As Ohio State opens spring football practice next week, The Dispatch will preview each position group. Today: Offensive line.
Returnees: Gavin Cupp, redshirt senior; Wyatt Davis, redshirt junior; Dawand Jones, sophomore; Ryan Jacoby, redshirt freshman; Matthew Jones, sophomore; Harry Miller, sophomore; Thayer Munford, senior; Josh Myers, redshirt junior; Nicholas Petit-Frere, redshirt sophomore; Enokk Vimahi, redshirt freshman; Max Wray, sophomore
Departures: T Joshua Alabi, T Branden Bowen, G Jonah Jackson
Early-enrollee freshmen: Paris Johnson, Trey Leroux, Luke Wypler
Summer-enrollee freshmen: Josh Fryar, Jakob James, Grant Toutant
The final starting job settled on Ohio State’s offensive line during training camp last August was right tackle. It pitted Branden Bowen against Nicholas Petit-Frere. Bowen, a fifth-year senior coming back from injury, got the nod.
Five days before the season opener, coach Ryan Day touted his maturity and leadership, which gave him an edge over Petit-Frere. The decision worked out, as Bowen turned into an all-conference standout, named to the second team by the Big Ten’s coaches and third team by media members.
Petit-Frere is now the heavy favorite to take over at right tackle, positioned to address the biggest uncertainty on an offensive line that enjoys relative continuity with three of its five starters back.
The reasons for some of the optimism surrounding Petit-Frere is owed to timing. His career trajectory could mirror those of Wyatt Davis and Josh Myers, former blue-chip recruits who waited until their third season before cracking the starting lineup.
In their debut as starters last season, they were all-conference selections, and Davis was named to two All-America first-teams.
Petit-Frere, a redshirt sophomore, arrived at Ohio State with similar acclaim, a five-star prospect from Florida who was the top-ranked offensive tackle in the nation in his class of 2018, according to the composite rankings from 247Sports.
But despite his recruiting profile, he likely needed time to develop. As a freshman, the 6-foot-5 tackle was listed at only 288 pounds.
During the offseason after the 2018 season, he followed an 8,000-calorie diet that was intended to lead to a weight gain. He reached 295 pounds by last season, enough progress that he challenged Bowen for the starting job.
On Ohio State’s updated roster for next month’s spring practice, he is up to 305 pounds. Most of the Buckeyes’ left and right tackles reach 300 pounds. Bowen was listed as 315 last season, and Thayer Munford, the starting left tackle, was 310.
As Petit-Frere crossed 300 pounds last month, strength and conditioning Mickey Marotti remarked that he was "doing good" as far as adding weight to his frame.
If Petit-Frere holds onto the right tackle spot, he will be a first-time starter. But he has some experience to fall back on.
Petit-Frere was on the field for 240 snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus’ unofficial tally. He started in place of an injured Munford at left tackle in a win at Northwestern in October.
The performance wasn’t perfect. Munford entered the game to replace Petit-Frere in the second quarter. Ohio State’s coaches also not grade Petit-Frere as a "champion" in the win, the only starting offensive lineman who did not receive such a grade, though Day added "he was competing the best he could," filling in at the opposite tackle spot.
"It was good to see Nick step up," Day said then.
As the Buckeyes round out their offensive line ahead of this fall, they will need continued progress.