With Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones at tackle, Matt Jones and Donovan Jackson at guard and Luke Wypler at center, determining who will be the third tackle is the most important task for offensive line coach Justin Frye.
That competition appears to be between Indiana natives Josh Fryar and Zen Michalski at this point.
“They are working really hard to become that third guy,” Day said Thursday. “Josh is coming off (a knee) injury and so he’s working to get better. Those guys are both working every day, and that’s the goal of both those guys hopefully it can be both of them.”
Michalski even being in the conversation counts as progress from the spring, when most of the talk about who might fill in for starters Jones or Johnson centered on Fryar, who was not even available at the time.
While Fryar, a three-star recruit from Beech Grove, Ind., in 2020, and got a head start on Michalski, a four-star recruit from Floyd’s Knobs, Ind., in the class of 2021, the latter appears to have made up some ground.
“You like (Michalski’s) athleticism for sure,” Day said. “When you’re looking at him, he is a guy who moved to the offensive line pretty late in his high school career. He has the athleticism and the intelligence, all those types of things. He just needs to continue to put days on days and get that feeling of being an offensive lineman and having to block against some really good players on the other side of the ball.
“That’s really what offensive linemen do. They run into human beings every day. You have to get used to that. It’s not something you just wake up and do when you’re born. You have to practice the hand placement. It’s just grinding and having grit and toughness to show up every day and just be physical. I think that’s what he’s working on.”
On defense, there is no shortage of players who can do the job up front, but Day wants to know if any of them can become standouts in the mold of previous first-round draft picks such as Chase Young and Nick Bosa.
“There have definitely been signs to see what we want,” Day said. “It’s tenacity and pad level. It’s a bunch of guys getting after it. Nastiness — that’s what we need.
“Our depth is going to be important, and now can we sustain it over an extended period of time? That’s going to be the key because they’ve shown they can do it. They’ve shown they can do it.
“Both sides of the ball up front. Now how do we build that callous, that toughness and saltiness that’s going to carry us through a game and through the season? But there have been absolutely signs that we can’t do it, so that’s encouraging.”
Of course, the development of each line is taking place simultaneously.
Regardless of who wins a drill or rep, the offensive linemen and defensive linemen are working to improve both themselves and each other.
That’s never more in focus than during what the coaches call the “inside” period, the present-day version of a run-blocking drill that has been part of football practice presumably since the sport began.
“That drill right there, literally what we do is just go right across the board and look at the one-on-one matchups,” Day said. “We just look at fundamentals. We look at pad levels. We look at hand placement.
“Certainly, both sides want to win the drill. More importantly, that drill in particular is about pad level, it’s about fundamentals, and we can really hone in on that.
“In the inside drill, that’s what it’s about.”