Larry Johnson's Ability to Recruit and Develop Defensive Linemen Has Anchored Ohio State's Defense

By David Regimbal on May 21, 2020 at 10:10 am
Larry Johnson

Larry Johnson is good at what he does.

He's been good for a very long time. The defensive line coach grew to be one of the best in the country at Penn State, where he started his collegiate coaching career in 1996.

During his time in Happy Valley, he recruited and developed seven first-team All Americans and six first-round draft picks, highlighted by Tamba Hali, Jared Odrick, Aaron Mabin and Courtney Brown, who was selected No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Browns in 2000.

He was considered one of the top assistant coaches in all of college football, and he was an integral part of Joe Paterno's football success at Penn State. That's why he was at the top of Ohio State's wish list when former defensive line coach Mike Vrabel left Columbus to coach linebackers for the Houston Texans in 2014.

He was at the top of many programs' wish lists throughout the years. He had turned down a lot of offers (like the one that came from Illinois to become the team's defensive coordinator) and remained loyal to Penn State.

But that changed when Urban Meyer and Ohio State called in 2014. The Buckeyes were overhauling their defensive staff after letting former co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers go, and Johnson came on board to help as Ohio State's defensive line coach.

He made an instant impact on and off the field.

The Buckeyes had a loaded defensive line his first season that was anchored by a true sophomore in Joey Bosa, who was coming off a promising true freshman season. Bosa registered 42 tackles, 13.5 for loss and 7.5 sacks in 2013, but that was just the warmup.

Johnson molded Bosa into an absolute force in 2014. During Ohio State's run to and through the College Football Playoff National Championship, Bosa tallied 55 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks while being named a consensus first-team All American.

That was a perfect introduction for what Buckeye fans should expect from their new defensive line coach.

Ohio State's defensive line production has been staggering since his arrival. A Buckeye has won the Big Ten Defensive Linemen of the Year award in each season except 2018 (Bosa in '14-'15, Tyquan Lewis in '16, Nick Bosa in '17, and Chase Young in 2019), and it likely would've been a clean sweep if Nick Bosa hadn't lost his junior season 2.5 games in (he had registered four sacks in essentially 1.5 games of action).

The big-name defensive ends grab all the headlines, but Johnson's contribution goes far deeper than that.

His recruiting connections in the northeast are second to none, and his ability to win over bluechip recruits has been enormous for Ohio State. Just look at this year's recruiter rankings from 247Sports — the three commits Johnson gets credit for have a staggering average rating of 98.51, which leads the country.

That recruiting success has allowed him to build depth and success at every spot of Ohio State's defensive line. The Bosa brothers and Young get the flashy attention, but Johnson's ability to produce elite defensive tackles has been just as important for the Buckeyes.

Ohio State's defense has had its ups and downs over the years, but the one consistent force since 2014 has been the defensive line under Johnson. And as long as he's roaming the sideline in Scarlet and Gray, Buckeye fans shouldn't expect that to change.

View 18 Comments