While Ohio State football coach Ryan Day has expressed a desire to avoid relying heavily on the transfer portal to supplement his talent base, the Buckeyes’ depth chart could have a noticeable influx of newcomers from other colleges this fall.
When he announced his decision to leave the University of Mississippi for Columbus, Tywone Malone became the eighth incoming Ohio State transfer since the end of last season.
“We’d rather not,” Day said in mid-April about using the transfer portal. “Sometimes there’s times we feel like we need to, then we will.”
Malone was a four-star recruit in the class of 2021 as a senior at Bergen Catholic in New Jersey, a state where Ohio State has increased its recruiting interests over the past decade.
Also a member of member of the Rebels baseball team, Malone redshirted as a football freshman and made 10 tackles, including one sack, as a reserve last season.
What role the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder could fill for the Buckeyes remains to be seen, but veteran position coach Larry Johnson is fond of rotating heavily.
He seemed to have a solid four-man rotation at end during spring with juniors J.T. Tuimolau and Jack Sawyer followed by second-year players Caden Curry and Kenyatta Jackson.
Inside, Johnson had juniors Ty Hall at nose tackle and Tyleik Williams at 3-technique with sophomore Mike Hall Jr. appearing to split time at both spots.
Along with Malone, the Buckeyes have added offensive linemen Victor Cutler (Louisiana-Monroe) and Josh Simmons (San Diego State), safety Ja’Had Carter (Syracuse), quarterback Tristan Gebbia (Oregon State), cornerbacks Davison Igbinosun (Mississippi), Lorenzo Styles Jr. (Notre Dame) and long snapper John Ferlmann (Arizona State) from the transfer portal this offseason.
“It’s kind of what they do in the NFL with the free agency and the draft,” Day said prior to the spring game in mid-April. “We’re dealing with right now making sure that we have what we need (while) knowing that our culture matters, our chemistry matters, our leadership matters.
“As you guys know, we’ve been very careful to add pieces here, but we know it’s a necessary thing.”
Ohio State did not add more than four scholarship players in one offseason via transfer in the in the previous four years, but Day indicated before spring ball concluded they would evaluate the roster and decide what spots might need help.
When the Buckeyes first got into the transfer game, they appeared to be looking exclusively for new starters — most notably quarterback Justin Fields, offensive lineman Jonah Jackson and running back Trey Sermon — but Day acknowledged improving depth is also a factor the staff has started taking into consideration.
“Because we know we’re going to lose guys along the way and guys are gonna have to step up,” Day said.
How each newcomer fits this fall remains to be seen.
Cutler and Simmons were starters at their previous stops, and they join an offensive line in major flux.
Cutler competed for the open starting spot at center during spring practice while Simmons appears likely to join the competition at right tackle, where Tegra Tshabola and Zen Michalski have zero combines starts, or create one at left tackle, where Josh Fryar has one (on the right side).
Gebbia was brought in purely as a reserve with an eye on getting a jumpstart on a coaching career. He figures to be the third or fourth quarterback on the roster unless there are significant injuries.
Carter was a three-year starter at Syracuse, but he was battling Cam Martinez for the starting role at nickel safety before missing the end of spring practice with an injury.
Igbinosun also has starting experience and was competing with junior Jordan Hancock to start opposite Denzel Burke during the spring.
Styles could be more of a long-term project. He spent two years at Notre Dame as a receiver but wants to switch sides of the ball at Ohio State, meaning he figures to be at the bottom of the pecking order when preseason practice starts.
Cornerback and safety were both positions where Ohio State had deficiencies last season, so adding players there came as little surprise.
The addition of a pair of offensive linemen likely indicates the coaching staff is not quite comfortable with the young and inexperienced players it was mostly looking at to fill its three openings because neither Cutler nor Simmons appear to be slam-dunk upgrades on paper.
“Even when you bring somebody in, you don’t really know,” Day said of recruiting transfers with college experience as opposed to another college freshman. “You think you know. It’s like in recruiting if we knew all the time then we wouldn’t be worried about this. You try to do the best you can to evaluate it. But again, we put so much, probably more than anybody else in the country, into the guys who have been in the program for a few years, and that matters. They understand the culture.”
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