Offensive tackle was considered a known quantity for Ohio State throughout the offseason.
With senior Thayer Munford’s surprise decision to return for a fifth year and Nicholas Petit-Frere entering his fourth, the Buckeyes could boast of Pro Football Focus’s top tackle tandem not only in the Big Ten but the country.
A basketball player from Indiana might change all that, though.
In the latest practice viewing window open to reporters, Petit-Frere was at left tackle while Munford lined up at left guard, Harry Miller was the center and Paris Johnson Jr. held down right guard.
The right tackle — rather than Petit-Frere, who ascended to that spot last season — was Dawand Jones.
Jones’ presence stood out in more ways than one.
In the simplest sense, the 6-foot-8, 360-pound junior is the biggest member of the offensive line.
Credit: Marcus Hartman
Credit: Marcus Hartman
But he is also unique in that he is the only member of that particular lineup who was not a highly-rated recruit.
Petit-Frère, Johnson and Miller were all five-star prospects with Petit-Frere and Johnson the No. 1 tackle in the country in 2018 and ‘20, respectively, per 247Sports Composite rankings. While Miller was the No. 2 center in ‘19 and the nation’s No. 30 overall prospect that year, the other two were both among the top 10 overall in their classes.
Munford didn’t bring quite that high a pedigree with him from Massillon Washington High School in 2017, but he was a four-star prospect and ranked No. 285 overall.
Jones, a late addition to the 2019 class after some other highly sought-after prospects went elsewhere, was the No. 13 player in Indiana and No. 1,043 in the nation.
Eighty-five others were ranked ahead of him at offensive tackle, but the Indianapolis Ben Davis High School product could be a starter at that position for one of the nation’s top teams this season.
Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said that is simply a testament to the type of year he has had off the field so far.
“A guy that’s that big and athletic and physical, him coming on — how do you not find a place for that package on the field?” Studrawa explained. “So that’s the deal, and Dawand right now has been dominant as a pass protector on that edge.”
Of course, Studrawa is doing more than moving chess pieces around a board.
These are players with personal feelings, expectations and goals that must be managed.
That’s where Munford signing off on such a potential move comes into play.
More than that, though, it was his idea according to Studrawa.
“He’s the one that said it before anyone else said it, “Look at the way Dawand’s playing, coach. We might be able to bump him up,’” Studrawa said. “Yeah, you’re right. What a good idea.”
While position changes aren’t unusual, a player practically volunteering not to play left tackle is.
That spot is still viewed as the glamor position of the line and the one most valued by pro scouts.
NFL teams also love versatility, though, and Munford looked at it from that perspective.
“If I do this now, I can play wherever in the next level, and I’m fine with whatever — tackle or guard, left side or right side,” Munford said.
“Some NFL teams might look at me as a guard, someone else might look at me as a tackle. I look at myself as wherever I can play, I can play.”
Meanwhile, Petit-Frère is also re-learning how to play on the left side after excelling on the right side last season, but he expressed no misgivings.
“It’s early right now, so I’m still working at it, but I’m willing to try out anything,” Petit-Frere said. “It’s a new challenge.”
He credited Munford with helping him get comfortable.
“Being right next to me, he gives me tips on what he’s done and what he thinks worked in the past, but then he also says that you have to grow into that position yourself,” Petit-Frere said. “I can’t be Thayer. I can’t be whoever. I can only be Nicholas Petit-Frere, so that’s the main thing that I’m trying to focus on right now.”