Presser Bullets: Larry Johnson and Six Ohio State Defensive Linemen Discuss Preparation for 2020 Season

By Colin Hass-Hill on October 7, 2020 at 12:58 pm

It's defensive line day in Columbus.

Ohio State's position-by-position interviews continued on Wednesday afternoon with legendary defensive line coach Larry Johnson speaking to the media. Five players at his position – defensive ends Zach Harrison, Tyreke Smith, Tyler Friday and Javontae Jean-Baptiste and defensive tackles Tommy Togiai and Antwuan Jackson Jr. – also talked to reporters.

A running bullet-point list of what was discussed:

Larry Johnson

  • Johnson says Ohio State will have three players at both 3-technique and nose tackle.
  • Johnson says Haskell Garrett is not quite fully cleared yet for full contact. He also mentions that Taron Vincent's "progress is going well," though they're bringing him back slowly and are hoping to have him back for the beginning of the season.
  • He says Zach Harrison has "all the attributes we look for in a player" and has become more mature this season. "I'm really pleased with where he's at right now." He says it was evident right away that Harrison was different when he walked in the door.
  • Blocking the noise from the outside and concentrating on his own development is most important for Harrison, Johnson says.
  • "Our whole entire team looks up to Jonathon Cooper." He says Cooper defines perseverance. "He's a different player." 
  • Johnson says he feels safe and secure in what Ohio State provides. 
  • Ohio State always wants to have its best pass-rushers on the field on third downs, so they're still looking at who'll be best at 3-technique in the Rushmen package.
  • Johnson says he's not going to give away who's at 3-technique in the Rushmen package.
  • He says Jackson has had a "really great camp." He and Togiai are the "foundation of what we're doing." Jackson can play both nose tackle and 3-technique.
  • On Ty Hamilton: "Ty has been doing really well." He says Hamilton has added 25 pounds – going from 260 to 285 pounds. He's transitioning to nose tackle.
  • Darrion Henry-Young is still at defensive end, Johnson says. "He's making progress."
  • Can Harrison be the next Chase Young or Bosa brother? "He sure has the potential to be that." They do a "great deal of talking about what's expected of him." 
  • Harrison has a great sense of humor and is a "deep thinker." Johnson says Harrison cares about people.
  • Johnson says he likes Jaden McKenzie, who's up to 285 pounds, at 3-technique. Jerron Cage is also in the mix there.
  • Cage will be in the mix at nose tackle, and Hamilton could earn playing time too.
  • Johnson says Garrett's injury is a "very sensitive area." He's not yet fully participating in practices.
  • On Garrett getting shot: "Scary. Very scary. It was a very shocking moment for all of us." He says the doctors who helped are "incredible people."
  • This year at defensive end, it might resemble the 2017 rotation, Johnson says.
  • Not getting recruits on campus is "tough," Johnson says. They try to show how players will fit into the scheme.
  • Johnson says he opted into the 5% pay cut.
  • Limiting big, explosive plays is important, Johnson says. At the end of last season, teams found some openings, so not repeating some plays given up at the end of the season is important.
  • He says not touching and hugging players during practices is tough for him. Talking through a mask has been a little bit difficult, too, per Johnson.
  • Not getting to be close to players hasn't led you to curse, right? "That will never happen."
  • Johnson says he wants to give all five defensive ends a chance to start this year since they could all start anywhere else. "Right now, they all have opportunities to be starters."
  • They don't look for pass-rushing at nose tackle, he says. But he's confident Togiai can do that.
  • On what he told Jackson leading up to this season: "This is his moment. This is his time."

Tyreke Smith

  • Togiai has been a leader on the defensive line ever since he arrived, Smith said. "Super strong. Super smart on the field."
  • Smith says this year is "really important." Notes he's been "hurt a little bit" in his career, so he's been trying to eat differently and get extra treatment to prevent injuries. He's trying to watch extra film with Johnson.
  • On social justice issues that were at the forefront earlier in the offseason: It never left us, for real."
  • He's trying to "become more of a student of the game." 
  • "I'm just trying to do everything I can. I'm watching tape after practice, seeing little things with coach J."
  • A normal day for Smith entails lifting in the morning, online classes, treatment throughout the day, practicing at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, meeting and then getting back at it.
  • Smith says Chase Young tells him to be himself and trust what Johnson has to say.
  • On the five defensive ends: "I think it's great. I think everybody can learn from everybody. Everybody's different. Everybody rushes differently." They are tight enough that they can give each other tips without offending each other.
  • He says Harrison is "on point all the time" and keeps everybody else on their toes. "He's one of the leaders on the D-line already."

