Offensive line certain to be under microscope this spring
COLUMBUS — Which offensive position group will be under the most scrutiny this spring at Ohio State is not really up for debate.
That will be Justin Frye’s offensive line after losing three starters, and he’s just fine with that.
“We’ve got some younger guys who are less than experienced guys, but they’re all hungry, they all want to be good,” Frye said. “They all want to get coached, and so as a coach, like that’s the exciting part about coaching, right?
“We lost good players, and we’ll replace them with good players.”
Here is a look at the group the offensive line coach will be working with when spring practice begins the first week of March:
Returning starters: Donovan Jackson, Matt Jones
Next in line: Josh Fryar, Enokk Vimahi, Tegra Tshabola
Also in the mix: Zen Michalski, George Fitzpatrick, Trey Leroux, Ben Christman, Grant Toutant, Carson Hinzman, Jakob James
Newcomers: Victor Cutler, Luke Montgomery, Joshua Padilla, Austin Siereveld, Miles Walker
Five-star recruits coming out of high school, Jackson and Jones were a solid duo at guard last season, but both have room to improve.
Jackson’s sophomore season included some growing pains but also many examples of his physical talent while Jones dealt with nagging injuries.
Some thought they could both switch positions this year with Jackson moving to left tackle and Jones moving to center, but Frye for now prefers to let them anchor the line from familiar spots while working to develop new starters in the middle and on the edges.
Fryar was the sixth man on the line as a sophomore last season, and one tackle spot likely is his to lose.
Tshabola, from Lakota West, worked his way into being one
of the second-team guards as a true freshman last season (along with Vimahi), but he is going to get a look at tackle this spring.
“I think he’s a high-level player, and he’s going to be a really good player here,” Frye said. “Just a matter of how fast we get him game ready and develop and to get him on the field.”
Michalski, a third-year player from Indiana, and Fitzpatrick, who arrived last winter from high school in Colorado, are also expected to compete at tackle.
“It’s a good chance for all those young guys,” Frye said. “We got Josh, who has played a little bit. Zen has played some sparingly a little bit. And then you look at George, and you look at the new guys coming in. You get a chance for a lot of these young guys to go operate at the tackle position to see what happens.”
At center, James might have been first in line, but he is out this spring while recovering from an injury. Cutler, a senior transfer from Louisiana Monroe, has experience at tackle but is going to get a shot to win the center job. He figures to be competing against Hinzman, a four-star recruit from Wisconsin who like Tshabola enrolled last summer and impressed Frye.
“Carson has done that,” Frye said of playing center.
“We brought in Victor. Victor’s played tackle and he’s played some center, so Vic’s a guy that can do that. You can slide Matt Jones in there.
We talked to Josh Padilla in recruiting about sliding in and doing that. I’ve talked to Enokk about sliding in and putting the ball in your hand. You don’t ever want to be short on guys that can go in and snap the ball.”
Frye expects his four early enrollees — Wayne High School grad Padilla, Lakota East product Siereveld, Montgomery of Findlay and Walker of Connecticut — to spend the spring learning the ropes but is excited to see what they can do.
“Just glad that they’re here early,” Frye said of his first Ohio State recruiting class. “With all those guys, the progress and development of offensive lineman is long, and it’s tough. So those guys all coming in mid-year is good to get acclimated to everything from getting into the weight room, getting into the meal plan and doing those things.”