When the Buckeyes finally kick off the 2019 season against Florida Atlantic on August 31, they will be doing it with at least four new starters on the offensive line.
Starting right tackle Isaiah Prince, center Michael Jordan, and guards Demetrius Knox and Malcolm Pridgeon are all currently headed to their respective NFL stops, leaving the remaining OSU offensive linemen — and some summer reinforcements — to pick up the pieces.
That process began in the winter and picked up speed during the spring.
Even with fifth-year seniors like Branden Bowen and Josh Alabi getting reps with the ones throughout camp, it has been the emergence of redshirt sophomores Wyatt Davis at guard and Josh Myers at center that have calmed some nerves.
There is still much work to be done, but based on the spring performances, the young Buckeyes were impressive.
Due to an injury to Knox late last year, Davis played in and started both the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl, which gave him the proper footing to take a sizable step forward this spring.
“I think he right now is a leader of our O-line,” junior defensive end Chase Young said of Davis. “He calls the shots and he has the most respect. Wyatt Davis is the big dog of the O-line right now.”
Davis isn’t alone in being vocal, but maybe the reason Young notices it is because so much of it is aimed directly at the Buckeye pass rusher.
“Me and Chase, we have this thing where we go back and forth talking mess to each other before practice,” Davis said following spring ball. “I hate losing to the defense during practice, so I definitely had to come up and be vocal.”
Davis was a valuable reserve throughout the season last year, even donning a No. 86 jersey and playing some as a third tight end for the Buckeyes. His playing time last season allowed him to be ready for the spring and really begin the process of growing into a starter and leader.
Even though Davis is expected to be in the starting lineup for the Buckeyes, he knows nothing is wrapped up yet.
“I got more comfortable with the offense this year,” Davis said. “I just try to go out there each day and get better. Nothing is for sure as far as the offensive line goes until that first game. I’ve just been trying to prove that I can play that spot and get better each day.”
Upon being thrust into the starting lineup, Davis had some initial difficulties, but eventually calmed down and helped lead the way for a Buckeye offense that put up 607 yards of total offense on Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Davis then got four weeks of bowl prep with the first team to hone his skills even more.
“I didn’t start all the games prior to that, but when I came in, due to good coaching of Coach Stud and all the guys that were ahead of me, constantly on me in practice, I felt like I was able to go into those games and not have any problems,” he said. “I felt like I’ve been doing this. That was a weird feeling for me.”
Those two games were more than just two games. The first was for a Big Ten Championship and the second was the Rose Bowl. A redshirt freshman grows up quickly in those circumstances. The experience carries plenty of weight with it and can propel a player forward into the next season.
“It definitely did,” he said. “Gained a lot more confidence. Because you never really know until you get put into that situation. I know what to expect and it helped me a lot. It was very significant. I finally got my first true game experience, especially at the Big Ten Championship Game. It’s a hell of a way to have your first start in that, but I felt prepared for it, and I was really able to learn the speed.”
Coaches and players will tell you that nothing prepares you for playing like playing.
Wyatt Davis may be one of those rare exceptions, however.
“Once you’re out in the game, it’s a lot different than practice,” he said. “Practice everything seems like it’s up-tempo and high-speed. And when you get into the game — it also had a lot to do with the guys I was playing with — it just felt like everything was moving a lot slower. That first play, obviously I was sitting there like ‘here we go.’ As the game went on, it felt like everything was going slower and I felt really comfortable.”
That comfort has continued this spring, which has allowed Davis to become more vocal. And rather than just focusing on himself, he can also help his teammates because he not only knows what he is supposed to be doing, but he knows what the guys next to him need to be doing as well.
On an offense currently looking for leaders, the Buckeyes won’t need to look too far to find Wyatt Davis.