It takes a rare talent to cause “sleepless nights” for the Ohio State head football coach before even arriving on campus in Columbus.
Caden Curry fits that description, as Ryan Day said the Buckeye coaching staff started to become a bit restless while waiting for a commitment from the Greenwood, Indiana, native last fall. Curry took until the day before the early signing period to make his official decision, but ultimately gave Ohio State the sigh of relief it hoped for when he announced his intentions to wear scarlet and gray.
In his first few months at Ohio State after joining the fold in January, Curry’s done nothing to contradict Day and company’s first inclinations about the versatile defensive force. The reviews have been consistent before, during and after his first spring with the Buckeyes: Curry could be a future star on the Ohio State defense.
“Caden plays with a high motor,” Day said in April. “He’s a really good football player. Plays a lot bigger than he is. Really intelligent. Quick twitch. I think he’s gonna be a heck of a football player.”
"He's got a quick first step and he's a little surly. That equals potential greatness."– Jim Knowles on Caden Curry
Rated the 13th-best edge defender in the country out of high school, the Center Grove alum could line up at multiple positions in new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ revamped scheme for Ohio State. Curry is listed at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, and both his frame and athletic makeup forecast the ability to slot into more than one role over the course of his career.
That’s something Curry was already expecting, and perhaps even prefers given his varied skill set.
“I’ve done all the positions I need to kind of get ready for it, I feel like,” Curry said in February. “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.”
The Leo position, currently called the Jack in its infancy at Ohio State, affords Curry the chance to play a hybrid defensive line/linebacker role that likely wouldn’t have existed at all had Knowles not taken over the reins this offseason.
Repping at that position during Ohio State’s open Student Appreciation Day practice at the start of April, Curry blew up multiple plays in the backfield while the Buckeyes went live for 11-on-11 work. He may have been going up against second- and third-team offensive linemen, but Curry’s speed turned heads nonetheless.
In fact, it’s the first thing Knowles mentioned earlier this month when asked what stands out about the freshman.
“His first step. Some of the things I saw him do in pass rush, turning the corner, really impressive,” Knowles said. “And then he's kind of surly, a little bit. A lot like Jack (Sawyer). I mean, those guys seem to be surly, and I like that kind of personality. So yeah, he's got a quick first step and he's a little surly. That equals potential greatness.”
Curry was just the second freshman to shed his black stripe this spring. And considering the Buckeye player Curry compares himself to, it’s clear he’s chasing the greatness Knowles alluded to.
“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.”
Curry played the most snaps of any Buckeye defensive end in the spring game (52), although he didn’t play until three other sets of edge rushers had already cycled into the scrimmage. Curry played most of his snaps standing up in the Jack position and ultimately finished the exhibition with three total tackles, including one tackle for loss.
There were certainly other freshmen that stole the spotlight in the spring game, namely first-year safety Kye Stokes, but Curry was on the short list of players Knowles mentioned by name when discussing standouts from the scrimmage earlier this month.
“Kye had really made progress at the end there and in the spring game, but they all stood out in some way,” Knowles said. “I think it's a great crew. And, you know, I'm pretty demanding on those guys. And then every now and then I have to stop myself and say, ‘Oh, this guy should be at the senior prom right now.’ But I push, push, push on those guys, too. And I thought they handled it well. The main thing was they were able to take coaching. Caden had a lot of great pass rushes. Know what I mean? So they were able to take coaching and when you have a young guy who can take coaching and has talent, you got a chance.”
The main obstacle Curry will face as a freshman is the loaded depth on the Buckeye defensive line, which could make Larry Johnson’s rotation difficult to crack in year one. But Curry figures to have less competition at Jack.
Sawyer seems to be a favorite of Knowles’ at the position, but he may prove too talented a traditional pass rusher to be used exclusively as a hybrid defender. Mitchell Melton was another top candidate to see time in the role after a breakout spring camp, but the third-year Buckeye suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the spring game, and Curry may end up seeing the benefit.
His timeline to be a major contributor remains undetermined as of yet, but early feedback from the Ohio State staff indicates it may not take Curry all that long.