In high school, Caden Curry was a one-man wrecking ball in the defensive trenches.
For Center Grove High School (Greenwood, Indiana), Curry primarily played defensive tackle and was a nightmare for opposing offenses to block. He finished his senior season with 65 total tackles (24 for loss) and seven sacks while deflecting seven passes at the line of scrimmage.
All throughout his recruitment, Curry was told by Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson that he could see the Indiana standout playing either defensive tackle or defensive end at the next level. Curry himself has said he’s never been married to playing a single position at the collegiate level.
But around three weeks into enrolling early at Ohio State and getting started on the Buckeyes’ weight training program, there’s one position in newly hired defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ scheme that intrigues Curry the most: Leo. And the 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive lineman is going to see if that position could be a natural fit for him starting in the spring.
“We haven’t really worked into the football mechanics yet,” Curry told reporters Wednesday. “But once we get there, I feel like I could play that (position) or the end, either one … I kind of see myself as more of an athletic build. I can have more speed, so I can see myself playing as a bigger end, but a more athletically skilled type of guy."
The Leo position Knowles deployed at Oklahoma State is essentially a weakside defensive end who moves around from play to play. On one snap, he may stand up and line on the edge. On another, he could line up over the left guard next to a defensive tackle. In some alignments, whoever is slotted into that hybrid role could line up as a linebacker in between the Will and Mike. All in all, it’s considered to be both a linebacker and defensive end position; one that requires size, but also speed.
“I feel like I was a big body in high school, so I’m going to try and use my speed a lot more in college,” Curry said.
Curry arrived at Columbus at 245 pounds and has said he’s put on five pounds since arriving on campus. An ideal playing weight for him would be around 265 pounds by the time spring football ends, though Curry said he’s focused the most on increasing his speed and adding lean muscle to better position himself to play Leo.
While defensive tackle was his main position in his prep career, Curry showed versatility at Center Grove by playing everything from 0-technique to 3-technique to 5-technique and middle linebacker. He even had a stretch as the team’s long snapper.
“I’ve done all the positions I need to kind of get ready for it, I feel like,” Curry said. “I definitely love moving around. I don’t like staying in one spot. But I’ll do whatever … I feel like I could go wherever they need me. I could go inside, I could go outside, I could play that Leo, whatever.”
While Curry hopes to see the field as a true freshman, he knows any playing time will have to be earned. And if he ends up at the Leo position, he knows he’ll have plenty of internal competition for it. He just doesn’t know from where. But true to his high school days, Curry will play any position Ohio State asks him to, even if it’s not Leo.
“Everybody is kind of new to (the Knowles scheme), so they’re not sure if they want to go for (the Leo) or not,” Curry said. “Definitely seeing it on the field, once the coaches see us in spring ball they’ll kind of figure out who needs to go where. I’ll just let them do their jobs and we’ll do ours.”
Knowles himself doesn’t really have a great idea yet for who on the current OSU roster is best suited for that position, either. The new head coach of the defense, as Day put it Monday, has been on the road recruiting for a good portion of January and doesn’t know his personnel he’s inheriting at OSU too well yet. That will change soon, as it’s something Knowles has started to delve into recently after returning to Columbus.
“Yeah, I'm not sure yet,” Knowles said Monday of who may be a factor at Leo this spring. “It's a good question. We really just started to look at that today. Because we were on the road for a couple of weeks recruiting. And we just got new staff members in here. So it was really, today was a day where we could sit down with coach Day and coach Mick, right.
“And I could get in a room with them and say, tell me about this guy. Tell me about that guy, you know what I mean? And, coach Johnson, who's been here, coach Rhodes, who was here, like everybody could kind of chime in, and I could just sit there and take notes, and kind of start to just get an idea of what the puzzle pieces are. So I guess I don't know enough about that yet.”
C.J. Hicks said he expects to play Will linebacker for Ohio State. He says Caden Curry could play the Leo position. pic.twitter.com/TqCsW9ddJ7— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) February 2, 2022
Another freshman who could play Leo is Gabe Powers, but the Marysville native said coaches have mostly talked to him about playing Will linebacker so far. Fourth-year linebacker Cade Stover, who is moving back to defense after playing tight end for the past two seasons, is another candidate to play the position, and Oklahoma State safety transfer Tanner McCalister said Wednesday that he thought Stover would be a good fit for the position.
"I've been working close with Cade Stover," McCalister told reporters Wednesday. "So I'll have to say him for right now, just because I've been working with him in the weight room and things like that. He seems like a guy that's gritty and likes to get after guys. So I can see him doing some of that. I'm not the coach, so I don't know what he's gonna do. But I guess I can give you that."
Returning defensive ends like Zach Harrison, Jack Sawyer and Javontae Jean-Baptiste could also be candidates to man the Leo position.
In the meantime, Curry is focused on improving himself in the weight room day by day and surviving the program’s abs workouts, which he admitted to being harder than he imagined. While NFL player comparisons are always hit or miss for college players, Curry isn’t shying away from setting high standards for himself by comparing himself to a former Buckeye star.
“I kind of just look at myself like Nick Bosa,” Curry said. “That's how I kind of want to build myself and be like. Just everything, watching how athletic he gets on the outside, all the speed rushes and then using his power to kind of just have all the tools to be able to succeed.”