Spring Preview: Ohio State Loaded With Depth At Defensive Tackle, Top-End Talent at Defensive End

By Dan Hope on February 27, 2018 at 1:05 pm
Nick Bosa and Dre'Mont Jones
Joe Maiorana – USA TODAY Sports

As the start of spring football at Ohio State approaches at March 6, Eleven Warriors is taking a position-by-position look at the competitions to come when practices begin next week.

As we begin taking a closer look at the defensive side of the ball, there’s no better place to start than the defensive line, where Larry Johnson’s unit has the potential once again to be among the best defensive lines in the country.

The hallmark of Johnson’s defensive lines at Ohio State, especially this past season, has been the Buckeyes’ ability to rotate disruptive players in and out of the lineup, and that should be the case once again this season – at least at defensive tackle. The Buckeyes don’t have much depth at defensive end, which will be a concern they need to address this spring, yet their top three players at the position could still give them a rotation as good as any in the nation.

While the top of Ohio State’s defensive end rotation might already be set by virtue of its lack of depth at that spot, the Buckeyes will enter this spring needing to figure out who else can play at that position if needed while also managing what should be a deep and hotly contested competition at defensive tackle.

What We Know

Although Ohio State lost three of its top four defensive ends from last season (Jalyn Holmes, Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis) and a starting defensive tackle (Tracy Sprinkle), the Buckeyes are still loaded with top-end talent at both positions.

The stars of the 2018 defensive line should be junior defensive end Nick Bosa, who was a first-team All-American in his sophomore season, and redshirt junior defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones, who somewhat surprisingly put his NFL draft aspirations on hold to return for an opportunity to play an expanded role for Ohio State this season.

Bosa is one of three returning defensive ends who saw playing time last season, along with Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper. Jones is one of six returning scholarship defensive tackles who saw playing time last season, along with Robert Landers, Jashon Cornell, Davon Hamilton, Haskell Garrett and Malik Barrow.

The Buckeyes already have two defensive tackles from their 2018 recruiting class on campus in Antwuan Jackson, who enters Ohio State with three remaining seasons of eligibility after transferring in from Blinn College, and Tommy Togiai, an early enrollee freshman. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jerron Cage is also set for his first spring with the team.

Five-star freshman defensive tackle Taron Vincent will arrive at Ohio State as a regular enrollee this summer, as well as four new defensive ends: Tyler Friday, Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Tyreke Smith and Alex Williams.

What We Don’t Know

In order to get through spring practices, Ohio State is certainly going to need to have more than three players lining up at the defensive end position. While that should open up a great opportunity for Ohio State’s walk-on defensive ends to get some significant reps and make their case for playing time, the Buckeyes might also need to move some scholarship players to defensive end – even if only temporarily until the freshmen arrive this summer – in order to have enough players at the position to rotate through practices and be ready to play there in case of emergency.

Whose those players would be, though, is something we truly don’t know as of now. The Buckeyes could move a defensive tackle like Cornell or Hamilton outside, or move a linebacker like Dante Booker or Malik Harrison down to the line. Jones, with his athleticism, could be a candidate to see some playing time at defensive end, too. All of those players are probably better suited to continue playing the positions they have previously played at Ohio State, though, so the Buckeyes might have to decide whether moving any of those players would actually be in their best interest.

At defensive tackle, we know that Jones should lead the way and that Landers should be a key player in the rotation – as he has been for the past two seasons – but after them, it’s tough to predict how the rotation might shake out, as it’s easy to envision just about any scholarship defensive tackle on the roster earning significant playing time this year.

Players to Watch

There might not be any potential breakout player on Ohio State’s roster surrounded by more hype entering this spring than Young, the Buckeyes’ top recruit in their class of 2017, who has all the tools to be Ohio State’s next star defensive end. “The Predator” will certainly be a player whose draws the attention of many eyes this spring as he prepares for the opportunity to see much more substantial playing time in his sophomore season.

Chase Young
Chase Young is one of the most hyped players on Ohio State's entire roster entering this spring. Joe Maiorana – USA TODAY Sports

The defensive end who shouldn’t be overlooked, though, is Cooper, a highly touted recruit in his own right from the class of 2016. While Bosa and Young are talked about as potential future top-10 NFL draft picks, Cooper – who will presumably rotate regularly with Young regardless of which player starts opposite Bosa – also has the ability to be a high-impact player for the Buckeyes, and he’ll look to prove it this spring.

Jackson, who spent a year at Auburn before making a stop at junior college on his way to Ohio State, will be a player to keep an eye on at defensive tackle, as he looks to prove he can make an immediate impact as a redshirt sophomore much like Kendall Sheffield – who also came to Columbus by way of Blinn College – did at cornerback last year.

Togiai will be a player to watch too, as he makes a big transition from Idaho high school football to Big Ten football, but appears to already have the size and strength needed to potentially make an impact on the Buckeyes’ defensive line in year one.

Jones will also be a player to watch this spring, even though he’s already an established star on the Buckeyes’ defensive line, simply to see how his role might expand for the 2018 season. Unlike last year, when Jones came off the field on third-and-long situations in favor of the Rushmen package, Jones is expected to remain on the field as an interior pass-rusher – while, as aforementioned, it’s also possible the Buckeyes could experiment with him playing defensive end, given their substantially greater depth inside than they have outside.

Position Outlook

Ohio State’s defensive end rotation, at least at the top of the depth chart, appears to be pretty clear-cut. While the Buckeyes primarily used a four-man defensive end rotation last year, with each of the top four defensive ends playing a nearly identical amount of snaps, a three-man defensive end rotation seems more likely this year. Bosa, by virtue of already being one of the best defensive linemen in the country, should play a majority of snaps this season, while Young and Cooper are likely to rotate more equally.

The fourth spot on the defensive end two-deep will likely be open for the four incoming freshmen to compete for in fall camp, but it’s possible someone could change positions or a breakthrough walk-on could emerge this spring.

Jones, who already led the Buckeyes in defensive tackle snaps last year, should be in line for an even bigger role this season. Landers appears likely to move into the starting lineup, after rotating about equally with Sprinkle last season, but it’s also likely that at least one other defensive tackle will see significant playing time in rotation with him.

While it’s presumable, barring a position change, that Cornell will retain his role as Jones’ primary backup, the spot on the depth chart behind Landers could be more wide open, with Hamilton, Garrett, Jackson and Togiai all being the players who could seize that spot with a strong spring.

Projected Depth Chart

Defensive End

1. Nick Bosa

2. Tyreke Smith (not yet enrolled)

3. Tyler Friday (not yet enrolled)

Defensive End

1A. Chase Young

1B. Jonathon Cooper

3. Javontae Jean-Baptiste

Defensive Tackle (3-Tech)

1. Dre’Mont Jones

2. Jashon Cornell

3. Davon Hamilton

Defensive Tackle (Nose)

1. Robert Landers

2. Haskell Garrett

3. Antwuan Jackson Jr.

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