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Ohio State football bolsters pass protection with return of left tackle Thayer Munford

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State offensive tackle Thayer Munford, a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection, announced Saturday he will not enter the NFL draft.

A freshman is likely to start at quarterback for Ohio State next fall if Justin Fields heads to the NFL as expected.

Due to the inexperience at the position, the return of left tackle Thayer Munford, who announced Saturday he will hold off on entering the NFL draft, is significant.

Munford, a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection, will protect the blind side of either Jack Miller or C.J. Stroud, who were backups behind Fields in 2020, or Kyle McCord, an incoming freshman from Philadelphia.

All of them were decorated high school passers, but none have attempted a pass in a college game.

The prospect of operating with a clean prospect offers them a better chance at making a more seamless transition in following Fields.  

Over past seasons, Munford had been one of the best pass blockers on the Buckeyes’ offensive line, and no one was better last fall.

In eight games in 2020, Munford gave up only three total pressures and did not surrender a sack, according to data from Pro Football Focus. It was the fewest pressures allowed by the team’s starting offensive linemen.   

Few elements influence a quarterback’s performance as much as the duress faced while in the pocket.

That was as much the case with the uber-talented Fields, who was in his second season starting for the Buckeyes in the fall and is a top draft pick.

Fields completed 77.5% of his passes for 1,819 yards and 18 touchdowns without pressure, and was only twice picked off, according to PFF. When under pressure, his performance nose-dived. He completed 41.7% of his passes for 279 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions.

Munford had been a senior, but is able to return in 2021 after the NCAA granted players an additional season of eligibility due to the coronavirus pandemic. He became the Buckeyes’ second senior to use the extra eligibility following cornerback Marcus Williamson.

As a result, he is in line to become their first four-year starter on the offensive line since Billy Price, who started at center and guard between 2014 and 2017.

The infrastructure on offense for a first-time starting quarterback could further improve if right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere remains at Ohio State.

A redshirt sophomore, Petit-Frere is eligible for the first time to enter the draft. He was arguably the Buckeyes’ second-best pass blocker behind Munford, giving up only four total pressures in his first season as a starter.

Most of the turnover on the offensive line, which had been among the semifinalist for the Joe Moore Award as the best unit in college football, is expected to be among the interior.

Center Josh Myers announced on Friday night he is entering the draft, and right guard Wyatt Davis is expected to take the same step ahead of Monday's early entry deadline.

In September, Davis declared for the draft, but opted back in when the season restarted.

Both Davis and Myers were critical pieces for one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the country. According to a Football Outsiders measurement, it averaged 3.2 line yards per carry.

New starters on the interior of the offensive line, which could include Paris Johnson Jr. and Matthew Jones, will be called on to maintain the same level.

But with Munford back at one of the tackle spots, pass protection appears to be in good shape.

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman