Jack Sawyer is already making a push for playing time on Ohio State’s defensive line.
After just his ninth practice as a Buckeye on Tuesday, Sawyer became one of the first two freshmen (along with wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.) to have their black stripes removed this spring. That’s usually an indicator that a new Buckeye is off to a great start, and Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson confirmed Friday that he’s been impressed by what he’s seen from Sawyer so far.
“I certainly like where he’s at right now, no doubt about that,” Johnson said. “Because he’s been here, he understands our system, and he’s playing really well. The thing I like about Jack, he’s a fierce competitor. He hates to lose. He wants to win every rep. And I love that about him.”
Ohio State’s veteran defensive ends, including fellow Central Ohio native and five-star recruit Zach Harrison, have also taken notice of Sawyer in his first few months on campus.
“I’ve been real impressed with Jack,” Harrison said. “Jack’s been getting better every day. He’s a sponge. He likes to be coached up. He asks questions. And he’s got a real God-given ability. He’s got good bend and explosiveness. So I think Jack’s going to be a special player around here.”
Tyreke Smith has been struck by how quickly Sawyer has improved in his first few weeks of practice.
“He’s picking up fast,” Smith said. “I think he’s gonna be a tremendous player. He came to the right program. Coach J, he’s gonna get guys where they need to be. But his just like technique and the flow of the game, he’s really picking up on it and he’s been doing really good. Every day, I feel like he gets better. His rushes and he’s just getting stronger as a player and as a person, so I think he’s doing really good.”
It’s no surprise that Sawyer is already turning heads at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Given that he was ranked as the No. 4 overall prospect in the recruiting class of 2021, even higher than Nick Bosa and Chase Young were ranked as recruits, there’s been an expectation for years that he could be an immediate impact player once he arrived at Ohio State.
However, he’s entering a deep position group as he starts his Buckeye career. Ohio State has four established veteran defensive ends in Harrison, Smith, Tyler Friday and Javontae Jean-Baptiste who are expected to lead the rotation in 2021, so it’s uncertain how many snaps Sawyer will see as a freshman.
Being that Sawyer is still in just his first semester at Ohio State, Johnson doesn’t want to set expectations yet for what Sawyer could do this year.
“It’s still early,” Johnson said. “Want to wait and see as we get into the fall, as we go through spring and summer workouts, but I certainly like where he’s at right now in his development.
That said, Johnson said he believes Sawyer is “gonna be a special player down the road.” And he made it clear that Sawyer will have a role on the defensive line this year if he proves he’s ready for it. Johnson’s played true freshmen in substantial roles before – like when Harrison started in the College Football Playoff two years ago – and he knows Sawyer has the potential to be a difference-maker.
“He doesn’t have to convince me. We’re gonna find a role for him. If he continues to work hard and do the things we’re asking him to do, we’ll find a place to play him,” Johnson said. “I’ve never been afraid to play freshman players.
“I think the most important thing is that when a kid feels like he has a role, he’ll work hard at it. And if I can give him a role early on and say ‘This is what I want you to do, and be the best at it,’ I think he’ll do that. And that’s what we’re gonna have to do to find a role for him as he goes forward. But he’s gotta earn it. That’s the biggest thing, he’s gotta earn that role. But we’ll find a role for him going forward, if he turns out what I think he might be down the road.”
“The thing I like about Jack, he’s a fierce competitor. He hates to lose. He wants to win every rep. And I love that about him.”– Larry Johnson on Jack Sawyer
Harrison, who knows what it’s like to start an Ohio State career with the expectations that come with being a highly touted recruit from the Buckeyes’ backyard, will be among those encouraging Sawyer as he tries to become an immediate contributor in the defensive end rotation.
“I’m just gonna help him out like the old dudes helped me out. Just kind of pay it forward,” Harrison said. “Eventually, he’s gonna be the old guy, there’s gonna be a freshman and he’s gonna pass down the knowledge. That’s how it is in the D-line room.”