Fall camp is officially over, and Ohio State’s season opener against Indiana is just nine days away.
After nearly a month of talking about position battles, quarterbacks, play calling and more, we now know much more about what Ohio State will look like when it takes the field in Week 1.
Here are a few things we learned during preseason camp … and a few things we still don’t know.
5 things we learned in camp
1. The offensive line is set
One of the biggest question marks entering camp has been answered — the offensive line is set. San Diego State transfer Josh Simmons will start at left tackle, Donovan Jackson will be at left guard, redshirt freshman Carson Hinzman will take over at center with Matt Jones at right guard and Josh Fryar at right tackle.
That wasn’t the starting group I expected. My assumption was that we’d see Fryar at left tackle and Tegra Tshabola at right tackle. To be fair, we’d yet to see Simmons on the field. Once we did, it was obvious why Ohio State likes him so much. His athleticism jumps out — and that’s what you want from a left tackle.
It even surprised Fryar.
“He has freaky athleticism,” Fryar said. “Watching film and seeing him go up on a linebacker, it’s scary how he moves.”
That was the first day of camp, and Simmons has been improving since.
Fryar will move back to right tackle, where he played last year.
Then there is the center position. I was a bit surprised that we didn’t hear more about Jakob James this fall, but Hinzman has been impressing the staff since the week of the Peach Bowl. As we wrote last week, Victor Cutler took a big jump, as well.
Head coach Ryan Day seems to be confident that this group can get things done up to the Ohio State standard.
“In a situation where we thought we were thin on the offensive line, we turn around and we have some decent depth,” Day said.
I’m not saying they’ll be world-beaters. The best offensive line in the conference is still Michigan, but Ohio State believes it can reach its goals with this group.
And there is depth if injuries hit, with Tshabola, Enokk Vimahi and freshman Luke Montgomery. That depth didn’t feel like it was there a few months ago, in part because you thought Tshabola would be a starter and Montgomery was only a few practices into his career.
The future is bright for this group. We’ll see if it is up to the task right away.
2. Kenyatta Jackson will make an impact
For most of the offseason, the talk about Ohio State’s edge rushers was about Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau. Then you added in Caden Curry and Kenyatta Jackson for depth. At some point after the spring, the talk changed to Sawyer, Tuimoloau and Jackson. And it might be reasonable to believe that Jackson’s snap count at the end of the year won’t be much different than the top two.
“Kenyatta has a great first step, he jumps off the video,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. “You can’t deny that he’s out there making plays and making life difficult for the offense.”
That’s a big deal.
Ohio State is expecting big things from Sawyer and Tuimoloau, both entering their third seasons. Jackson, if he plays in games as well as he has in practice, can relieve some pressure off of them.
It’s not just hype. Jackson is going to be a difference-maker this year, as long as he stays healthy.
3. Transfers are going to make an impact
Ohio State lost just nine scholarship players to the portal this year, the second-fewest total in the country. Then it grabbed nine players, as well, many of whom will make an impact this season. We already talked about Simmons. Then there’s Cutler, corner Davison Igbinosun, safety Ja’Had Carter, quarterback Tristan Gebbia, long snapper John Ferlmann, defensive tackle Tywone Malone, corner Lorenzo Styles Jr. and linebacker Nigel Glover.
There’s no question the Buckeyes improved this year, on paper, with the additions they made out of the portal. These players are going to be all over the field.
Simmons has one of the most important roles on offense. Igbinosun is going to be a starter at corner. Carter is a versatile guy who will play in the safety rotation a lot, even if he doesn’t start. Malone will serve as as an important depth piece on the interior of the defensive line.
Even Gebbia, who likely won’t take a starter snap this season, is a crucial part of the development of freshman Lincoln Kienholz and will help Devin Brown and Kyle McCord navigate the quarterback battle.
We won’t see just how good all of these pieces are until the season gets going, but Ohio State seems to have hit the jackpot so far.
