COLUMBUS — Paris Johnson Jr. did his homework and thought he knew where he would fit into Ohio State’s starting lineup this season.
But then his assignment changed. Johnson, who arrived at OSU last season as the No. 1 offensive tackle recruit in the country, thought he would be starting at that position in 2021. But it appears he will be a starter at offensive guard, not tackle.
“When I was first recruited here I took a look at the depth chart and I sort of made some assumptions. I saw that by my sophomore year there would be a spot at tackle but the way everything has happened I’m more than happy to play guard,” Johnson said on a Zoom conference call on Wednesday.
What happened was that both of last year’s starting tackles, Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere, decided to return to OSU instead of entering the NFL draft and starting right guard Wyatt Davis left early to go to the pros.
Head coach Ryan Day and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa both have emphasized that their goal is to identify the best five offensive linemen and play them. That’s another reason Johnson has been working with the first team at guard during the Buckeyes’ spring practices.
Johnson still expects to be a starting tackle in 2022. But the combination of Munford and Petit-Frere’s experience and the inexperience of all three of the players competing to be OSU’s starting quarterback helped make Johnson the player who was going to change positions.
“Those guys were two of the best tackles in the country last year. They proved it. To have two guys on the edge like those two guys who can protect those young quarterbacks, that was really what I thought was going to be the best for us,” Studrawa said.
“He (Johnson) is a kid that is very, very mentally tough. Without that, you wouldn’t be able to make that transition. Sometimes there is a little bit of difference between tackles and guards in athleticism and finesse and toughness and grit. Paris is such a student of the game. He’s in my office so much I have to kick him out because I’m sick and tired of seeing him because he’s in there every day wanting to know this, wanting to know that, how do I get an edge on this? His attention to detail, his toughness and his ‘I want to play, coach,’ is why he has made the transition so smoothly so far,” he said.
The move to guard is what helps Ohio State most this season. But Johnson also thinks it will help him when, if as he expects, he plays in the NFL.
“The biggest opportunity that I have starting at guard is that I get to show versatility, and I feel like that adds a lot of value,” Johnson said. “I’m not draft-eligible after this season, so my biggest thing this season and next season is what does the team need, so we can get to where we want to be at.”
He already got a taste of playing guard when he got a few snaps at that position in Ohio State’s two playoff games against Clemson and Alabama last season.
“Those reps (repetitions) were really valuable,” Johnson said. “They made me look forward to it. If that’s where the team needs me to be at this season, I know I’m able to do it.”