Quick Hits: Larry Johnson Thinks Mike Hall Jr. is in “The Best Shape” of His Life, Jack Sawyer Expects “Complementary Football” From Ohio State's D-Line and Ty Hamilton Says “We Want Rings Over Stats”

By Chase Brown, Dan Hope, Garrick Hodge and Andy Anders on August 17, 2023 at 2:54 pm
Larry Johnson

Ohio State's nickname for its defensive linemen is the Rushmen.

Similarly with Ohio State's cornerbacks and BIA, however, the Buckeyes' defensive ends and tackles haven't lived up to the moniker in recent seasons.

From 2014-19, Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa and Chase Young made Larry Johnson's position room one of the best units in the nation, regardless of position. However, Johnson and the Buckeyes were unable to continue the unprecedented success in 2020, 2021 and 2022, as talented players like Zach Harrison, Tyreke Smith, Taron Vincent and Javontae Jean-Baptiste and others came and went without having the same impact as their predecessors.

But there is hope yet for Ohio State.

Top recruits JT Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer, Mike Hall Jr. and Tyleik Williams return for their third collegiate seasons in 2023, while veterans Ty Hamilton and Mitchell Melton, Ole Miss transfer Tywone Malone and youngsters Caden Curry and Kenyatta Jackson are also expected to make an impact in Johnson's rotation-heavy system.

“We want four guys, a unit, playing together as hard as we can to stop the run and then have an opportunity to rush the passer," Johnson told reporters on Thursday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

Johnson was accompanied by Tuimoloau, Sawyer, Williams, Hamilton, Melton, Malone, Curry and Jaden McKenzie in meeting the media after the Buckeyes' 14th practice of preseason camp. Below are videos from each of their press conferences and bullet-point recaps of what each Ohio State defensive lineman and their coach said after the team's practice session.

Larry Johnson

  • Johnson said Mike Hall currently weighs 275 pounds. He said Ohio State would like to get him to 280-285 pounds, but Johnson said Hall is “in the best shape he’s ever been in.”
  • Johnson said Ty Hamilton is a “great leader. He’s very vocal, guys listen to him.”
  • Johnson said Mitchell Melton is currently practicing primarily as a defensive end but “if the Jack becomes part of what he does, I think he can handle it very well.”
  • Johnson said JT Tuimoloau and the other starting defensive linemen could play a higher percentage of the plays this year, but he still thinks it’s important to rotate players to keep them fresh. “You can’t go into a game and play a guy 90 plays and try to play a 15-game schedule. You can’t do that. He’ll burn out at the end; he’ll look good at the beginning and burn out.”
  • On Tywone Malone: “I think he’s gonna have a great impact.” He says all of the top defensive tackles on the roster complement each other well because they all “bring something different to the table.” Johnson said Malone “came with a great attitude to learn.”
  • Johnson said Caden Curry is over 260 pounds now and “much stronger. What you expect from Caden Curry, what you saw in high school, you’re starting to see it now.”
  • Johnson said he hopes Omari Abor will be able to return this season.
  • Johnson said Jack Sawyer has “done a good job of taking care of himself” and slimmed down this offseason. “Now he’s really, really doing some good things for us.”
  • “We want four guys, a unit, playing together as hard as we can to stop the run and then have an opportunity to rush the passer.” He says the defense has to make the offense one-dimensional by stopping the run to be more effective rushing the passer.
  • Johnson says he likes what he’s seen from Arvell Reese as a defensive end so far, but it will be up to Reese whether he stays there long-term.
  • Johnson said Tuimoloau’s first step is faster this year than it was last year.

