Paris Johnson Jr. to begin Ohio State spring football practice at guard
Without the coronavirus pandemic prompting the NCAA to allow players an additional year of eligibility, a step that paved the way for left tackle Thayer Munford to return for a fifth season at Ohio State, the makeup of the Buckeyes’ offensive line would have been different in 2021.
In the alternative scenario, sophomore Paris Johnson Jr. likely would have been assigned to protect the blind side of OSU’s next starting quarterback.
When he joined the program last year, Johnson was the top-ranked tackle prospect in his recruiting class, drawing comparisons to Buckeyes legend Orlando Pace. And it’s likely he’ll ultimately end up as a college tackle. But between Munford’s return and the presence of Nicholas Petit-Frere at right tackle, the Buckeyes have no vacancies at starting tackle this fall.
The circumstance leaves Johnson as a candidate to start at either left or right guard, where he will first line up when spring practice opens Friday.
Coach Ryan Day believes Johnson is versatile enough to settle in along the interior of the offensive line like many on their roster.
“He has some position flexibility,” Day said. “He’s so talented. Really, our tackles and guards are kind of interchangeable when you look at them. They can kind of do both, which really helps.”
Johnson has experience at guard, filling in at both spots during the College Football Playoff semifinal win over Clemson.
The starting guard sports opened after right guard Wyatt Davis left for the NFL, and left guard Harry Miller slid to center to take over for Josh Myers. Day signaled a desire to find a spot for Johnson on the offensive line, no matter the position.
He’s talented enough to start somewhere.
“The idea always in the offensive line is how do you find the right five,” he said. “You want to make sure you have your best five linemen in the game and go from there.”
Without an opening, it would be a tall order for Johnson to swipe a starting spot from Munford or Petit-Frere, who were among the best in the country in pass protection last season. Between them, they allowed only a combined seven quarterback pressures and no sacks.
Cornerback Cameron Brown and safety Kourt Williams will be held out of contact drills during spring practice as they recover from injuries that ended their 2020 seasons.
Day expected they might see some time in individual drills over the 15 workouts that run through the April 17 spring game.
“It’ll kind of depend on how much they’re able to handle over the next month,” Day said.
Brown is a candidate for a starting spot in the secondary, which lost outside cornerback Shaun Wade. Before he was hurt in the second game at Penn State, Brown filled in at slot corner.
Day said he was displeased when Tennessee’s pursuit of Al Washington for its defensive coordinator position became public last month, but was ultimately happy the Buckeyes were able to retain him as their linebackers coach.
“I love Al,” he said. “Always have. He and I go back a long ways. He’s like a brother to me. I always want Al to have great opportunities. That’s why he came back here. We talked about that when he came here. I want Al to be a coordinator and a head coach some day. He’s always going to have great opportunities, and this is one of those opportunities.”
In keeping Washington on staff, Day did not say if the assistant received a pay raise or change in title. Among the Buckeyes’ on-field assistants, Washington had the third-lowest salary, making $489,250 in base salary, a figure that included a 5% pay cut due to pandemic-related cost-cutting within the athletic department.
The school has not released salary information for coaches for next season.
In the 'Shoe
Along with the spring game, which is scheduled for April 17, Day said he is hoping to have additional scrimmages held at Ohio Stadium in the coming weeks.
“We’re definitely trying to figure out when we can get in the Horseshoe,” he said.
More practices at the stadium could offer more of a game-like setting after the team was left with a shortened season last fall.