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Player to Watch: Donovan Jackson takes the leadership reins of the Ohio State offensive line

After starting 13 games last year, Jackson will take on more responsibility this year on an offensive line that will be replacing three starters.

Toledo v Ohio State Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images

Every day from now until the start of the season, Land-Grant Holy Land is highlighting Ohio State football players that you should be watching this season. Check out all of our ”Player to Watch” articles to get ready for the season opener against Indiana.

Ohio State doesn’t just have to break in a new starting quarterback this year, they also have to answer the question of who will be protecting the new man lining up under center. The Buckeyes will have three new starters on the offensive line after Paris Johnson Jr., Dawand Jones and Luke Wypler moved on to the NFL. One name that has the look of the next Ohio State offensive lineman to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft is Donovan Jackson, who started 13 games at left guard last season.

Not only was Jackson a five-star recruit out of Texas, he was the top-ranked player in the state, the No. 1 guard in the country, and the highest-rated offensive lineman in Ohio State’s 2021 recruiting class. Jackson was named to the All-USA High School preseason team, and finished out his high school career by playing in the Army All-American Bowl. The mammoth offensive lineman didn’t take long to get on the field in the scarlet and gray, appearing in 13 games as a freshman.

Indiana v Ohio State Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images

Last year saw Jackson take the next step in his development, earning a starting spot on the line. By the end of the season, Jackson tied Johnson and Wypler with 827 snaps played. The play by the sophomore didn’t go unrecognized, as he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media, and was voted to the second-team by the coaches. Ohio State’s offensive line ended up giving up just 12 sacks, which were seventh-fewest in the nation, as well as 50 tackles for loss, which were sixth-fewest.

Even though Jackson received praise for his play last year, 2023 is the season where the spotlight is shining bright on him. With the loss of 60 percent of the starters from last year’s offensive line, Jackson is now seen as the leader of the group. Being an upperclassman with starting experience will see the new starters of the unit look to him through the season since he has already been in the trenches for some huge games for the Buckeyes.

Jackson will face a different challenge than he did last year. Ohio State’s offensive line had the luxury of a majority of their starters from the 2021 offensive line returning, as well as quarterback C.J. Stroud coming back for his second season as starter for the Buckeyes. This year might see a bit more growing pains, since there will not only be three new starters on the line, but a new quarterback will be starting for Ohio State as well.

Luckily for Jackson and the rest of the offense, they have some time to gel before the first true test for the Buckeyes comes near the end of September, when they head to South Bend for a showdown with Notre Dame.

Heading into his junior season, Jackson is already in the mix for a number of individual awards. Jackson has been included on watch lists for the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, the Lombardi Award, and for the Outland Trophy. It’s unlikely that Jackson will win the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, which is given to the top Division I offensive player from Texas that exhibits the characteristics that define the Texas running back, since all the winners of the award since its creation in 2013 have been either at quarterback or running back. J.K. Dobbins won the award in 2019, and is the only Buckeye to earn the honor.

The awards that feel a little more obtainable for Jackson are the Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy. The Lombardi Award is given to either a down lineman or linebacker. Ohio State has a strong history with the Lombardi Award, as Jim Stillwagon won the first Lombardi Award in 1970, and the school has won the Lombardi Award six times, with the latest winner being A.J. Hawk in 2005. Orlando Pace is the only two-time recipient of the award, winning in 1995 and 1996.

The Outland Trophy is awarded annually to the best interior lineman in college football. Much like the Lombardi Award, Ohio State has won the Outland a number of times. Jim Parker was the first Buckeye to win the award in 1956. Three other Ohio State linemen that won the Lombardi were also named Outland Trophy winners. Stillwagon won in 1970, John Hicks in 1973, and Pace was the last Buckeye winner in 1996.

If Jackson is able to take on more of a leadership role and play like he did in 2022, the Ohio State offense should be able to provide some comfort for the new Buckeye starting quarterback, and field one of the most prolific offenses in the country. While it would be great to see Jackson return to Columbus for another season in 2024, it is looking likely that he will be the fourth Ohio State offensive lineman to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since 2016.