Ohio State already has one established star at defensive tackle in Haskell Garrett. It also has a potential breakout star at the position in Taron Vincent.
How much they will be on the field together as a defensive tackle pairing remains uncertain, but Ohio State is preparing for the possibility of putting both of them in the starting lineup.
During practice sessions that have been open to the media in preseason camp, Garrett and Vincent have been seen taking some first-team reps together at defensive tackle. Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson confirmed Tuesday that both of them – as well as some of the Buckeyes’ other defensive tackles – have been cross-training at nose tackle, in addition to the 3-technique spot they both played last season, to give the Buckeyes more options along their interior defensive line.
“We’re training to have guys play both positions,” Johnson said. “So both guys can play nose, both guys can play 3-tech. So that gives us some more depth, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’ll train other guys like that. Because they’re veteran players, they can probably handle the playbook. And so far, they’ve done that.”
In the past, Johnson has usually had his defensive tackles focus on playing one position or the other. He’s typically had separate rotations for each of the two defensive tackle spots. He views nose guard and 3-technique as two distinct positions.
“3-technique gets more one-on-one in the pass-rush,” Johnson said. “A nose guard gets the combo blocks and he’s gotta be more of an athletic guy getting off the block. But it’s a different position.”
Getting Garrett and Vincent on the field together regularly would be a valid reason to take a different approach by mixing and matching defensive tackles between the two spots this year. Since Garrett is surely in line to play a large number of snaps after he earned All-American honors last season, that wouldn’t leave a ton of snaps for Vincent if they both played exclusively at 3-technique this season.
If either or both of them can play nose tackle, Ohio State will have the option of playing them side-by-side to get both of them more snaps. And if Vincent has the kind of year he and many within the Ohio State football program believe he can have, that’s probably something they’ll want to do.
Vincent has been plagued by injuries for most of his first three seasons as a Buckeye. He’s feeling fully healthy now, though, and is a strong candidate to have a breakthrough season in his fourth year at Ohio State, just as Garrett did last year. Vincent was the top-ranked defensive tackle in the recruiting class of 2018, and Ryan Day described Vincent this spring as Ohio State’s most improved defensive lineman. Johnson said Tuesday that Vincent “has really had a great camp.”
“I’m back to my regular self,” Vincent said Tuesday during an interview session in which he exuded confidence. “I was the No. 1 D-tackle for a reason. I’m finally healthy, so I’m ready to compete, go to work with my guys.”
Garrett believes he and Vincent can be a “very special” combination at defensive tackle this season. Vincent believes he and Garrett will be a “crazy duo.”
“We’re both high-motor guys, we both like to go get it and just penetrate defenses, penetrate the line of scrimmage so yeah, we expect a lot,” Vincent said.
Garrett, who spent some time at nose tackle during his first two years at Ohio State, said the biggest difference between the two defensive tackle positions is that the nose tackle has to play in a tighter space. He said he has talked to some of Ohio State’s former nose tackles, including DaVon Hamilton and Robert Landers, to get their advice on how to excel at that position. And he believes playing both positions can help open up opportunities for the other defensive linemen around him to make more plays.
“I feel that a lot of offenses will dictate their offense off of me, and I feel that it’ll free up a lot of guys with me being able to move around on the D-line,” Garrett said.
Vincent said he feels comfortable playing either spot and that his goal will remain the same regardless of where he’s lining up: “Just causing chaos in the middle.”
“I think as long as you’re getting off that ball, penetrating the offense, I feel like that’s all you need,” Vincent said.
Defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste said he thinks it could cause confusion for opposing offensive lines if Garrett and Vincent are on the field together with both having the ability to line up at either defensive tackle spot.
“That could bring a lot of versatility,” Jean-Baptiste said. “Just to have them moving around. So you constantly don’t know who’s going to be on what side.”
“I feel that a lot of offenses will dictate their offense off of me, and I feel that it’ll free up a lot of guys with me being able to move around on the D-line.”– Haskell Garrett on playing both 3-technique and nose tackle
Because Johnson likes to rotate regularly at every defensive line position, it’s likely Garrett and Vincent will both remain in the 3-technique rotation even if one or both of them also play some nose tackle. Antwuan Jackson and Jerron Cage are also candidates to start or at least play regularly at nose tackle. Jackson already has experience moving back and forth between nose tackle and 3-technique for the Buckeyes, and Ty Hamilton is another defensive tackle who Johnson said could see playing time at both spots. Noah Potter is also in the mix at 3-technique while Mike Hall and Tyleik Williams are trying to push their way into the rotation as true freshmen.
Even if only in a situational capacity, though, Garrett and Vincent have the potential to be a highly disruptive duo on the field together, and they’re putting in the work in preseason camp to give the Buckeyes the option of playing them together in either situation.