More potential starters joining Buckeyes’ offensive line competition

COLUMBUS — Jim Knowles remained the most popular interview subject during Ohio State assistant coach interviews this week because he still has the most important long-term task among those in the group: Restoring the glory to the Silver Bullet defense.

Next up was probably Justin Frye.

That’s because Frye has arguably the most important immediate task: Establishing a new offensive line.

The second-year OSU OL mentor has Donovan Jackson and Matt Jones returning as starters at the guards, but he entered spring needing a new man in the middle and at each tackle spot.

He appeared to exit spring in the same situation, but that doesn’t mean the Buckeyes did not accomplish anything in March and April.

“I’m just kind of repeating what I said here before spring ball, but I’m excited to get into it and see how it all pans out because there’s a lot of competition ahead of us really at all five spots,” Frye said. “You’re saying Donovan’s played a lot of ball. Where’s he going to be on the field? Matt’s played a lot of ball. Where’s he going to be on the field? And then who are those next guys that step up?”

Moving Jackson or Jones did not sound like something Frye was considering deeply, but he indicated nothing is being ruled out and even presented a scenario that could necessitate doing just that.

If anything, the picture could be more muddled now than it was in February, though whether that is a bad thing remains to be seen.

No one stepped up to lock down any of the open spots, but Frye will have more options when the Buckeyes reconvene for preseason practice in July.

Three names were mentioned this week: Josh Simmons, Jakob James and Enokk Vimahi.

Frye said Simmons, who is joining the Buckeyes after two years at San Diego State, could vie for a spot at either tackle spot after Josh Fryar got most of the reps on the left side in the spring and Zen Michalski and Tegra Tshabola competed on the right.

“So is Josh Simmons a left or right? Is he staying at right? Is he staying only at left? Is the other Josh (Fryar) hanging around?” Frye said. “Like, I have don’t all those answers. They’ve gotta have a summer with (director of strength and conditioning Mickey Marotti) so we’re gonna have good stuff out here, but yes, they’ll all be sliding from right side and left side. They’ll all be doing individual drills so that we can keep fighting through that.”

At center, James is back in the mix after missing spring ball while he recovering from an injury. He backed up starter Luke Wypler last season and joins redshirt freshman Carson Hinzman and senior Louisiana-Monroe transfer Vic Cutler in a center competition Frye described as “healthy.”

“They’re all competitive guys by nature,” Frye said. “There’s a vacancy there that they’re fighting for. So there’s the old adage or the cliche deal that iron sharpens iron and guys are going to step up and they all want it and are fighting for it so when we get to fall camp and put the pads on it’s going to be really good.”

Vimahi was a late addition to the 2019 class and joined the two-deep last fall as the No. 2 left guard.

Frye said the Hawaii native had such a good spring he could prove to be one of the team’s five best linemen, which would create a positive problem because he is a natural guard.

“Enokk had a great spring so I told Enokk as we sit here today if we were going (to play a game) then Enokk’s got to be on the field somewhere, somehow based on what he did in the spring so leading into the fall camp ,” Frye said.

Were Vimahi to win a spot, Frye might have to put Jones at center or Jackson at tackle, both spots each has practiced in the past, but he didn’t seem to be stressing about it as of early June.

“We’re not set. I can’t tell you who the five guys are right now and that’s a good thing because these guys going to fight for it,” Frye said. “I see Jakob and we had Carson and we had Vic in the spring and we’ve got three guys now fighting for those reps (at center) so that’s going to be really good for the team, good for those kids because the guy that wins it is going to be have to play his best ball. So it’s not given to anybody. They’re all gonna fight for it. Same with the tackle position. So it’s a healthy competition because of the amount of guys fighting for it. You know Zen is coming back into it. Tegra had a good spring moving out there. Josh has obviously played.”

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