Ohio State's defensive line is going to look very different this fall.
The Buckeyes have to find a replacement for the program's best-ever pass-rusher in Chase Young, who set a new single-season benchmark for sacks (16.5) despite serving a mid-season two-game suspension in 2019.
They'll also need to replace their two starting defensive tackles in DaVon Hamilton and Jashon Cornell, as well as the defensive line's top rotational player in Robert Landers. Those three were pivotal in anchoring Ohio State's defensive line and occupying bodies to allow Young to come off the edge.
Some important pieces from that 2019 unit are back. Defensive end Zach Harrison has the opportunity to become Ohio State's next great pass-rusher, following in the footsteps of Joey and Nick Bosa, and of course, Young. Defensive tackles Tommy Togiai, Haskell Garrett and Antwuan Jackson provide both depth and experience on the interior.
But Taron Vincent's return could be the key to effectively rebuilding Ohio State's defensive line in 2020.
Vincent came to Ohio State as one of the crown jewels of the nation's second-ranked 2018 recruiting class. He was part of the trio of 5-star prospects that signed with the Buckeyes that year, and he was rated the top interior defensive lineman in the country.
That raw talent and potential helped him earn playing time as a reserve during Ohio State's 2018 season, but he got better as the season wore on. In his first 13 games with the Buckeyes, he saw just 79 plays of action. But during the lead up to Ohio State's matchup against Washington in the Rose Bowl, he earned more of the coaches' trust and got in for 19 plays in the 28-23 victory.
That should've set Vincent up to become a regular contributor to Ohio State's defensive line in 2019, but a preseason shoulder injury that required surgery ended his sophomore season before it started.
“The beginning of the season was hard just standing there,” Vincent said after Ohio State's 34-21 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game last December. “I'm used to it now, and I'm just here to encourage everybody and keep their heads up and stuff.”
Now fully healthy and ready to go, Vincent won't just be standing around for the Buckeyes this fall.
Vincent said he would be ready to fully participate in spring practice, but the Buckeyes got through just one week of camp before the coronavirus pandemic completely shut college athletics down midway through March. That loss of practice hurt both the Buckeyes and Vincent's ability to get back up to speed, which makes summer training and fall camp so important.
Ohio State football players can get back to it next Monday, as the program announced voluntary workouts could resume at the practice facility in small groups.
That opens the possibility for fall camp to start on time, and in turn, the college football season. Vincent's ability to recover and rejoin the defensive line rotation could determine how well Ohio State rebuilds one of the most pivotal units on the team.
“Taron's so disruptive, so disruptive in the run game, in the pass rush.”
Those were the words of Jashon Cornell, one of the defensive tackles Vincent will be trying to replace.
“We call him battering ram because once he gets off the ball, he's knocking everybody off.”
If Vincent can not only return to form but take a leap heading into the 2020 season, Ohio State's defensive line might now lose a step this fall.