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Column: Ohio State is in big trouble at offensive tackle

Greg Studrawa’s shortcomings have come home to roost.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ohio State fans that have been paying attention could see this coming from miles away: the Buckeyes are in trouble along the offensive line this season, and Greg Strudawa’s failures on the recruiting trail are largely to blame.

The issue can be traced back all the way to the 2019 recruiting class, as the both the talent evaluation and overall success at landing offensive linemen really began to fall off a cliff for Studrawa, who was allowed to hang around for far too long after that as the shortcomings only proceeded to get worse and worse. It is now that we are feeling the effects the worst, and while new position coach Justin Frye seems to be doing a great job on the trail in his own right, there is only so much that can be done with the current roster construction.

From 2019-22, the last four recruiting classes under Studrawa, Ohio State failed to land an offensive tackle outside of Ohio rated higher than 244th nationally. The Buckeyes did, of course, land Paris Johnson Jr. in 2020, but it wasn’t exactly a feat of strength to convince the in-state tackle to play for the Buckeyes. Other than PJJ, the tackles committed in those four classes ranked No. 297, No. 1127 (Dawand Jones, got lucky with that one), No. 463, No. 1139, No. 306, No. 104 (Tegra Tshabola, in-state kid), No. 244 and No. 721 nationally.

Simply put: that ain’t gonna cut it.

Which brings us to this year’s offensive line group. As previously mentioned, Johnson Jr. was every bit the stud he was expected to be, and Jones was the only tackle of the other eight recruited by Studrawa over that four-year span that out-played his recruiting ranking — by a ton, I might add — and as a result both of those guys left for the NFL Draft after last season. With Luke Wypler gone as well, the only returning starters for the Buckeyes up front are guards Donovan Jackson and Matthew Jones.

Ohio State will probably be fine at center, where either redshirt junior Jakob James or redshirt freshman Carson Hinzman will earn the starting job in preseason camp. Josh Fryar, who came to Columbus as a guard rated No. 510 nationally, will look to man the left tackle spot after filling in admirably last year when called upon. But with arguably one of the most important positions on the line remaining up for grabs at right tackle, there is no clear candidate to take the job, and those that have tried through spring camp did not look all that great in doing so.

If you’re looking to fill that role with someone already on the roster, then your top choices as it currently stands would be Tegra Tshabola, Zen Michalski or Ben Christman. The redshirt freshman Tshabola is a big body at 6-foot-6, 327 pounds, but has admitted on his own that the transition to the college game has been harder than expected, and his skillset would indicate that he’d be better suited as a guard. Michalski and Christman have both played a total of nine snaps in their Ohio State careers, with neither taking a single snap at right tackle (Michalski at LT and Christman at RG, both in the blowout against Indiana).

It would appear as though the best option would be to look to the transfer portal, as there is some talent to be gained out there. However, even some of the top guys available during this second window don’t provide a sure-thing for the 2023 season.

The two ‘big’ names at tackle to keep an eye on in the portal are Caleb Johnson and Courtland Ford. You could also look at a guy like Emmanuel Pregnon, who was a guard at Wyoming but could have tackle potential at 6-foot-6, 318 pounds. None of the three would be a slam dunk, as Johnson and Ford were former three-star prospects and Pregnon doesn’t even play the position, but with the current state of affairs in Columbus, it cant hurt to try.

Pregnon is probably the most intriguing of the three, as the former four-star prospect was named to the Freshman All-American Second Team by College Football News as well as their Midseason All-American Team in his one year as a starter at Wyoming. Caleb Johnson is a Notre Dame transfer, so he enters the portal already with Power 5 experience at tackle. However, Johnson also lost the same position battle with the Irish, so who knows what his actual potential at this level is. Ford, a USC transfer, lost his starting job after an injury, but started 12 games for the Trojans at tackle prior.

None of these three guys jump off the page, and there could still be more guys to enter their names into the second transfer portal window that extends to April 30. Justin Frye is doing a really nice job on the recruiting trail in his own right, as the 2024 class already has four offensive linemen committed and the No. 1 OT in the country Brandon Baker set to visit Columbus in June, but that won’t help Ohio State this upcoming season.

The Buckeyes are in bad shape at the tackle spot, and the solution isn’t entirely clear. Ohio State is absolutely loaded with skill talent on the offensive side of the ball, but that won’t really matter if there are no lanes for the running backs and Kyle McCord is on his back on every play. The offensive line is far and away the biggest weakness on this year’s Scarlet and Gray squad, and if anything is going to hold them back from contending for a national title, it will be the inability to block up front.

Lazy talent evaluation and bad recruiting by Greg Studrawa are to blame for the issues Ohio State currently faces. If nothing else, hopefully Ryan Day and the rest of the Buckeye brain trust now know that you cannot allow that level of mediocrity among your coaching staff stick around for too long, or it can leave a lasting impact that will prove costly down the road. However, with Parker Fleming still employed in Columbus, I find it hard to believe that any lessons have actually been learned.