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Ohio State’s rebuilt offensive line is mix of youth, experience

Breaking down the Buckeyes’ offensive line.

NCAA Football: Ohio State Spring Game Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 season was a strange one for Ohio State’s offensive line. After years decades of being a line built to clear the way for a dominant running game, the slobs all of a sudden just couldn’t figure out how to run block. It was made even more perplexing by the fact that with the most prolific passer in the history of the Big Ten Conference under center, the line stepped up and delivered consistently clean pockets for Dwayne Haskins all season long. The group allowed only 1.64 sacks per game, an impressive achievement considering that Haskins ranked second nationally with 533 pass attempts.

Last year, the OSU offense ranked seventh in the B1G in terms of rushing offense, accumulating only 171.29 yards on the ground per game, the first time since 2011 that they hadn’t finished first or second in the conference’s rushing rankings.

However, having graduated four starters off of last year’s front line (Michael Jordan, Demetrius Knox, Malcolm Pridgeon, Isaiah Prince), o-line coach Greg Studrawa has the opportunity to reassert his position group’s dominance, now that the Buckeye game plan will most likely involve far more running with dual-threat quarterback Justin Fields, in all likelihood, running the offense.

What is unusual about this offensive line is that even though they lost those four starters from last year, they nonetheless actually do have a group in 2019 that has significant experience — including as starters — something that should help ease the transition.

Through the first week and change of fall camp, the line seems to be taking shape, with only a single starting spot seemingly still to be determined (though anything can still happen). The one returning full-time starter will be left tackle Thayer Munford. The junior has been a consistent player for the Buckeyes and will be entrusted to protect Fields’ blindside, which will be even more important than normal, as the depth behind the QB is far more limited than in years past.

Due to Fields’ propensity to run — which is dangerous enough in its own right — keeping the Georgia transfer healthy will be of the utmost importance for the Buckeyes. So, it is no doubt comforting for first-year head coach Ryan Day to be able to rely on a known commodity at LT.

You might recall that Munford injured his back at the end of last season, and missed the Rose Bowl. In his stead Joshua Alabi got the call in Pasadena. He had been listed as the OR starter at left tackle early in the 2018 season. Though Munford solidified his hold on that spot throughout the fall, the senior Alabi provides a ton of experience should he be called upon.

While the player likely to start next to Munford is technically getting his first opportunity to start for the Buckeyes, he has started against the Buckeyes in the past. As a former captain for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Jonah Jackson started 11 of the team’s 12 games at right guard in 2018, earning an All-Big Ten honorable mention recognition. The veteran grad-transfer also has experience at center, so he should be an incredibly valuable addition to Stud’s room, as he has the ability to slide over to center if need be.

During the first week or so from practice, players have praised Jackson’s transition to his new program. Wyatt Davis (more on him in a second) said during Thursday’s media availability that it seems like Jackson has been with the Buckeyes for four years, not six months. So, it seems like the left side of the line is locked down.

Continuing to move left-to-right across the line, we now land at the center — literally and figuratively — and that is where we find Josh Myers. For the last handful of years, the OSU centers have been relocated, former starting guards, finishing out their careers at center before heading to the NFL; Pat Elflein begat Billy Price begat Michael Jordan. Interestingly, had Jordan elected to stay in Columbus, rather than returning to center, he likely would have slid back over to guard, as he felt more comfortable at his natural position.

As Myers is a sophomore, it appears that he will now have the opportunity to become the first multi-year starter at center for the Buckeyes since Jacoby Boren, 2014-15. As mentioned earlier, should something happen to Myers, Jackson has some experience at center and could take over the position in a pinch.

However, 2019 five-star recruit Harry Miller has been one of the few true freshmen to get reps with the second team thus far in camp. While it is difficult to imagine any true freshmen playing offensive line for Ohio State, let alone the incredibly demanding center position, the fact that he is already getting second-team reps does seem to indicate that he has thus far lived up to his reputation, despite the fact that he didn’t join the team until late in the summer.

To the right of Myers will likely be another sophomore in Wyatt Davis who has seemingly locked down the position after replacing the injured Knox in 2018. At 6-foot-4, 313 pounds, Davis came to Columbus in 2017 as a five-star prospect out of California, and the top-rated offensive guard in the country, coincidently, Myers was second.

So, while the pair of redshirt-sophomores might not yet have a ton of playing experience in the scarlet and gray — though Davis does have some starts under his belt — both Myers and Davis they have been in the program for two plus years and were incredibly highly-touted talents.

And last, but certainly not least, we come to the only position believed to still have an ongoing battle on the line, right tackle. In 2017, Knox became the starter at RG only Branden Bowen — who had started the first six games of the season — fractured both his fibula and tibia against Maryland. The gruesome injury continued to wreck havoc on Bowen’s career, as he underwent a third surgery in September of 2018.

However, reportedly back to 100 percent, Bowen is in a fight to reclaim a starting job with the highest-rated player from the Buckeyes’ 2018 recruiting class, Nicholas Petit-Frere. The redshirt-freshman has been on a high-calorie diet to get his body up to the level where it can match his talent and athleticism, and apparently it has paid off.

At Saturday’s press conference, Day said that the battle between Bowen and Petit-Frere was “neck-and-neck.” The good news is that whomever earns the spot will be battle tested to start the season, and the player that doesn’t, will likely still have a key role in the o-line rotation, or if an injury is sustained on the line.

To that point, throughout the first eight days of practice, Day has praised the depth that is slowly returning to the position group. In addition to Miller, Alabi, and whomever doesn’t win the RT job, Coach Stud also has redshirt-freshman Matthew Jones, junior Gavin Cupp, and true freshmen Enokk Vimahi and Dawand Jones who have reportedly impressed during camp thus far.

With the presumed return to a run-focused (or at least more balanced) offense, the offensive line will need to be able to both clear the road for J.K. Dobbins, Fields, and whatever running backs make the rotation, while also keeping the pocket secure for the first-time starter at QB.

After one of the worst years for the Ohio State offensive line in recent memory, the combination of youth and experience could be exactly what they need to get the slobs back to feasting up front.