Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: Biggest overreactions to the first week of Ohio State camp.
Gene’s Take: Ohio State’s offensive line will be dominant
It’s rare that I get to take the first crack at it in these things, so I'm excited to get out ahead of my podcast co-host on this one. That being said, I'm not going to steal either of the topics Josh floated out when planning to write this edition of You’re Nuts this week. In addition, while I find that I'm usually the more negative of the two of us when it comes to almost all things Ohio State, I'm actually going to overreact in this positive this time around. Maybe you're all just catching me at a good time, but I really hope I’m right about this one.
With one week of the Buckeyes’ preseason camp having come and gone, I can confidently (not confidently) say that Ohio State’s offensive line is going to dominate this season and fix all of the issues that plagued them a year ago.
I didn’t think it would be a big enough overreaction to say that they would improve from a season ago, as the unit wasn’t exactly stellar for Ryan Day’s offense in 2021. The all-tackles offensive line was a questionable decision from the jump under former offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, and it performed about how you would expect. The blocking was solid when it came to the passing game, ranking No. 15 in FBS in sacks allowed with 17 total on the year. However, with no guards on the field in a purely zone running game, they consistently failed in the run blocking department. The Buckeyes ranked 52nd in power success rate, per Football Outsiders, which in large part led to their struggles on 3rd-and-short.
With Justin Frye now at the helm of the unit, Ohio State will return back to a traditional line formation with two tackles, two guards and a center — which, in itself, should lead to significant improvement. Starting in those spots include a pair of former five-star prospects in Paris Johnson Jr. at tackle and Donovan Jackson at guard, returning starter Luke Wypler at center, a player with experience all over the line in Matthew Jones at the other guard position, and a 6-foot-8 mountain of a man in Dawand Jones rounding out the five at tackle. Having the correct personnel on the field is a great place to start, but that is an incredibly solid group of guys to man down the front.
Personally, I’m excited to see both Johnson and Jackson on the field this season. Coming out of high school, Paris Johnson Jr. was drawing lofty comparisons as the next Orlando Pace. It is not exactly fair to expect Johnson to emulate one of the best to ever do it at the position in the history of the sport, but after performing admirably at guard last season, the nation’s No. 1 OT in the 2020 class will now get to dominate on the outside for Ohio State where he belongs. Jackson is certainly no slouch either, as the Texas native came to Columbus as the No. 1 interior offensive lineman in the 2021 class. Having a pair of five-star caliber players on the line at the same time should pay dividends for the Buckeyes.
On top of the level of talent from a player perspective along this year’s line, I'm excited to see what Frye brings to the mix as the new man in charge. Studrawa’s coaching had gotten old and stale over time, and his replacement was likely long overdue. Frye previously spent time at Boston College and UCLA, which both saw improvement in the run game after he arrived. As a Chip Kelly disciple, hopefully Frye is able to bring some much needed juice to Ohio State’s ground attack, which became far too predictable at times last season. New players and better coaching up front could pay dividends for what was already an explosive Buckeye offense a year ago, especially if they can supplement that air attack with the ground and pound.
Josh’s Take: Julian Fleming will be a starter
Roughly a week into fall camp, this is the perfect time to have some overreactions! Don’t you agree, Gene? One or two practices in? Seems too early. Waiting until the team has had a chance to develop chemistry and gel? That’s amateur hour, and much too late in the game. Yep, this feels like the absolute sweet spot to make snap judgements regarding the 2022 Ohio State football season.
Media outlets and beat reporters – and as a direct result, fans – have had limited access to practice sessions thus far, cutting down on the amount of substantial news that has come out pertaining to players, position battles, new coaches, etc. Brief glimpses of a controlled setting(s) don’t typically provide a ton of information, but fortunately, the staff has been generous with their time and occasionally forthcoming with information.
The curtain was thrown back last Thursday, when a full practice was opened up, and those in attendance had a field day giving us their keen observations. There is plenty to learn from press conferences and media availability, but nothing can replicate a live practice. Between those early pressers and recent, in-person observations, we have started to gain just a little bit of insight into the Buckeye and their preparation for the upcoming season.
What has stood out to me, and what I am completely willing to overreact to, is the praise being heaped upon Julian Fleming — as well as his presence among the starters. Now, this is not to say Fleming will be in the starting lineup come Sept. 3, because a lot could change in three weeks. But there are good vibes and positive momentum propelling the former five-star recruit and top-ranked WR in his class, and I could not be more excited.
Because I am on the board of trustees in Flemingtown. I purchased a small condo on Fleming Island nearly three years ago, and I’ve been forced to watch my property value tank ever since. But this is our season. Comeback SZN. 2022 will be the year of Fleming, as all reports indicate an impending breakout for the oft-injured and terribly unlucky wideout. I legitimately believe in his talent, and it finally seems like things are beginning to go his way.
In my opinion, it was never about talent with Fleming. A multi-sport stud in high school, he came to Columbus with the pedigree, the skills, and the work ethic. He just couldn’t stay healthy. Even when he has been on the field, he rarely seemed to be playing at 100 percent. Not doing him any favors, was the fact that he shared a position room with Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and others. While iron sharpens iron, and I’m sure Fleming learned a great deal, his odds of earning playing time were low. Then Jaxon Smith-Njigba broke out, and he became a bit of an afterthought.
Olave and Wilson chose to protect their investment and sat out of the 2022 Rose Bowl, but Fleming did not shine in their absence(s). He played in the game, but Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka put up better stats. It seemed as if Fleming would be no higher than fourth on the depth chart heading into the 2022 season, but I was still not ready to step down from the board and/or put up a For Sale sign. Indications are that Fleming still has a chance to shine, and might do so sooner than later.
The third-year wideout recently earned the status of Iron Buckeye — a name and honor given to those who had the most outstanding summer from a training standpoint. Fleming was joined by Kamryn Babb, Tommy Eichenberg, Tyler Friday, Ronnie Hickman, Kourt Williams, and Cade Stover... a nice list of players. But offseason awards often mean very little when it comes to playing time. Guys still need to earn it, which is apparently what Fleming is doing right now.
Last Thursday, during the open practice, Fleming took all of the first-team reps at Z receiver. He was on the field with JSN and Harrison Jr., and ahead of Egbuka. While I expect all four to play a ton, there now exists a scenario in with Fleming earns the start against Notre Dame. He also ran as the first-team gunner during punt team work, which might not seem like much, but remember: that was the beginning of the ascent for guys like Terry McLaurin and Chris Olave. Not an apples to apples comparison, but if anything, it proves that Fleming is at least fully healthy.
I don’t expect Fleming to lead the team in receptions or receiving yards. He could finish fourth or fifth in either category, and I would not be shocked. But as of January 2, 2022, I’m not sure any of us expected him to even compete for a starting role... which is exactly what he’s doing. And to that, I am willing to overreact. It has been a long time coming.