Montgomery excited for Ohio State offense under Kelly

COLUMBUS — Luke Montgomery is pretty excited to play in an Ohio State offense where Chip Kelly is calling plays.

He’s well aware of the reputation of his new offensive coordinator and thinks he has the perfect athletic makeup to thrive in it. Even if it’s not at the position he once envisioned himself playing when he first got to Columbus.

“When I first heard he got the job I was really excited,” Montgomery said. “I’m one of those guys where I can run with the tempo. I’ve been playing basketball my life instead of football. The fast-paced offense we’re running really fits the guys that we have right now and I’m really excited.”

Montgomery arrived as an early enrollee in 2023 standing around 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds having s pent his final two years of high school bulking up as much as possible after spending most of his life as a basketball player. Those traits he honed on the court would make up for his lack of prototypical size for his position. The plan was to start him there regardless of whether he’d spend his entire career there and the early returns were promising.

He quickly found himself in a battle to start as a true freshman at right tackle ultimately losing out to Josh Fryar. But the impressive start to his career earned him a role that others have used in the past as a gateway to being a future starter. The Bison role provided a chance for the former top-100 recruit to get his feet wet playing 44 snaps in nine games which was the most of any of the non-starting offensive linemen.

“It prepared me well,” Montgomery — who has gained 12-14 pounds this offseason — said. “I was really blessed with the opportunity to step into that position and see the field and see the limelight honestly. Not only just the field, but gong to the away games, going into those atmospheres. I think that helped me out. It puts me in a good position for this year to be able to contend for that job.”

Donovan Jackson was the first player in the Ryan Day era to have that role back in 2021. The next year he was the starting left guard. Josh Fryar held it in 2022, then started last season. Now Montgomery looks like he’s joining that list.

He’s also the latest example of highly-rated offensive linemen who forced their way into the two-deep as true freshmen, then won a job on the interior offensive line in Year 2. Harry Miller took that route as the backup center in 2019, then started as left guard in 2020. Paris Johnson Jr. was a backup in 2020, then the starting right guard in 2021. Jackson was a backup in 2021, then a starter in 2022.

Of the three before Montgomery, Jackson is the only one who spent his second year playing the position he was originally recruited to play. Miller was always viewed as the future starting center — though life took him down a different path — while Johnson finally got to be the All-American left tackle he was born to be in 2022.

For Montgomery, this offseason has been about a realization he was probably always meant to have and it’s coming at the perfect time. Could he have had success had he stayed at right tackle? Probably, yes. But moving to guard could maximize his potential while setting Ohio State up with one of the Big Ten’s most athletic guard tandems.

“My height is more of a guard height,” Montgomery said. “I’m fast on my feet but I just need to get used to the technique right now. Sometimes I’m still (thinking like it’s) basketball. I just want to defend, but you’ve gotta stay squared.”

Two things made this change possible. The first was having a full year under his belt that allowed both he and the coaching staff to realize the inevitable. The other was Matthew Jones’ departure opening up a spot that now feels like it’s Montgomery’s to lose. All that’s left is getting comfortable.

“He’s got a pretty good football IQ,” offensive line coach Justin Frye said. “He’s growing every day, and he’s working. He’s getting beat every day, too, and he’s learning from that in the springtime. …

“Whether he’s coming in and watching the tape on his own and coming with questions or he’s grabbing me and watching tape with me, he’s learning so the game can slow down and he can get more comfortable with the friction. His weight is up. His strength is up. He spent an offseason with Mick (Marotti). There’s a lot of development that still has to be had — he’s obviously not a finished product — but mentally for a guy to handle that helps a lot.”

Montgomery grew up as an undersized big man on a basketball court who was used to playing in space. That background made last season’s experiment worth it. It also might be the very reason he’s the perfect man to take over as the Buckeyes’ starting right guard even if it takes some time to get used to it.

“It’s a little faster inside,” Montgomery said. “But I’m enjoying it. I’m having a lot of fun out there.”