Ohio State will be without one of the best defensive linemen in college football for at least one game.
The good news for the Buckeyes: They'll still have one of college football’s other best defensive linemen on the field.
Nick Bosa will not play this Saturday against Tulane – and it’s yet to be determined if he will miss more time than that – after suffering what has only been described as an abdominal and groin injury last Saturday against TCU.
Dre’Mont Jones, though, also made his standing as one of college football’s top defensive linemen clear with his performance in the Buckeyes’ 40-28 win over the Horned Frogs.
The athletic redshirt junior defensive tackle had a career game on the national stage on Saturday night, when he recorded six total tackles – including two tackles for loss and a sack – and also got his hands on two passes, including one that he intercepted and returned 28 yards for a touchdown, while receiving a 93 percent grade from his coaches on a career-high 67 snaps.
Jones’ performance was so impressive that Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, in his first press conference back from his three-game suspension, felt he had to read off Jones’ stat line on Monday.
“Hell of a day,” Meyer said.
For the season as a whole, Jones has already recorded three sacks – two more than he had in his first two Ohio State seasons combined – among four tackles for loss and 11 total tackles. He’s moved into a role that keeps him on the field for all three downs instead of substituting out in pass-rushing situations, although Saturday was the first time this year that he played a full game, as he played only about a half in each of the Buckeyes’ two blowout wins to open the season.
Jones, who contemplated leaving for the NFL draft after last season but decided to return in part because of the opportunity to play a bigger role this season, said he is enjoying the extended playing time this year.
“Finally I feel like I got snaps under my belt, not worrying about rotating in and out, not getting that rhythm,” Jones said while meeting with the media Tuesday. “And I feel like this year I’m starting to get in rhythm, starting to get a better feel to the game.”
He did have to briefly leave Saturday’s game with cramps, but said that had more to do with playing in an unusual environment – indoors, at AT&T Stadium – than not being used to being on the field for so many plays.
“I’m not used to playing in a dome, and on the different side of the country too,” Jones said. “So I probably should have hydrated more. Hydrated a lot, but I guess not enough.”
Jones’ importance to Ohio State’s defensive line has already been clear this season, as he leads all Buckeyes defensive linemen with 135 snaps played this year, but now, his role on the defensive line could become even more crucial as long as Bosa is sidelined.
“I feel like this year I’m starting to get in rhythm, starting to get a better feel to the game.”– Dre'Mont Jones
That said, Jones said he isn’t feeling any additional pressure to perform in Bosa’s absence, because he already felt responsible for being one of the leaders of the unit.
“I feel the same amount of pressure that I have before,” Jones said. “It’s upsetting to see him down and out, but some more guys got to step up. We all just have to play.”
While Jones has played primarily as a 3-technique defensive tackle since he joined the Buckeyes’ starting lineup as a redshirt freshman in 2016, he arrived at Ohio State as a defensive end – leading to the question of whether he could see playing time at defensive end while Bosa is out, as the Buckeyes don’t have much experienced depth at the position behind Jonathon Cooper and Chase Young, who should both start in Bosa’s absence.
Asked about that possibility on Tuesday, Jones didn’t rule it out, saying he’d “of course” be up for it if the Buckeyes decided to move him outside.
“I don’t know,” Jones said about playing defensive end. “We’ll see.”
As he demonstrated on Saturday night in Arlington, Texas, Jones is one of college football’s most talented defensive tackles – he’s even been projected as a top-six overall pick, along with Bosa, for next year’s NFL draft in a couple recent mock drafts by CBS Sports. As such, he’ll be the star of Ohio State’s defensive line until Bosa is able to suit up again – and could become the player who opposing offenses game plan against on the Buckeyes’ defensive front.
Ultimately, though, Jones believes Ohio State’s entire defensive line will step up to help make up for Bosa’s absence, taking some of the weight off his shoulders.
Fellow Ohio State defensive tackle Davon Hamilton agrees with that assessment.
"We'd love to have Nick, obviously, because he really is that good. But, I mean, reality is we've got to step up,” Hamilton said. "We can't be down because somebody else is down. As good as he is, we've really got to keep on picking it up."