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) August 17, 2023
4. Sonny Styles has solidified his role
Maybe one of the biggest storylines on defense was where the Buckeyes would play Sonny Styles this season.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Ohio native showed even in his limited role as a freshman that Ohio State could trust him with more responsibility this season. The question was just how to use him, and it seems as though the answer is at the nickel safety spot
Knowles might even have a new name for it.
Inside Sonny Styles’ rapid growth to being Ohio State’s next big thing
“Nickel, sam, strike, maybe I’ll call him a strike. Strike is a cool name,” Knowles said with a slight laugh.
In all seriousness, this is good for Ohio State. The Buckeyes had to find a spot to get him on the field, and the coaching staff’s ability to understand Styles doesn’t have to be tied to a specific position is a good thing. The staff has seemed pretty flexible this offseason, often talking about trying to find the best group but also understanding it needs to work matchups better this fall.
Knowles compared Styles to a former Ohio State player who played for him at Duke. Jeremy Cash, a 6-2, 210-pound defensive back who spent one season in Columbus, was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 after recording 101 tackles, including 18 for loss, eight quarterback pressures, four pass breakups and three forced fumbles. Knowles believes Styles can have that type of impact.
“What I saw in Sonny is he has the ability to play high safety, play man coverage, but also has the length and the toughness to play close to the ball,” Knowles said. “You play him in that nickel, strike position and now you have a lot more flexibility in terms of, is he man, zone, is he inside or is he outside, is he blitzing off the edge? He creates a different dynamic.”
5. Play-calling duties will be split for the time being
Day isn’t ready to relinquish play-calling duties … yet.
During a recent appearance on the “Buckeye Roundtable” on 97.1 The Fan, Day said the play calling will be a joint effort between him and new offensive coordinator Brian Hartline.
Hartline has made it clear he will be ready when given the opportunity.
“I have a lot of confidence. The players around me, the guys around me give me a lot of confidence,” Hartline said. “I’m trying to learn as much as possible and every time I get an opportunity to do so I feel like I have.”
Hartline said the specifics of game planning will remain a joint effort with the entire coaching staff.
“We let people be experts in their area and lean on that,” he said. “I want to make sure I have a strong opinion in every area. With more responsibility comes more requirements so I have to make sure I’m giving insightful information and not just filling the air.”
3 things we don’t know
1. Who the starting quarterback will be
I’ve given up trying to guess what’s going to happen with this battle.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Day comes to his Tuesday afternoon press conference and declares a winner in the battle. I also wouldn’t be shocked if he walked in and said they are both going to play against the Hoosiers.
This thing has had so many twists and turns it’s hard to keep up, but we’re nearing the end of the preseason and Ohio State still doesn’t have a starter.
I thought McCord would’ve shut this battle down by now, but neither has stood out enough to win the job.
If I were a betting man, I’d bet we see them both against Indiana.
2. Who the starting kicker will be
Much like the quarterback position, Ohio State didn’t leave camp with an answer at kicker.
The Buckeyes are deciding between Jayden Fielding and Parker Lewis. Both will get a chance to earn the job against Indiana. How that looks, we’re unsure, but special teams coordinator Parker Fleming said the competition will continue into the season.
“We have two guys who can get it done and have done a great job in camp,” Fleming said. “We’re just trying to make sure we finalize it the right way.”
He added that there is no timeline to announce the starting kicker.
“We’re trying to make sure when we do make the decision we feel really good about it,” he said.
3. What’s the deal with the jack position
To be fair, we do have some clarity here. The Buckeyes are going to go with a combination of Mitchell Melton and C.J. Hicks at the hybrid position.
What we don’t know is how often Knowles will use the position or what exactly he wants from both of them. And we won’t get a good look until the season begins because Knowles doesn’t want to tip his hand.
“That’s private information, there’s spies listening,” Knowles said with a laugh when asked how often he plans to deploy the position.
All joking aside, it seems like we know that Hicks and Mitchell will be the two players there — it’s just a matter of how much they’re used and how.
(Photo of Donovan Jackson: G Fiume / Getty Images)