The sky is the limit for Larry Johnson's pass rush.
Ohio State recorded 21 sacks in the shortened 2020 season. That's 2.6 per contest as Chase Young's absence was clearly felt in the trenches. The Buckeyes were able to provide some pressure, but oftentimes the pass rush was a half step away from getting to the quarterback. With Young leading the way, the 2019 team amassed an impressive 54 sacks, which was good for nearly four per game.
Jonathon Cooper is off to the NFL after leading the team with 3.5 sacks last season. Tommy Togiai got to the quarterback three times from the interior, but he too is preparing for the NFL draft. Despite losing its two top sack leaders, Larry Johnson has to be feeling good about the pressure the 2021 defensive line may be able to create.
The rotational pass rush is something we've gotten used to by now. On obvious passing downs, Ohio State occasionally plays with three or even four defensive ends on the field to enhance the pressure on quarterback dropbacks. We've seen it over the years with the likes of Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes, Sam Hubbard, and true freshman Nick Bosa all on the field in 2016. Surely a scary sight for quarterbacks anytime the ball needs to go through the air.
It's always tough to gauge how much to take away from the spring game, but Jack Sawyer certainly appeared to be more advanced than the typical true freshman. While the Pickerington native wasn't exactly squaring off against Orlando Pace, he showed the ability to use his hands – something Larry Johnson specializes in – while getting to the quarterback multiple times. In a game that featured several standout performances, the five-star edge rusher exceeded expectations his first time in the Shoe.
Sawyer is going to play in 2021. It's just a matter of how much time he gets in the rotation. Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith are the favorites to lead the way along the edge. Other veterans like Javontae Jean-Baptiste and Tyler Friday will provide some needed depth. The interior portion of the line will be manned by the likes of Haskell Garrett, Antwuan Jackson Jr., Taron Vincent, Jerron Cage, and Ty Hamilton.
But when Johnson decides to unleash the Rushmen package? That's when things will really get interesting and downright scary for opposing passers.
|Zach Harrison||DE||JR.||6-foot-6, 268 pounds||★★★★★|
|Tyreke Smith||DE||SR.||6-foot-3, 260 pounds||★★★★|
|Javontae Jean-Baptiste||DE||JR. (RS)||6-foot-5, 253 pounds||★★★★|
|Tyler Friday||DE||SR.||6-foot-3, 260 pounds||★★★★|
|Haskell Garrett||DT||SR.||6-foot-2, 300 pounds||★★★★|
|Taron Vincent||DT||JR. (RS)||6-foot-2, 300 pounds||★★★★★|
|Jack Sawyer||DE||FR||6-foot-4, 240 pounds||★★★★★|
|*J.T. Tuimoloau||DE||FR||6-foot-5, 277 pounds||★★★★★|
The package has evolved a bit over the years depending on the personnel, but the concept is fairly simple. Ohio State puts its four best pass rushers on the field when the offense is going to be throwing the football. At times it's been four defensive ends across the front, but quick interior players like Dre'Mont Jones have also been a part of the chaos. With all of the depth in the room, the 2021 version could have a number of different looks.
*Jack Sawyer was the country's No. 4 overall prospect for the 2021 recruiting class, but he wasn't even the top-rated player at his own position. That honor goes to Washington's J.T. Tuimoloau, and he's still trying to pinpoint his college destination. The No. 1 player in his class according to 247 Sports, Tuimoloau is a former teammate of Gee Scott Jr.'s at Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish, Wash. His basketball season and the ongoing pandemic have delayed his recruiting process, but things finally seem to be picking back up.
The 6-foot-5, 277-pound five-star has made recent trips to Washington and Oregon's campuses to check out some practices. With the dead period finally coming to an end on May 31, Tuimoloau will then make a round of official visits – including trips to Columbus and Tuscaloosa – before deciding on a program. He's then expected to enroll at his school of choice in the summer. Ohio State continues to be viewed as the favorite primarily due to the connection that he's developed with Larry Johnson. But this recruitment is far from finished.
Tuimoloau is a rare talent who simply doesn't move like someone who weighs 277 pounds. If he focused solely on tight end, he could almost certainly be the nation's top player at the position. He's a star on the hardwood as well, and both Oregon and Washington have offered basketball scholarships. He's the type of player who walks directly onto a college campus and starts from day one; potentially even at a program like Ohio State or Alabama.
If he does make his way to Columbus, the thought of both he and Jack Sawyer rushing the passer – even if it's just situationally – will be a sight to behold. And that would just be the newcomers of the bunch. Larry Johnson's Rushmen package could theoretically feature four former five-star players providing pressure to opposing quarterbacks.
With a young secondary looking to improve in a big way, an increased pass rush would do wonders for the defense as a whole. The sack numbers weren't quite there last season. Larry Johnson has all the tools in place to change that in 2021.