Ohio State started a pair of fifth-year seniors last year at guard in Malcolm Pridgeon and Demetrius Knox, which means that they must now both be replaced.
Last season was the first as a starter for Pridgeon, and it produced mixed results. When he was good, the entire offense was better for it. Consistency was an issue at times, however, as it was for just about everyone on the offensive line.
Knox was inserted into the starting lineup at right guard midway through the 2017 season following Branden Bowen’s broken leg and remained there through this past season as well.
While both provided a veteran presence on the offensive line, there was a distinct inability to run between the tackles for most of the season, and much of that blame falls on the guys who attempted to pave the way.
Even though two starters must be found, the hope internally is that production improves with the two new linemen who eventually replace them.
Replacing a pair of starting guards generally puts an offense at a disadvantage, but the Buckeyes have some intriguing options to turn to.
Redshirt sophomore Wyatt Davis started the Big Ten Championship Game and the Rose Bowl at right guard in place of an injured Demetrius Knox. With those two starts, Davis was placed in some very high-pressure situations. Two starts may not sound like a lot, but by the time the Buckeyes get to their season opener, Davis will have also had No. 1 reps through 15 bowl practices, spring camp, and fall camp. Experience shouldn’t be much of an issue.
Experience also won’t be an issue for Rutgers graduate transfer Jonah Jackson, who could play anywhere on the interior for the Buckeyes. He was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection last season for the Scarlet Knights.
Fifth-year senior Branden Bowen is also very much a possibility. He won the starting right guard job in 2017 before breaking his leg midway through the season. He was finally back on the field a little bit at the end of last season. Bowen is versatile enough to play any number of positions.
Fourth-year junior Gavin Cupp was in the two-deep last year and has seen some action in blowouts. A strong spring could put him in the mix for a starting job. You also have redshirt sophomore Josh Myers and redshirt freshman Matthew Jones, who are both expected to be at center, but the offensive line can be a fluid situation.
Five-star center Harry Miller arrives in the summer and he could be one to watch as well.
Jonah Jackson won’t arrive until the summer, which will allow others to get some necessary reps this spring.
It isn’t yet known where Branden Bowen line up. He has moved from guard to tackle and is expected to be back at guard to compete for a starting spot this season.
Wyatt Davis will be with the ones, but we’ll see if he is at right guard like he was last year, of if they have moved him to left guard for some reason.
Gavin Cupp will get plenty of reps with the ones as well because of the way they mix and match during practice, so he should have a number of opportunities to showcase himself with the starters.
Because of the lack of depth at center this spring, Josh Myers and Matthew Jones are expected to be locked in over there rather than working too much at guard.
Wyatt Davis with the ones at guard this spring is one of the safest bets that can be made. He played well in a tough spot last year and learned from it. The other No. 1 guard this spring is a bit of a guess, but the best guess is Branden Bowen if he’s healthy, strong, and still moving as well as he once did. He went through a very serious set of surgeries, but was back playing by the end of the season.
The best bet when the season gets underway, however, may be a bit different when you add Jonah Jackson into the equation. It could end up being a one-on-one battle between Bowen and Jackson for that second guard spot. Whoever doesn’t win the job, however, would give the Buckeyes a very versatile sixth man who can play multiple positions.