Ohio State football: ‘Master Splinter’ gets early positive reviews from offensive linemen

COLUMBUS -- The Ohio State offensive line is under new management this spring, and early returns are positive from Justin Frye’s players.

“He definitely has taught me a lot,” said right tackle Dawand Jones, one of only two players due back at the same spot he started most of last season. “I would say he’s like Master Splinter.”

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For those not up on late 20th Century pop culture, Jones was referring to the leader of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who were the subjects of movies, cartoons, comic books, video games, toys and more in the 1980s and ‘90s.

What they lacked in manners, they made up for in ninjitsu skills taught to them by Splinter, who assigned each member of the team a unique weapon to wield in their efforts to keep the streets of New York City safe.

Frye, a native of Elwood, Ind., might not appreciate being compared to an anthropomorphic rat, but he will probably be happy if his new pupils turn out to be as good at run blocking and pass protection as Splinter’s were at fighting evil and eating pizza.

“I really like him,” center Luke Wypler said. “Coach Frye has come in and done an excellent job with our unit. I think he really takes a great approach to coaching, kind of coaching everyone individually and trying to get us better every day.”

Among the tools Frye has used this spring are blocking sleds, something some Buckeye line coaches have embraced while others have not in recent years.

Frye is in the former category, and that is a good thing to Wypler and Jones.

“I would just say it keeps our leverage and makes sure our hips are glued to our man so when those guys try to swim or work away then we’re locked on and engaged,” Jones said.

A 6-foot-8, 360-pound former basketball player from Indiana, Jones said he did not have much history hitting the sled.

That is not the case for Wypler, a 6-3, 300-pounder from New Jersey.

“Oh yeah,” Wypler said.” That’s where the offensive line is built, the sled. I’ve really enjoyed that facet and how I’m getting used to it and the new techniques were doing.”

The running scheme is not expected to change much, but it could use some refining.

The Buckeyes were 14th in the nation last year in sacks allowed per game (1.3) while averaging 180.6 yards rushing per game to rank 47th.

According to FootballOutsiders.com, they ranked seventh nationally in average line yards (a metric that assigns credit to the front for blocking while removing the impact of long runs) but just 51st in short-yardage situations, and they had the hardest time running in some of the season’s biggest games (including Oregon, Michigan and Utah).

Frye appears to be intent on achieving improvement by improving his players’ fundamentals.

“I would just say our footwork,” Jones said when asked what Frye has helped him with. “He drills a lot. Once we go through those drills, it translates over to ‘team’ (full-squad periods). So we do drills for about three periods and inside zone in period four so by the time we get to ‘inside,’ it’s innate to me.”

Jones is back for his senior year after contemplating jumping to the NFL, something he said was “an option” but not necessarily one he was likely to take at the end of last season.

Ultimately, he chose to return to work on his consistency.

“I’d rather come back, do whatever for the team and make myself better,” he said.

While those two are returning to the spots they started last season, the rest of the line will look different.

Paris Johnson Jr. has moved to left tackle after starting at guard last season as a sophomore.

He made that move to get on the field, but he is viewed as a more natural on the outside because of his athleticism.

While one-on-one matchups with elite pass rushers on the edge are viewed as one of the most challenging assignments in football, the 6-6, 315-pounder embraces them as chances to show off the physical gifts that made him a five-star recruit coming out of Cincinnati Princeton.

He also expects top be better on the outside for his experience playing inside.

“Now I know on my end what I can and can’t expect from the guard, and I know what his technique will be on a play,” Johnson said.

With Johnson moving and Thayer Munford having graduated, the new guards this spring are senior Matt Jones and sophomore Donovan Jackson.

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