk about it and worried about it just gets me more motivated to step up into that position and succeed.”
As a left tackle, Fryar is unproven, having played only 22 snaps at the position – all in backup duty – in his three years at Ohio State. That said, he played 231 snaps last season along the offensive line, performing well in his first career start at right tackle against Indiana while also playing a majority of the game at right guard against Michigan and seeing situational action throughout the year as a sixth offensive lineman/jumbo tight end in the “Bison” package.
Having lined up all over the offensive line in his three years at Ohio State and dating back to high school, Fryar said it hasn’t been too difficult to move from right tackle to left tackle.
“This is my sixth or seventh time going to a new position. So it's not very hard for me, I don’t think,” Fryar said. “I don't think there's that big of a transition because I've played left guard, right guard, center, right tackle, extra tight end.”
Fryar knows being the starting left tackle is one of the most important jobs on the team, as it means he’ll be protecting the blind side of either Kyle McCord or Devin Brown at quarterback. But he feels ready to shoulder that burden.
“I feel like it's a huge responsibility, but I'm willing to take that responsibility,” Fryar said. “Them trusting me like that is an extreme honor.”
Fryar hasn’t always been as confident as he is now. He says he was nervous going into practice daily during his first two years as a Buckeye. His first year as a Buckeye being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help matters, and he suffered another setback near the end of his second year when he tore his ACL in warmups before the Michigan game. But he says he really became confident in his ability last season as he got more opportunities to play while learning from Johnson and Jones.
“It's been a rough three years for me,” Fryar said. “But I think now I'm evolving into I can play anywhere, and it just shows people that you can be confident in me to play left tackle, and you don't have to worry about the left side.”
Fryar says he’s gained confidence by going up against JT Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer and the rest of Ohio State’s defensive ends in practices, which he found last year to be harder than playing in the games. While he doesn’t always win his battles with those defensive ends, he uses his losses in those battles as learning opportunities. Tuimoloau said Fryar is “always asking and always wanting to learn more.”
“I feel like I'm going against elite pass rushers like JT and Jack, so I feel like once I get them down and then start beating them and keep going and keep going and keep going, then I'll be fine,” Fryar said. “If I get beat by JT or Jack, I'll walk up to them, ‘Hey, what’d I do? Would you show me?’ And just get better and learn from that.”
As Fryar has become more confident in himself, his teammates and coaches have become more confident in him.
“I feel like Josh and I have done a great job of being on the same page,” said left guard Donovan Jackson, “And Josh has always been very physical. He's always gotten after it. So I'm not worried about like, ‘Oh, is the tackle going to be there for me?’ I know he's going to be there for me.”
“I feel like it's a huge responsibility, but I'm willing to take that responsibility.”– Josh Fryar on being the starting left tackle
Frye said he saw Frye’s confidence grow throughout last season, and he thinks Fryar has taken his game to another level this spring now that he has his first real opportunity to win a starting job.
“Being number six is the hardest position to be for linemen. Because he wore 41, he went in some of our extra lineman packages. Knowing he was right there, but you really couldn't get over the cusp, right?” Frye said. “Now, he's playing the position to own the position. He's not just taking reps. He's using the reps. And that’s shown with him so far.”
Waiting his turn for the last three years has made Fryar “a lot more hungry” to be a starter now that he’s entering his fourth season as a Buckeye. And he thinks Ohio State fans will see that on the field this fall.
“I think they're gonna be satisfied with what they see,” Fryar said.
While questions remain across the offensive line, as Jackson and Matt Jones at guard are the only returning starters from last season, Fryar is confident the entire unit will step up.
“If we communicate and you guys trust in us, I think we'll be fine,” Fryar said.