Antwuan Jackson

  • Jackson says this opportunity is "very big for me." He looked up to Dre'Mont Jones and Haskell Garrett before him.
  • "I think it's a big role to play the 3-technique for The Ohio State."
  • Technique is important for those playing under Johnson, he says.
  • On how he'd sum up his career so far: "I feel like I have to do better. I have to get better every day."
  • Jackson says it's not too difficult to play both nose tackle and 3-technique. Johnson had him playing both positions for a while to maximize versatility.
  • He says Jackson's dad wanted him to go to Ohio State out of high school. But being there, he realized he wanted to play for Johnson. It means a lot to get the second chance to be a Buckeye, he says.
  • Nicholas Petit-Frere has done "really good" stepping up. It's a "war every day" with Wyatt Davis. "The rest of the O-line, they're doing very good. Can't wait for them to knock people out."

Tommy Togiai

  • Togiai says DaVon Hamilton and Robert Landers gave him a lot of tips on how to rush the passer from the 1-technique last year.
  • Johnson teaches the linemen to get off the ball the same way whether they're rushing the passer or defending the run, Togiai says.
  • On him being deemed the strongest player on the team: "I'm not really concerned about that title."
  • Davis and Josh Myers are two of the best offensive linemen he'll face this season, he says.
  • "I'm expecting to play as many snaps as I need to."
  • Ty Hamilton and Jaden McKenzie have "come a long way" in a short time, he says.
  • Every year, Johnson tells the linemen to "raise the bar, raise the standard," so that's the goal.
  • Harry Miller has "gone a long way" since his freshman season, Togiai says.
  • "I think we do have great depth." He notes some of the younger players have stepped up. 

Javontae Jean-Baptiste

  • Jean-Baptiste says Togiai is starting to be a "great role model" for Ty Hamilton. Says Togiai is a lead-by-example type who always runs to the ball.
  • He's all the way bought into a rotation at defensive end: "Being fresh is the best thing."
  • Jean-Baptiste says rotating keeps you fresh.
  • "Right now, I'm just focusing on improving technique and staying more sharp." Also says he's focusing on staying healthy.
  • With his added weight, Jean-Baptiste says he feels more explosive. Eating more and putting in work in the weight room was important.
  • His speed and length are advantages, he says.
  • Noah Potter is "doing good. He's starting to come along more than where he was." Darrion Henry-Young is "going to be a good player here."
  • Mastering everything Johnson wants his linemen to do is "kind of hard."

Zach Harrison

  • The guys that came before him, Harrison says, heighten the expectations. "Honestly, I don't really try to think about that."
  • His participation on the Big Ten's Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition is important to "keep the ball rolling on these kinds of issues." He calls his spot on the coalition "an honor."
  • Keeping guys fresh is the biggest benefit of rotating defensive ends, he says. 
  • On getting all the tools in Johnson's toolbox: "It's a challenge. Coach J pushes me hard every practice."
  • "I did a lot of good things my freshman year." But looking back on the tape from last year, he says, he sees many things he could have done better.
  • Harrison was working out wherever he could during the offseason.
  • On what he wants to improve this season: "My pass-rush is one of the big ones and really just my consistency and my play."
  • He's focusing on his hands, feet and hips to get better as a pass rusher.
  • On working with the fellow defensive ends: "We're all in this together."

Tyler Friday

  • "Last year, things ain't go quite as planned" with giving up plays in the last three games. He says they're trying to set a new standard this year.
  • Friday says he'll move inside and outside this year.
  • To motivate them, Friday says, Johnson tells them they're viewed as "a bunch of no-names" since they don't have a Chase Young or a Bosa.
  • "The thing that's so exciting about our D-ends is they've got flavors." They all bring something different to the table.
  • Friday says if Smith was starting anywhere else, he'd probably already be a star.
  • He said he focused this offseason on lowering his body fat and improving his flexibility.
  • On potentially playing defensive tackle: “I think you guys will see some plans later this year on moving me inside and out.”
  • Friday thinks Darrion Henry-Young has made a "big difference" between where he was when he enrolled and where he is now.
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