When Josh Simmons entered the transfer portal this spring, Justin Frye was already plenty familiar with the former San Diego State offensive tackle.
As the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at UCLA, Frye offered Simmons a scholarship to play for the Bruins after Simmons camped in Westwood in 2019. Having already worked hands-on with Simmons at that camp and gotten to know Simmons through the recruiting process made Frye more comfortable with bringing Simmons to Columbus to fill Ohio State’s need for a transfer offensive tackle.
“The camp’s always the best, from my mind because you’re hands-on with the kids. So we had a really good time, I recruited him there for a while,” said Frye, who is now entering his second year as Ohio State’s offensive line coach. “Just having some common ground of being able to work with him before and being out there with him is obviously a huge help.”
What made Simmons an intriguing prospect to Frye four years ago and once again when he entered the transfer portal after two years at SDSU? Frye said that starts with Simmons’ physical tools as a 6-foot-6, 305-pound offensive tackle.
“He's got a great frame, he’s got good length. He's got twitch, he's got burst. He's got a lot of tools that you look for,” Frye said. “I offered him out of high school at my last place because I felt like he had a chance to be a really good player. So it’s not something like a guy just popped on the scene, he's been a player.”
Secondly, Simmons has something that many other offensive tackles who entered the transfer portal didn’t: Significant experience at the collegiate level. Simmons started all 13 games at right tackle for the Aztecs last season, giving Frye plenty of game tape to evaluate. And Frye liked what he saw well enough to feel confident Simmons can be an Ohio State-caliber tackle.
“If you were taking another guy out of the portal that maybe really doesn't have a lot of tape, you're relying more on what you've seen before possibly or some other things or really just necessity of need,” Frye said. “But for him, it was good, because I had hands-on, I had a prior relationship, I'd been out there for so many years and being around the right people to ask the right questions. And then you could press play for 13 games and watch him do it.”
Simmons’ first season as a college starter was far from perfect. Pro Football Focus gave Simmons a grade of just 47.1 for his play at San Diego State in 2022, and most strikingly, Simmons was attributed with 17 penalties. But Frye felt Simmons got better as the year went along and that the penalty numbers look worse than they actually are.
“I mean, if you go back and watch, you don't just click PFF or whatever it is, but you're playing in a loud stadium and four guys jump, well then the right side judge … He's gonna look and be like, ‘Oh yeah, the right tackle did it, give me whatever his number is.’ Or the center didn't snap the ball and a guy jumps,” Frye said when asked about the penalties. “So I mean, you got to dig into the stats. It's something, yeah, we noticed and we look at and then it's saying, ‘Well, that’s coaching.’ How do you fix it? How do you clean it up? We work a lot here, we did a lot with our guys last year and we'll continue to do that, whether it be a silent cadence whether it be verbal, nonverbal, I mean, that's all the coaching part of it.”
Frye acknowledged there will be a learning curve for Simmons as he makes the jump from playing at San Diego State to Ohio State. But he thinks Simmons’ playing experience will allow him to acclimate to playing at Ohio State more quickly than someone without that experience.
“He's played in major college football games. So the speed and the intensity of that ramp from high school to college is something we have to learn. He's been able to do that already,” Frye said. “Now he's coming here and as we tell kids all the time in recruiting and we’re talking, like your Tuesday practice is just as hard if not harder than most games are. So that level has got to raise even coming here to Ohio State, it's still going to be a jump, but not as significant as these other guys.”
Frye said Simmons has been eager to learn quickly and continue improving his craft since he arrived at Ohio State in May.
“Josh is a pretty mature guy … he's quiet, he goes to work and he wants to get better,” Frye said. “He's adapting with (director of sports performance Mickey Marotti) and the training and all that stuff and the plays and trying to get around (offensive line graduate assistant Mike Sollenne) and I as much as he can just in playbook form. Everything that we legally can do, he's trying to do. So his understanding of that learning curve is there, and then now how fast do we climb to it is all he's trying to do.”
That said, Simmons hasn’t been promised a starting job. Given that Simmons has yet to actually practice as a Buckeye, Frye isn’t ready to specify whether Simmons will compete at right tackle, left tackle or both spots. But he expects a healthy competition on both sides after Josh Fryar took most of the first-team left tackle reps this spring while Tegra Tshabola and Zen Michalski split the first-team reps at right tackle.
“The guy that wins it is going to have to play your best ball. It's not given to anybody. They're all gonna fight for that,” Frye said. “So yeah, healthy competition ahead of us, because of the amount of guys fighting for it. Zenuae’s coming back into it, Tegra had a good spring moving out there, Josh (Fryar) has obviously played.”
Although unconfirmed by Frye, the expectation is that Simmons will compete for the starting right tackle job after Michalski and Tshabola both had their share of struggles at that spot this spring. While Fryar hasn’t locked down the left tackle job yet, Frye said he would be “very” confident when asked Tuesday how confident he would be if Fryar was Ohio State’s starting left tackle this season.
Frye believes bringing in more competition at offensive tackle via the addition of Simmons will make everyone better, and he praised his returning tackles for how they’ve embraced that competition.
“If you bring in new competition for people and people shy away, then you're getting what you want because you don't want those people playing. Now that's not Tegra, that's not Zen, that's not Josh, that’s not our guys. But if that were to be the case for someone, then that's good, because you know now instead of 3rd-and-7 in a critical situation,” Frye said. “For those guys, they’re fired up. All of them, they've been working. You call back on the road and ‘How's it going?’ and ‘Oh, coach, we were just meeting with him and we're going over this, we’re going over that.’ So there's a lot of things that go into the competition part of it of guys learning it better, wanting to teach a guy better. And then ultimately, everybody wants to win. So we gotta play our five best.“