For now, it seems Ohio State is done pursuing offensive linemen in the transfer portal.
The post-spring transfer window will still offer Ohio State a chance to add some road-graders if it elects to do so, but what remains is an opportunity to evaluate the pieces the Buckeyes already have on their roster during spring practice.
All right, I know what many of you are thinking.
Yes, Ohio State’s offensive line was downright abhorrent in the Cotton Bowl. Yes, despite some improvements during the regular season, the front five remained the biggest concern for the team throughout 2023 after only adding one starter through the transfer portal the offseason before – the same number it appears the Buckeyes have added this offseason thus far.
All of that said, the pieces might actually be there for a quality Ohio State offensive line without any further additions from the transfer portal. The Buckeyes will need to see how realistic that proposition is over the next three months.
Let’s work from left to right. Truthfully, from left tackle to center, the offensive line is pretty much set.
Josh Simmons took some strides at left tackle last year after transferring in from San Diego State, showcasing the athleticism that made him an attractive candidate for Ryan Day and company in the transfer portal. Per Pro Football Focus, he allowed 15 total pressures and one sack on the season, with a pass-blocking grade of 71.9 and a run-blocking grade of 65.8. He cut back on his penalty issues some as well, going from a nation-high 17 penalties with the Aztecs to eight this past season.
It’s not that Simmons should be beyond reproach if the Buckeyes dive back into the transfer portal during the spring window, but he’s shown that he can be part of a good front five.
Ohio State’s starting left guard is locked in. Donovan Jackson returned for a fourth and final season at Ohio State to start at the position for a third consecutive year.
There’s not much to evaluate with Jackson this spring. He’s a two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection with All-American potential, even if he had a few rough games in 2023. He was one of four Buckeyes to make ESPN’s Way-Too-Early 2024 College Football All-America team on Tuesday.
Center figures to be McLaughlin’s spot to lose after he transferred in from Alabama, even with his snapping struggles against Michigan in the College Football Playoff noted.
The right side is where the real intrigue lies.
Ohio State’s starting right guard from a season ago, Matt Jones, is gone. He was arguably the most dependable piece of the Buckeyes’ starting five, and the first man up to replace him when he slid to center in the Cotton Bowl – Enokk Vimahi – did not meet expectations, to say the least.
There are options outside Vimahi, however. Now entering his third year in Columbus, Tegra Tshabola slid inside to guard from tackle last season and saw time against Missouri as a sixth offensive lineman. His 6-6, 320-pound frame and quick feet give him great physical tools to compete at that spot or potentially right tackle.
Speaking of right tackle, Josh Fryar started opposite Simmons throughout 2023 but had plenty of ups and downs. Speed rushers off the edge were of particular difficulty for Fryar.
Fryar still carried plenty of punch as a run blocker, but many prognosticators – the one writing this column included – believe his best position is at guard. If he does move inside, he'll be a leading candidate to start.
Carson Hinzman got supplanted at center prior to the season finale but stuck around to compete along the interior. If McLaughlin is indeed destined to start at snapper, Hinzman’s year of starting experience and overall talent as a top-200 prospect should also make him an option at right guard.
Returning to Fryar for a moment, there is no guarantee that he won’t remain at right tackle going into 2024, but one of the reasons other than his skill set that a move inside could make sense is Luke Montgomery.
Montgomery made early waves at the tackle position as a true freshman, seeing time in the Bison package mentioned above. He played the most snaps of any offensive lineman (44) that didn’t start a game in 2023.
Other than Jackson, Montgomery is also the highest-rated prospect currently in the Buckeyes’ position room. He was the No. 92 prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings for the class of 2023.
Where Montgomery is at development-wise could dictate whether Fryar moves inside and/or whether Ohio State looks at other offensive tackles in the spring transfer window.
Redshirt junior Zen Michalski was involved in the offensive tackle competition last spring but faded quickly. Redshirt sophomore George Fitzpatrick could be another candidate in 2024.
A lot of pieces, especially on the right side, will be under a microscope this spring for Ohio State’s offensive line. With all that’s coming back for the Buckeyes on defense, they can’t afford to have their front five hold them back again in 2024.