"Chase has got some high expectations for himself, he really does." - Larry Johnson
When Urban Meyer began setting up shop in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center back in December of 2011, he immediately placed a premium on recruiting talented athletes across the defensive line. At a time when the SEC was dominating the sport, controlling the line of scrimmage with superior size and speed appeared to be the biggest difference between programs like the one Meyer had built in Gainesville and the one he was taking over.
With the signings of top-100 D-line recruits Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt, and Se'Von Pittman in the coming months, Meyer began a trend of stocking Ohio State's defensive line with blue-chip talent that continues to this day. In the seven seasons since, a Buckeye has won the Big Ten's Smith–Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year award five times.
Now, without a Bosa brother on the roster, the most likely candidate to continue that legacy of greatness is clearly Chase Young. The 6'5" 265 lb end from Upper Marlboro, Maryland enters his third, and likely final, season at the collegiate level, fresh off a breakout performance in which he tallied 9.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles-for-loss.
After Nick Bosa's season ended due to injury midway through the third game of the 2018 campaign, Young was forced to step up into a starring role. Two weeks after Bosa's final snap in a Buckeye uniform, Young held a coming-out party, racking up 2 sacks, 2 hurries (officially), 2 passes broken up, and 3 tackles-for-loss including a memorable 4th down stop to seal his team's dramatic 27-26 road win.
"I think I had a pretty good year. I think I showed the country what I can do," Young said prior to the Rose Bowl last December. "Obviously, I played the best I could and definitely got used to the shifts and stuff, I think, later in the season because I just wasn't used to them."
Without Bosa, then-coordinator Greg Schiano and his D-line consigliere, Johnson, schemed up ways to get Young matched up one-on-one against a single-blocker in pass-rush scenarios. Loop stunts like the one that ended the matchup in Happy Valley were ever-present throughout the rest of the season, using Young's fast-twitch acceleration to turn the corner on unsuspecting guards and leaving quarterbacks vulnerable.
At the same time, however, opponents took note and schemed up ways to put him in conflict. With a month to prepare for the Rose Bowl, Washington used crack blocks and pullers to seal him inside before sending the ball around the edge.
To make it more difficult to do such things, Schiano and Johnson lined up Young all over the line, playing both the strong and weak side end spots and sending an array of blitzes to keep offenses on edge. This thinking proved most effective in the Big Ten title game as Young wound up with 3 sacks thanks to a bevy of solo battles in which he won.
The question surrounding Young as he heads into this season is not whether or not he has the talent to bring another Smith-Brown trophy back to the WHAC, but how Schiano's successor plans to utilize that ability in a new system. New coordinator Greg Mattison still plans to use four down linemen on most snaps but has his own philosophy for how to do so.
In the past, Mattison has clearly differentiated between the skill sets of his two ends, with the weak side player called a Rush LB and trained to possess a hybrid skillset. Although this player was often the best pass rusher on the team, Mattison still dropped him into coverage on occasion, replacing him with the SAM linebacker on a blitz.
Fortunately, Young already has experience running what many coaches call these NCAA blitz schemes, as they were one of Schiano's favorite calls on first down. The front-side pressure gives the appearance of sending an extra rusher but maintains the secondary's integrity by dropping seven players back in coverage.
Yet there are still things upon which the junior can still improve. Just ask him.
“I feel like looking at the film from last year, I can use my hands a lot better,” Young said last week to reporters. “I feel like I can get off the ball better. It's just a lot of stuff where I'm really nit-picky about. And, you know, that's why we've got camp. I'm going to work on the things that I need to work on to become a better player this year.”
While minute, the small adjustments in hand positioning he mentioned can make all the difference on Saturdays. Even in his all-world performance against Penn State, there were still a few plays left on the field due to poor hand technique.
In the first half, lining up across from the right tackle, Young's hands are down as he shoots out of his stance. As a result, the blocker is able to make the first punch, getting his hands inside of Young's and right on his big scarlet #2.
Though Young's momentum carried him deep in the pocket, the PSU blocker was able to maintain good balance and ride Young's penetration out of the play, allowing the quarterback to easily escape for a big gain.
"You can't just run by a guy all the time," Johnson said of Young in the week following the win in State College. "...And I think he gets so caught up in the moment that he can get there and doesn't realize that sometimes when he's facing a good offensive tackle that's going to punch him when his hands aren't there, he won't make the play."
Winning this small battle of the hands is crucial to the way Johnson teaches defensive line play. Considered by many to be the position's best coach throughout college football, Johnson's lectures on the topic are legendary, drawing hundreds and delegating coordinators to the second stage at Ohio State's annual coaching clinic.
During his presentation at the 2018 event, he spoke specifically about the development of the Bosa brothers but may as well have been describing that of Young instead.
“No arms, hands are down,” Johnson said of a practice clip from early in Joey Bosa's time in Columbus. “When you expose your chest open, our kids know we go long arm. He (the blocker) is telling me what I’m gonna do. When I attack you, you’re either gonna punch me or you’re gonna drop your hands. Because he dropped his hands, he’s vulnerable for the long arm.”
The 'long arm' appears like a simple bull rush to many, with Buckeye defenders shoving an opposing blocker in whatever direction he'd like on his way to the ball-carrier.
"The target is right here, right above your heart at the top of your pec," Johnson went on as he described the move. "That controls that muscle so every time you (the blocker) go to punch, it actually forces you back because my hand is forcing you back. When he goes to punch, he actually loses balance."
By all accounts, Young appears to have the move down cold. Though he played only a handful of snaps during Ohio State's spring game in April, he made a big impression, tossing around young blockers like redshirt freshman Nicholas Petit-Frere, a fellow blue-chip recruit in his own right.
According to Young, he'll have plenty of opportunities to win these types of one-on-one battles this fall, as Mattison's penetrating, upfield approach differed from the constant slanting on run downs seen under Schiano.
"I wouldn't say simpler, but he's going to give us more plays to just go straight," Young said to the media following an August practice. "Not too much slanting, we're definitely going to slant still, but just more plays where we're going straight ahead and can make a play."
As far as Johnson is concerned, however, the scheme is secondary to Young's attitude and approach to the game.
"Chase has some high expectations for himself, he really does," Johnson told reporters last fall. "Everything he does is based on that. He's a great learner, he wants to learn everything, I mean, he picks Nick (Bosa)'s brains every day about how to rush the passer and the things he can learn. I think that's what you want from a player who is a highly competitive guy and wants to be a great player."