There have been multiple examples in recent years of Ohio State defensive linemen finding success after moving inside from defensive end to defensive tackle.
Dre’Mont Jones became a three-year starter and an All-Big Ten lineman for the Buckeyes and was selected in the third round of the NFL draft after moving inside to the 3-technique position. Adolphus Washington became an All-American for Ohio State and a third-round NFL draft pick after making the move inside to defensive tackle. Most recently, Jashon Cornell became a productive fifth-year senior starter and a seventh-round NFL draft pick after moving inside for his final season as a Buckeye.
Noah Potter is looking to follow in their footsteps.
Potter, who moved to defensive tackle this spring after practicing at defensive end for his first two years at Ohio State, was initially hesitant to change positions. Like Jones, Washington and Cornell, Potter was recruited as a defensive end out of high school, and expected to play on the edge for his entire Ohio State career. Going into his third season as a Buckeye, however, Potter and Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson mutually decided that he should move to 3-technique because of how he performed while lining up inside in practices.
“I kind of was hesitant to it, but my freshman year and then last year, when we would do pass-rushing situations, I would do pretty well inside,” Potter said this week. “So I think there’s a little bit of a mismatch that I have with my speed and quickness on the inside that I think could be beneficial.”
Potter hasn’t seen the field much in his first two seasons as a Buckeye, playing just 55 total snaps in 2019 and 2020. Had he stayed at defensive end, he likely would have still faced an uphill path to playing time this season, with veterans Zach Harrison, Tyreke Smith and Javontae Jean-Baptiste set to lead the rotation and five-star freshmen Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau poised for immediate playing time.
At defensive tackle, Potter could have more opportunities to make an impact over the next couple of seasons. He’s still behind Haskell Garrett and Taron Vincent on the 3-technique depth chart, but either or both of them could also see some snaps at nose tackle this year, which could open up more playing time for Potter. And Garrett is in his final year at Ohio State while Vincent could also be a candidate to go to the NFL if he has a big 2021 season, giving Potter the chance to play his way into a major role in 2022.
However, Potter said his move inside wasn’t motivated by the possibility of more playing time this year, but because he believes it’s where he could make the most plays in the future both at Ohio State and in the NFL.
“I think I thought I had a good shot at playing at either, but I thought from a future perspective, I thought 3-tech would be the best spot for me,” Potter said. “I just wanted to do whatever I could to impact the team, impact the game, so I thought 3-tech would be a beneficial thing, and it’s not like I didn’t think I could do that at end. I just thought Coach J thought and I thought that it would just be a good decision to do that.
“Obviously I want to play more, but I think I’ve been doing a better job of just allowing everything to happen the way it is. I’ve put the work in, I’m confident in myself, so hopefully that translates to more plays on the field.”
Potter says that when he arrived at Ohio State in 2019, he felt like he had already made it just by landing the opportunity to play for the Buckeyes. Over the last two years, though, he’s learned that he still had a long year to become the best player he can be, so he’s embraced the process of developing both on and off the field.
“I think I’ve grown a lot since I’ve come in here,” Potter said. “And to see the way I’ve developed, not just physically but mentally and especially spiritually, I think that I’ve done a good job of letting things happen the way they should and not getting too pressed in the moment. I think I’ve done a better job becoming more mature and really with my technique and with working hard. I think I’ve done a really good job of working hard with Coach Mick in the weight room.
“I think I’ve done a good job of developing my mindset to be where I want to be the best player I can, instead of, ‘Oh, I’m at Ohio State. I’ve arrived.’ I think that’s one thing I struggled with early on is like ‘I’m here. I’ve done what I needed to do.’ But obviously that’s not how it goes. So I think I’ve done a good job of not staying complacent and just trying to be the best player I can.”
As he’s learned his new position, Potter has embraced not only learning from Johnson but also from Garrett and Vincent.
“I think they’re really good players, so having them helping me out through the transition, they look a little different than me, especially with their weight and their height, but they’re just technique-sound and they’re good players,” Potter said. “So anything that I need, I can go approach them for it and they’re just really open to helping me out. They’re good guys.”
“I’ve put the work in, I’m confident in myself, so hopefully that translates to more plays on the field.”– Noah Potter on his development
At 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds, Potter weighs a bit less than the typical defensive tackle, but he doesn’t expect that to be an issue. Jones was listed at 286 pounds at the end of his Buckeye career while Cornell was listed at 285, so he’s not drastically lighter than they were. He’s also taller than most defensive tackles, though – Jones and Cornell are both 6-3, while Garrett and Vincent are both 6-2 – so pad level has been a big point of emphasis in his development.
“While I’m a little bit lighter, I think with it I play with good technique,” Potter said. “I can do what I’m supposed to do every play.”
Playing defensive tackle means taking on more double-teams, and Potter admits that’s not his favorite thing to do. That said, he believes he can be a difference-maker as an interior pass-rusher.
“I mean, no one likes taking on double-teams,” Potter said. “But I’ve always enjoyed rushing from the inside, especially in passing situations.”