5-star recruits lead charge in race to replace stalwarts on OSU offensive line

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 28: Center Josh Myers #71 of the Ohio State Buckeyes readies to snap the ball against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium on September 28, 2019 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)

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LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 28: Center Josh Myers #71 of the Ohio State Buckeyes readies to snap the ball against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium on September 28, 2019 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)

While skill players figure to make most of the headlines as far as Ohio State draft picks go this weekend, a pair of offensive linemen also could be drafted.

Whether Jonah Jackson, a transfer from Rutgers who impressed during the Senior Bowl, or Branden Bowen, who put two injury-marred years behind him to post a strong finish to his career last fall, are selected early, late or at all, both figure to be fighting for NFL jobs next time there is a battle for NFL jobs.

And that means Greg Studrawa has to replace 40 percent of a starting offensive line that was among the best in the nation last year.

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Based on what he told reporters this week, he feels fairly good about it even after the threat of the coronavirus wiped out most of spring practice and social distancing continues to keep the Buckeye player and coaching staff apart.

“Obviously it’s new for everybody, but the leadership of the (returning starters) is the first thing,” Studrawa said, referring to Josh Myers, Wyatt Davis and Thayer Munford. “Those guys do a great job telling everybody what they need to get done. We’ve stayed in constant communication so that everybody’s on the same page. We talk just about every day, and I think just working through it and staying in constant communication with what they need to do physically and then what they need to do mentally to keep learning, that’s the challenge and I think you’ve done a great job so far.”

Nicholas Petit-Frere, Dawand Jones and Paris Johnson Jr. all impressed Studrawa during the three spring practices that were held before the university sent everyone home, moved all students to distance learning and canceled all athletic activities for the spring.

“Nick’s played a little bit for us – he’s been in some games, so he’s got a little more experience, but what I saw from the young guys in three days of practice, I couldn’t believe how far Dawand has come and how advanced and mature Paris is for a freshman,” Studrawa said. “Now it’s who’s gonna buy in? Who’s gonna go grab that spot and say that they want it? Because I believe all three are capable, so it’s gonna be fun to see them work.

“They’re working hard now. They’re getting better now. They’re studying film now. I know they’re not getting the reps, but it’s time to slow down and get film with them and study the playbook with them, learn things with them. They’re working on their individual technique on their own and then when we get back together it’s gonna be a full-court press and to go fight for the job. And it’s gonna be exciting. I can tell you that.”

Petit-Frere and Johnson are both five-star recruits – the former in his third year looking to deliver on his perceived potential while the latter is hoping to capitalize on his physical gifts to be able to jump the learning curve.

In between there is Jones, a second-year player who was perhaps under-recruited as a three-star prospect but brings massive upside.

Johnson, not only the top prospect in Ohio last fall but the No. 9 player in the country according to 247Sports Composite rankings, made no secret in January he intends to push to join the small group of true freshmen ever to start on the offensive line for the Buckeyes.

“His maturity level and the way he attacks things lead me to believe that he’s got that opportunity,” Studrawa said. “We’re focusing on all the techniques that he needs to get to be able to go take that position. Physically he’s done a tremendous job. Coming in early and that the weightlifting part that he had in the winter was unbelievable. It transformed him. I think it’s gonna put him on the edge of being able to do it physically and that’s the first thing, so once we get past that, it’s just continuing to refine his techniques, continuing to mentally review the film and learning our offense inside-out because those tackles make some pretty important calls in the past protection game.

“Once he gets that thing down mentally and each day continues to work his technique, then again when we get back, we can full-court press him and then when we get into two-a-days or however much time we have to prepare and go from there. But things I’ve seen lead me to believe that he has a really good chance.”

Meanwhile, five-star sophomore-to-be Harry Miller is thought to have the inside track to win the vacant guard spot, but Studrawa is not counting out Gavin Cupp or Matt Jones.

“All three of those guys are going to be working at that spot,” Studrawa said. “Harry did a great job in the spring. In the short time he had, three practices, he look really, really good. Matt Jones opened my eyes a little bit. I think he’s got a certain maturity level now so it might be time for him to play and start to contribute. And then Gavin Cupp, he had that little foot thing he dealt with so we didn’t get to see him, but I’m anxious now that he’s had this time off to heal. We’ve got three guys that I think are going to be able to compete for that job.”

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