In the first quarter of Ohio State’s 2016 season-opener against Bowling Green, with the Buckeyes already comfortably leading 21-7, Falcons running back Fred Coppet took a handoff up the middle for a modest 2-yard gain.
Ohio State defensive end Jalyn Holmes and linebacker Raekwon McMillan were credited with the tackle on the play, but as players from both teams slowly rose to their feet, one member of the Buckeyes’ defense laid on the turf. And after a brief delay, Tracy Sprinkle got up and needed assistance getting off the field. He did not return to the game.
Afterward, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer revealed Sprinkle suffered a patellar tendon injury that would require season-ending surgery. Just like that, less than 15 minutes into his first year as a starter for the Buckeyes, Sprinkle’s season was over.
“Tracy is the heart of the D-line, man, and it was hard dealing with that in the locker room,” Holmes said following Sprinkle’s injury. “He’s everything to the D-linemen and I just feel for him right now. He’s everything to us and it’s going to be hard to replace him but he’s going to be with us throughout the whole process.”
Of course, Ohio State did find a way to replace Sprinkle as a redshirt freshman by the name of Dre’Mont Jones stepped in and emerged as a breakout star toward the end of the season. Jones started alongside Michael Hill on the interior of the Buckeyes’ defensive line and recorded 52 tackles, which led all defensive linemen.
It would appear Jones somewhat cemented himself as a starter. This spring, Meyer said he turned into “a really fine player for us” while lumping Jones in with Ohio State’s four elite defensive ends: Holmes, Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Nick Bosa. If that is the case, what does that mean for Sprinkle this fall?
Well, first things first, he has to get healthy. He was limited throughout spring ball as he continued to recover from his injury, but at the conclusion of spring practice, Buckeyes defensive line coach Larry Johnson updated Sprinkle’s status.
“He is going to be a bonus for us coming back,” Johnson said. “I actually think he is pretty close. We are still monitoring him a little bit. He got some work right down at the end of spring ball but now we will go full speed and see what happens.”
Sprinkle is expected to be full-go by fall camp and his return only adds more depth to a defensive line that might just be the best in the country. Johnson is known for using eight-to-10 man rotations up front and that certainly looks like it is going to be the case again in 2017.
Another fast-twitched pass-rusher on the interior, Sprinkle gives Ohio State a welcomed boost in 2017. He is another piece to the puzzle that Johnson will have a chance to utilize.
“I think that there will be the depth to rotate, that is one thing that we will be able to do,” Johnson said. “It is just a matter of a combination of when we are going to use them and how we are going to use them. Just moving through fall camp, we will make that decision,”
“From the spring game, it just shows that we have the depth and now just how we are going to use it."