COLUMBUS — Ryan Day was reluctant to name a starting running back or a back-up quarterback during a Zoom conference on Tuesday, but there was no hesitation when it came to saying who will fill the two vacancies on Ohio State’s offensive line when the Buckeyes open their football season against Nebraska on Saturday.
Harry Miller, a former 5-star recruit, will play the left guard position that belonged to Jonah Jackson last season and Nicholas Petit-Frere, also a 5-star recruit, will be at right tackle, a position Branden Bowen played last year.
They will join returning starters Wyatt Davis, Josh Myers and Thayer Munford on what could be one of the better offensive lines OSU has had in recent years.
Day said Petit-Frere and Miller have both gotten stronger since last season, especially during the time in the spring and early summer when Ohio State’s football facilities were closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Nicholas has done a really good job. He has worked hard in the offseason. We will kind of see as the season goes on where it goes but we’re very impressed with what he has done in putting on weight, changing his body and the way he has played the last couple weeks,” Day said.
“Harry has done a really good job right from the jump. He came in at center, he’s now playing guard. He got stronger. He did a great job in the offseason of changing his body and getting stronger. The last couple months he has done a good job of stepping in there and making sure his game is where it needs to be in terms of playing for a Big Ten championship.”
Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa also likes what he has seen from the two new starters.
Petit-Frere is a third-year sophomore who was the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in the country in 2018.
With credentials like those, some people thought he would find his way into the starting lineup sooner.
But Studrawa says Petit-Frere is “right on track where I thought he would be.”
“He’s 315 pounds now and he’s as strong as he ever was. His offseason development has really pushed him to the top of that position,” he said.
Miller, a sophomore, was expected to start this season and secured the left guard job once the Buckeyes were able to return to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“The numbers in his lift when he got back blew away the numbers from before he was away,” Studrawa said. “His lower body got extremely strong and gave him the ability to go play that guard position. His development during this time was just critical.”
Freshman Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones are the second-team offensive tackles and Matt Jones and Enokk Vimahi are the back-up guards. Freshman Luke Wypler is the second-team center.
Some other thoughts from Day:
• Running backs workload: It sounds like Ohio State will have a running back by committee. But how big that committee will be and who will be its chairman have not been determined.
“I don’t know how it’s going to shake out,” Day said. “I know we play a lot of players and usually get north of 70, 75 or even 80 plays. We’re going to play multiple players. All the running backs have looked really good.
“We’re going to need depth there. There is not one guy who can play all 70 plays,” he said.
Master Teague, who was OSU’s No. 2 running back last year, and Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon are the backs most likely to get the majority of the carries.
Teague’s quick recovery from an Achilles tendon injury in the spring amazes Day.
“I was just amazed. I said it to him every day. We expected him to play, maybe not in the first game against Bowling Green, but certainly against Oregon,” Day said.
“I’m really excited for him that he’s going to be able to play a strong season. We’re expecting big things from him. He has practiced really, really well. He’s a huge part of our offense right now.”
• Defense’s strength: Day singled out the linebackers as the strength of OSU’s defense, led by veterans Pete Werner, Tuf Borland and Baron Browning.
“I’m really impressed with the way the linebackers, just as a whole unit, have just done a great job of communicating, diagnosing plays, seeing things, running to the football. They’ve just been a very professional group of guys in my opinion. I would say right now that is probably the strength of the defense,” he said
• Backup quarterback: Last year’s No. 3 quarterback Gunnar Hoak and freshmen Jack Miller and C.J. Stroud probably will continue to compete until late in the week to see who will be named to back up starter Justin Fields.
“It’s still something that we’re working through. If we get to a point where one of those guys has to go into the game on Saturday we’ll probably make that decision the night before. That competition continues and we’ll keep going and try to figure it out by the end of the week,” Day said.
• Defensive backfield: With three new starters the defensive backfield is an area of concern, maybe the biggest question this season for OSU.
“There going to be mistakes but I think they are trending in the right direction,” Day said. “I think they’re going to have a strong year. I think Kerry (defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs) is doing a really good job with them.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.