clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Biggest Concern: Ohio State’s offensive line questions could waste a year of elite playmakers

Ohio State’s offensive line answered some questions about who will play this fall during the spring, but it definitely raises concerns about the level they might reach as a unit.

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

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about our Biggest Concerns. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our Biggest Concerns here.

Ohio State has gained a reputation for having one of the most prolific offenses in the country year in and year out under head coach Ryan Day. The image surrounding Ohio State has been high-level quarterback play, an explosive running game, dynamic pass catchers, and most years, a solid offensive line.

Entering the offseason the three biggest question marks coming into the offseason were who the new quarterback would be, could the secondary improve, and how would the offensive line fare after losing three players to the NFL draft. The first question is trust that Ryan Day will make the right decision about who is starting while bringing them along like the past three quarterbacks. On the second question, there was evidence in the Spring Game and effort in the transfer portal to bolster the cornerback room.

Where there has been no confidence or evidence that this year will be a success up front, is on the offensive line. The Buckeyes had one of their best offensive lines in recent memory last year, but still failed to produce consistently in short yardage. Previously the Buckeyes experimented with a four-tackle offensive line, and before that in 2020, they actually had a pretty well-balanced offensive line inside and out.

There are quite a few reasons for this starting with recruiting, but even with the underwhelming recruiting, there is no excuse for the offensive line to be built like this. Other years have been built with lower-ranked recruits, but that doesn’t mean it will always work out though leading to my biggest concern. Will the offensive line recruiting finally hold back the skill talent, and waste a year of elite playmakers?

Down Recruiting

At the end of last season, the assumption was that Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones were going to take the next step going pro. Then everyone was set waiting for the decisions of Luke Wypler and Matt Jones, many assumed Wypler would stay, but his declaration made it so the Buckeyes will be replacing three starters this Fall. The issue is the Buckeyes were relying on young players, and early developmental pieces like Jones ahead of schedule. This is because the recruiting has not been where it has needed to be.

Offensive line recruits since 2020

Player Position Class Composite Ranking
Player Position Class Composite Ranking
Luke Montgomery IOL 2023 92
Joshua Padilla IOL 2023 226
Austin Siereveld IOL 2023 298
Miles Walker OT 2023 499
Tegra Tshabola OT 2022 104
Carson Hinzman IOL 2022 177
George Fitzpatrick OT 2022 244
Avery Henry OT 2022 721
Donovan Jackson** IOL 2021 19
Ben Christman*** IOL 2021 124
Zen Michalski OT 2021 306
Paris Johnson Jr.* OT 2020 9
Luke Wypler* IOL 2020 108
Grant Toutant OT 2020 463
Josh Fryar IOL 2020 510
Jakob James IOL 2020 852
Trey Leroux OT 2020 N/A
Enokk Vimahi IOL 2019 124
Matt Jones** IOL 2018 68
* Drafted, ** Started, *** Transfer

Now bear with me on the large table, there is a lot of recruiting data here that needs to be discussed. First and foremost, when the Buckeyes have landed a high-level recruit they have either started a game or have been drafted. Seeing the success of Paris Johnson Jr. is no surprise, and having Donovan Jackson as a multi-year starter ended up being a necessity. If you take out those two players though, the highest-ranked recruit is Matt Jones who will be a three-year starter after his sixth season.

The reason that is important is that three hits on the list have been top-75 recruits, which is an expectation when they are landed. Ohio State landed three of them in that range total over the last four recruiting classes plus Jones who is a holdover from the 2018 class. Seeing that the Buckeyes have successfully developed the three best offensive linemen they have is a testament to the players.

The main issue is after those three players the average recruiting ranking of the others is 303.6. Ohio State hit on Dawand Jones, but looking down the list, there are eight freshmen and sophomores who should not be expected to play yet. That leaves nine upperclassmen who are ranked anywhere from just outside 100 to the 900s that are on the roster and are probably not going to make an impact.

The Buckeyes projected starting offensive line is Josh Fryar (510) left tackle, Donovan Jackson (19) at left guard, Carson Hinzman (177) or Jakob James (852), Matt Jones (68) 6th-year right guard, and an unsettled right tackle position with Tegra Tshabola (104) or Zen Michalski (306). As you can once again see, there has not been a lot of margin for error created in recruiting hence the work in the portal, and the Buckeyes will be relying on a few players to outperform their recruiting ranking to be successful this year.

Recent draft and offensive success in spite of recruiting

Since 2019 the Buckeyes have had nine offensive linemen drafted which lines up with the underwhelming recruiting rankings. On the field, the Buckeyes have been solid in pass protection and on the ground with the team ranking in the top 10 in yards per play since Ryan Day took over.

Now even with the success the Buckeyes have had on the field, and in the draft, there is always a limit to the mistakes that are made. Coach Studrawa – or he who must not be named if you listen to the show — was able to coach up some units that paved the way for a 2000-yard rusher, and a single-game rushing yard record holder. There have been growing pains, but even with the success of the offense Ohio State was not reaching the level it needed to be on the offensive line.

The Buckeyes now have Justin Frye, who is working with better talent than he has at any of his previous employers. Last season, he had a gap year in his first year with five draft picks on his line, this year he has two returning starters. The line will either be super young, or the Buckeyes will be turning it over once again.

For the Buckeyes to continue to have success, this will all be on the shoulders of the offensive line. Ohio State has found ways to be successful with these lower-ranked players in the past, but after having an incredibly talented line from a recruiting standpoint last year, there is now not that luxury. This line can be a disaster if the group does not come together.

What is needed this season for success

This season will be a success if the Buckeyes can find success on the ground consistently and keep the first-year starting quarterback on his feet. The Buckeyes have Marvin Harrison Jr. on the outside, Emeka Egbuka in the slot, and Julian Fleming. In the backfield, they have backs who don’t need a lot of room to hit home runs. Looking at the talent on offense, the offensive line just has to not be detrimental.

The expectation should not be first-round production, but this offensive line has to be good enough to not have game plans broken by elite edge rushers and be able to dominate lesser teams. If the Buckeyes can show promise against a well-coached Notre Dame front, they will have two weeks to improve further before Penn State.

This group does not have to win the Joe Moore Award, but it can not rank near the bottom of the offensive lines in the conference, and it definitely can not be seen as an offensive line ranking outside of the top 20 best units if they want to compete for a national title. For the offensive line, they have time, but the time between now and the first game is shorter than the coaching staff is probably hoping for at the moment.

For the Buckeyes, if the line is not functional, it will not matter if they have Marvin Harrison Jr. at receiver, anybody at quarterback, or whoever lines up at running back. It all starts up front, and if this group fails to develop the team will not reach its yearly expectations. No beating Michigan, no Big Ten title, and definitely no college football playoff.

This is by far the biggest concern for the Buckeyes because if the offensive line is not successful, this Ohio State team will not be.