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: After impressive run of transfer additions, what comes next for Ohio State?
As if it were not painfully obvious before — painful for fans of other teams, that is — the Ohio State football program further cemented its status as the winner of the 2024 offseason this past weekend, thanks to the addition of three (more) blue-chip prospects, including Freshman All-American and All-SEC safety Caleb Downs.
Formerly of Alabama, Downs joined a crimson-tinted mass exodus that followed Nick Saban’s retirement and was expected by many to land at Georgia. Julian Sayin, the top-ranked quarterback in the 2024 recruiting class, was also part of said exodus, and transferred to OSU despite the presence of fellow class of ‘24 QB Air Noland. And the third weekend addition – listed in no particular order – was four-star defensive lineman Dominic Kirks, a former Washington commit who just so happens to play a position of significant future need for the Buckeyes.
Ho hum, not a bad little weekend of adding impact players in mid-January...
These most recent moves followed a flurry of activity earlier in the month that saw Ryan Day and Ohio State retain the services of several draft-eligible Buckeyes, add the likes of Will Howard and Quinshon Judkins via the transfer portal, and make changes to the coaching staff, including the hiring of Bill O’Brien as the team’s new offensive coordinator and quarterback(s) coach.
Not every move made by OSU garnered the same level of excitement. However, there is simply no denying that the totality of these moves is or was a big, big, big net positive. I mean, hanging on to nearly all of their draft-eligible players, while also adding supreme talents such as Judkins and Downs and a coach with the resume of O’Brien!? Are you kidding me?
This 2024 offseason might already be the best in program history, and it is only January. Who knows, maybe Saban will change his mind and come to Columbus as an analyst! After all, he did bleed Scarlet and Gray for a brief period in the 1980s.
Jokes aside – unless Mr. Saban is reading this and interested – there are still moves for Ohio State to make, if they choose to do so. There are still holes on both the roster and the coaching staff, even after Day decided to go SICKO MODE as part of his new year’s resolutions.
And that is what Gene and I are discussing today: What else should be done or needs to be done, in order for OSU to roll into the 2024 season as CFB’s unquestioned favorite?
For me, any list of remaining priorities starts and ends with the offensive line. Sure, the Buckeyes added another former Bama player in Seth McLaughlin, but did you see that unit last year? They could use any and all help available. Especially (or maybe specifically?) at right tackle.
Currently, all signs point to Josh Simmons starting at left tackle for Ohio State next season again next to Donovan Jackson, with whom the former has obvious and improved chemistry. So the left side is covered. With McLaughlin set to take over at center, that leaves the entire right side open for competition. And we can argue about whether one position takes priority over another, but for me, tackle is always going to be listed ahead of guard.
Last season it was Josh Fryar who manned the right tackle position, and simply put, his performance or level of play was substandard. After flashing potential in 2022, he seemed to plateau or possibly even regress as the 2023 season went along, and OSU just can’t have a repeat of that in 2024. Which is why Day and Co. should scour the transfer portal for an OT or two, if for no other reason than to create competition.
Other internal candidates to fill the RT position are Tegra Tshebola and Luke Montgomery, however, both are unproven. And while there may be hesitancy within The Woody to add “too many” transfers, this Ohio State program is seemingly all-in on the 2024 season. Meaning there is no reason to stop now. It’s not like we’re talking about Colorado’s method of roster building here, either. The Buckeyes have only added six transfers, one of which is an incoming freshman. So spare me any mercenary talk.
OSU has been hyper aggressive in retaining and adding both players and coaches, now the staff owes it to all within the program to finish the job. Add a RT, let the big boys compete, and may the best man win. The Buckeyes will be even better if or when they do.
Like Josh, I think the only real roster-related question that needs to be answered is focused on the offensive line. As my counterpart laid out, the left side of the line and center are virtually set in stone with Josh Simmons, Donovan Jackson and Seth McLaughlin, from left to right. That leaves two spots still up for grabs at both right tackle and right guard, and while one of last year’s starters at those position returns in Josh Fryar — Matthew Jones being the offensive line’s lone NFL Draft entrant — it remains to be seen whether he will remain atop the depth chart in 2024.
Personally, if Ohio State does not elect to add at least one more offensive lineman via the portal — which to be clear: they should — the Buckeyes do have a number of intriguing options in-house that they could look to that would likely provide improvements over last season.
I think Fryar is a prime candidate to take over at right guard, a position that better suits his skillset than being on the outside. The Indiana native was originally recruited as an interior lineman, and I think you can benefit from his starting experience while also improving his level of play by shifting him inside as a more natural fit at guard. I think Carson Hinzman also stands to compete at guard, with McLaughlin likely taking his job at center, but the former may be too far in the dog house to have a legit chance at significant playing time in 2024.
You also have a guy in Tegra Tshabola who could play either position on the right side. A highly-touted offensive tackle coming out of high school as the No. 6 OT and No. 36 overall player per 247Sports’ rankings, like Fryar I also think Tshabola would be more effective as a guard, leaving someone like Luke Montgomery, a former high four-star recruit in the 2023 class, as your potential answer at tackle. Montgomery is a talented player, but it would be a lot to ask a young, inexperienced lineman to take over as the Buckeyes’ right tackle.
So, while there are options already on the roster, I still think the transfer portal is the best bet for this upcoming season.
All that is to say that since Josh already snagged offensive line as his subject for this edition of You’re Nuts, I'm going to pivot to a less clear problem that needs to be solved before we crown Ohio State the offseason champs. For the Buckeyes to truly cap off a terrific offseason, Ryan Day has to solve the feud between Jim Knowles and Larry Johnson.
One of the pillars of Knowles’ impressive defenses at Oklahoma State was the use of the JACK position, a stand-up edge rusher/linebacker hybrid. Unfortunately, we have yet to see that become of part of his defenses at Ohio State, as Johnson is stuck in his ways and refuses to move away from a four-down front, even though the Buckeyes’ sack numbers over the past few seasons have suffered mightily.
With the players Ohio State has at its disposal going into the 2024 season, it makes more sense than ever for the Silver Bullets to employ the JACK position.
With Caleb Downs’ addition allowing Sonny Styles to move down into the box, it could be a potentially game-changing scheme to have Styles and C.J. Hicks both on the field alternating between linebacker and the JACK. On any given snap, either of the tremendous athletes could be rushing the passer or dropping back into coverage, and the opponent would never known which guy’s assignment was which. With a trio of returning defensive linemen in J.T. Tuimoloau, Tyleik Williams and Jack Sawyer, Knowles could employ a three-down front with Styles and Hicks at LB/JACK, getting all of your most talented players on the field at once and adding an element of confusion for opposing offenses.
There is no reason why Ryan Day should allow his coaching staff to go into yet another season with opposing ideologies. You brought in Jim Knowles to be the defensive coordinator, and he should be allowed to run whatever he would like on that side of the ball. Johnson is nearing the end of his coaching career, and his unit has underperformed for the last several years. It is time for him to adapt to a changing landscape of college football, and if Knowles wants to mix things up along the defensive line, it should be well within his power to do so without opposition from an antiquated position coach.