SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Ohio State left tackle Thayer Munford plans to return for his senior season rather than apply for early entry into the NFL draft, he told The Dispatch on Thursday.


Munford is the most experienced player on the Buckeyes’ offensive line, starting for most of the past two seasons.


The development would afford them a veteran presence and critical blind-side protection for quarterback Justin Fields, who will be a junior next fall.


Also Thursday, two third-year sophomores on the offensive line — center Josh Myers and right guard Wyatt Davis — said they would be back at Ohio State for the 2020 season. OSU’s two other offensive line starters — right tackle Branden Bowen and graduate transfer Josh Jackson — will have exhausted their eligibility.


For Munford, the plan to remain in school stems from a promise made to his mother when he graduated high school. He told her he would stay in college for four years and obtain his undergraduate degree.


"I want her to be proud of her son," Munford said. "I know she’s proud of me right now, but I want her to make sure she’s proud of her son and get that degree."


According to his biography on the athletic department’s website, Munford is a sports industry major. He said he is two semesters shy of finishing the requirements for a degree.


Munford said he has not sought feedback from the NFL draft advisory board, which awards draft grades.


If Munford were to come out, Walter Football, a draft-projections site, ranks him as the 17th-best prospect among offensive tackles in the 2020 draft, slated to be picked somewhere in the third or fourth rounds.


The deadline for underclassmen to file declaration papers with the league is Jan. 20.


As he contemplated his future Thursday during a media-day event for the Fiesta Bowl, two days before the Buckeyes were to face Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal, Munford also admitted his junior season "wasn’t my best year."


In the sixth game against Michigan State in early October, Munford suffered a high ankle injury that hobbled him for weeks. He did not start in the following game at Northwestern.


Though playing in some pain, Munford said "it was worth it."


The setback came after he underwent back surgery in the offseason, followed by months of rehab.


"This year was a huge eye-opener about how much an offseason really does help you," Munford said.


He said he hopes to focus on building upper-body and lower-body strength this offseason.


"That’s the biggest thing I hope to improve on," he said. "And quickness in my feet."


He was limited in much of the team’s offseason strength and conditioning work while in rehab. Without limitations this offseason, he looks to impress scouts with a better senior season.


"I don’t think I could put it into words how valuable it is," offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said of offseason workouts.


While Munford expressed some disappointment with his performance as a junior, Studrawa considered other factors.


"Those guys all want to achieve greatness," Studrawa said. "When you’re here, there’s a certain level that everyone thinks you have to pick up: all-conference, all-Big Ten, All-American, all those things. He wants that, too.


"And he fought through all those things and battled his (butt) off and probably didn’t play to that level. But he was pretty close. And fighting through those things, his maturity level and toughness showed through to me because of how much he cares about his teammates."


No update


on Fields’ knee


Quarterback Justin Fields did not provide reporters with an update on his sprained knee, two days after he described it as between 80 to 85 percent healed.


During a televised interview on the Big Ten Network, Fields said "the coaches advised me not to really talk about my knee today."


On his final play against Penn State, Fields sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee, an injury that was aggravated the following week at Michigan and that prompted him to wear a larger knee brace.


Fields said he hopes to wear a smaller brace against Clemson, though he has been seen during the media-viewing portions of practices this week in a bulkier brace.


jkaufman@dispatch.com


@joeyrkaufman