Ohio State’s defensive ends, aka the “Rushmen,” get most of the attention on the Buckeyes’ defensive line. The breakout star of this year’s defensive line, though, could be a defensive tackle.
Expectations are high entering the 2017 season for Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard, Nick Bosa and Jalyn Holmes, who could be the best quartet of defensive ends in college football. The Buckeyes also have high expectations, though, for redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones.
Jones started the Buckeyes’ final 12 games last year as a redshirt freshman and finished the season with 52 total tackles, most among all Ohio State defensive linemen. His performance earned him Freshman All-American honors from the Football Writers Association of America.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer expects Jones to be even better this year, defining him as one of the Buckeyes’ most improved players in this year’s fall camp.
"He’s a very much improved guy," Meyer said Monday. "Near the end of (last) season, he was playing very, very well, and he’s even playing better now."
Robert Landers has also seen that improvement in his fellow redshirt sophomore defensive tackle.
"He’s just been excelling so much," Landers said. "He’s becoming more comfortable in what we’re doing and what (defensive line coach Larry) Johnson wants us to do. His get-off, his knowledge of the game, his body in general. He’s a lot bigger than he was last year. A lot faster. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do this season."
Jones arrived at Ohio State in 2015 as a four-star defensive end recruit out of Cleveland’s St. Ignatius High School. Having suffered an ACL injury playing basketball during his senior year of high school, Jones was forced to redshirt his first year in Columbus. Upon his return to the field, Jones bulked up and moved inside to defensive tackle, where he is set to start at the 3-technique position again this year.
Even though Jones had to overcome injury and gain weight, Johnson says Jones still possesses the athleticism that made him a four-star defensive end recruit, which "adds a dimension" to Ohio State’s defensive line.
"It’s like having a defensive end playing 3-technique, and that’s what Dre’Mont is," Johnson said. "He’s a really fast-twitch guy playing 3-technique who can get one-on-one battles with the guard. And that’s what you want."
Now more than two years removed from his injury and with two years of learning from Johnson under his belt, Jones says the biggest difference in him from when he arrived at Ohio State is his confidence.
"I had belief in myself, but it wasn’t like the maturity to go out there and do it," Jones said Monday. "It was just like I know I can do it, but like, something was holding me back. And I guess that just had to come with maturity."
Johnson says the difference in Jones now from when he arrived on campus is "night and day."
"He’s taken on so many leaps and bounds, he really has," Johnson said. "You see a guy that’s really starting to elevate his game, and he wants to be great. You see him staying extra hours, watching videotape, doing all the little things you need to be a great player. Dre’Mont Jones is doing that right now."
Although he has only played one season and is expected to be better this season, Jones has already started to capture attention as an NFL prospect. The Athletic’s Ari Wasserman recently shared insight from an NFL scout who named Jones as one of Ohio State’s top four prospects – a group that does not include any of the Buckeyes’ other defensive linemen (Bosa, however, is a true sophomore who is not yet draft-eligible).
NFL scout who watched practice told me top 4 prospects on OSU's roster are Denzel Ward, Billy Price, Kendall Sheffield and Dre'Mont Jones.
— Ari Wasserman (@AriWasserman) August 12, 2017
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report’s lead NFL draft writer, told Eleven Warriors last month that he too considers Jones to be Ohio State’s best draft-eligible defensive lineman.
"I think Dre’Mont Jones at defensive tackle has a really good chance to become a first-rounder," Miller said. "I know he’s only a redshirt sophomore, so it might be (2018), it might be (2019), but he definitely stands out as an impact-type player."
Jones does not know yet when he will attempt to make the jump to the NFL – he still has three years of eligibility left at Ohio State – but he does expect to make a statement with his play this year.
"My expectation for myself this year is to have a breakout year, regardless of if I do whatever," Jones said in regards to the decision he will have to make after the season.
“You see a guy that’s really starting to elevate his game, and he wants to be great."– Larry Johnson on Dre'Mont Jones
For now, Jones’ focus is on being the best player he can be for the Buckeyes in 2017. He believes the key to playing at an even higher level will be his tenacity.
"My tenacity to the ball, my tenacity to fit onto blocks, my tenacity to fit double-teams," Jones said. "I’m excited for all that. I want double-teams. I want you to run the ball at me. I want you to have a lack of confidence in me. Because I want to be a better player."
Ohio State center Billy Price, who regularly has to go up against Jones in practice, is among those who expect Jones to make a bigger name for himself this year.
"He is the most twitched-up dude I have ever played against," Price said. "And the good thing about watching him play this year … last year, he was just kind of running around and being a young guy … now he’s able to read an offensive lineman and read what the offense is doing. He’s so explosive that it doesn’t matter, if you are a half-step behind him, he beats you every time."