With several open spots, offensive line will be crucial for Ohio State's 2023 hopes

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch

Next season will mark a changing of the guard for the Ohio State offensive line except for, well, a changing of the guards.

Left guard Donovan Jackson and right guard Matt Jones are projected to remain at their 2022 spots for the Buckeyes. After that, it’s anybody’s guess who’ll play tackle and center.

Losing a sure first-round draft pick in Paris Johnson Jr., as well as expected high draft picks in tackle Dawand Jones and center Luke Wypler, leaves a major void.

Donovan Jackson will return as Ohio State's starting left guard.

Other than settling on a quarterback, the offensive line is the biggest question facing the Buckeyes this offseason. That puts the spotlight on offensive line coach Justin Frye, who welcomes it.

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“That makes us the hungriest (unit),” Frye said, “so I'm excited.”

Right guard Matt Jones will return for the 2023 season.

Jones, who’ll be a sixth-year player, was recruited as a center. With Wypler gone, Jones could slide back to that spot, but coach Ryan Day said the intention for now is to keep Jones at guard.

Ohio State has no shortage of candidates for the center and tackle spots. Josh Fryar proved capable in getting 231 snaps as a top backup last year and is probably the front-runner to play left tackle.

Right guard Matt Jones will return for the 2023 season.

There aren’t clear favorites for the other spots. Guard Enokk Vimahi was the only other lineman to play more than 100 snaps.

Day mentioned Carson Hinzman, a four-star recruit in 2022, as a possibility at center.

“Carson Hinzman had a really good bowl practice,” Day said.

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Ohio State struck out in its attempt to get a top-rated veteran from the transfer portal, though it did add Victor Cutler from Louisiana-Monroe. Cutler played tackle there but is also a candidate at center.

Josh Fryar is probably the front-runner to play left tackle for Ohio State next season.

“We’re excited for him to be around our nutrition program and our strength program with Mick (Marotti) and see how much growth he can make in a short window because he is more of that mature guy,” Frye said.

Zen Michalski, Tegra Tshabola, George Fitzpatrick, Ben Christman and Jakob James are among the other candidates battling for a job, though James will miss spring practice because of an injury, Day said.

Ohio State's offensive line coach Justin Frye isn't worried about the big job ahead of him. “We lost good players, and we’ll replace them with good players," he said.

“We’ve got good players,” Frye said. “We lost good players, and we’ll replace them with good players.”

Toughness is likely to be the separator among the candidates, Day said.

Guard Enokk Vimahi has played more than 100 snaps for Ohio State.

“That’s a thankless job,” he said of being an offensive lineman. “You know, there’s no ball over there. They just sit over there in a corner and bang against each other all day, so you have to be tough. You have to be smart. You have to know what you’re doing.”

Day said the ability to learn from mistakes will also be critical.

“When you look at the guys who end up making it in the NFL or make it at the highest level of college football, it isn't just because they're super-talented,” he said. “It's because they've failed, they've learned, they found different tricks of the trade.”

Ohio State looks loaded at other spots on offense. But every offense needs the line to be its foundation.

Frye acknowledged the uncertainty facing his unit but said “sheer excitement” over developing players is his overriding mood.

“This ain’t pro football,” he said. “This is (about) developing guys, and that is genuinely fun for me. That’s why I like this level a lot.”

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