JT Tuimoloau

  • On Tywone Malone: “That dude, he’s a hard worker. He came in and wasted no time trying to learn, learn what goes on here, learn the brotherhood and that’s all you can ask for. He bought in quick and just stuck with the process.”
  • Tuimoloau said that Kenyatta Jackson Jr. has “kept his head down” and continued improving this offseason.
  • While Jack Sawyer said he’s feeling better at defensive end than he did in the hybrid “Jack” role a year ago, Tuimoloau believes the experience helped Sawyer read and understand the game better.
  • On whether this defensive line can be dangerous: “Very. There’s still a lot to work on, still a lot to grow, but we’re just trusting Coach J and continuing to uphold that R2X standard.”
  • “Energy” is the number one way he and Sawyer complement each other, Tuimoloau said. “I see him on the end and we just feed off one another.”
  • Defensive tackle Mike Hall Jr. can bring “a lot of things” to the defense when fully healthy, Tuimoloau said. “He’s a mud dog of a silver bullet.” He added that Hall is the “heart” of the defensive line.
  • On his own game, Tuimoloau feels his first step has “evolved” since his freshman year. He’s also worked on his leadership.

Jack Sawyer

  • Sawyer said the entire defensive line has been working on improving its first step to make the difference in terms of finishing sacks. “It’s just finding everything you can do to get better and get to the quarterback faster.”
  • “As a whole D-line right now, we’re all playing complementary football really well, pertaining to the defensive ends to the inside to the nose. It’s been a whole unit rushing the quarterback this fall camp.”
  • While it’s hard not to focus on season-long goals, Sawyer said, he and the defensive leaders came together before fall camp started and decided that they needed to focus on each day individually as it unfolded. “We can’t let what we want to be or what we want to achieve personally, doing this or doing that, affect the day that we’re in right now.”
  • Asked about how he’d evaluate the first two years of his career, Sawyer pointed out that a lot of defensive linemen don’t put up big numbers their first two seasons. He feels that, as a collective, if the defensive line puts in the work it needs to, they’ll see the statistics they want to see after the season.
  • Sawyer said he feels “very comfortable” back at defensive end after playing the hybrid “Jack” position last year. It was a mutual decision based on what he, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and Johnson felt was best after 2022.
  • Asked if the defense will need to carry the team early, Sawyer said they’re confident the offense will be in a good place but the defense’s mindset is that it’s going to win some games this year and not leave it up to the offense to score 40 or more points.
  • In an effort to make the physical changes necessary to go back to defensive end, Sawyer dropped six to seven percent of his body fat, he stated. “Getting in shape more, getting my explosiveness back a little more and becoming a little more twitchy again. So that was my main focus this offseason.”

Tyleik Williams

  • On tweaking his knee on the first day of fall camp, Williams says he feels good and has been back out practicing. He added it’s better the setback happened early instead of at the end of fall camp.
  • On his conditioning, Williams said it’s “definitely gotten better” since his freshman season and that he’s trying to build and maintain off of progress from previous seasons and thinks he’s in a good spot right now.
  • Williams said he’s trying to be a leader of the group right now and bring guys together so they can play as one and play faster. He says he’s tried to help change the younger players’ mindset from playing in high school to a collegiate mindset.
  • On the field, Williams said he’s focused on working hard, making the team better and doing what it takes for the team to win.
  • For the defense, Williams said Ohio State’s goal is to be one of the best in the nation, stop the run and create havoc.

Ty Hamilton

  • Hamilton believes this year’s defensive line is the deepest the Buckeyes have had since he’s been at Ohio State.
  • Hamilton said he wants to follow the blueprint set by his older brother DaVon Hamilton, who had a surge late in his Ohio State career, and “amplify it.” He says his brother has helped teach him defensive line techniques.
  • He says the biggest change in his game going into this season has been increased confidence. He’s confident he “can go out and dominate when I need to dominate.”
  • Hamilton said he thinks it is important for the defensive line to play together as one unit. “One thing we say, we want rings over stats. So just putting the selfishness aside and just moving as a team because if one person makes a play, we all make a play.”
  • Hamilton said Malone fit in right away with the rest of the defensive linemen. “He’s brought nothing but a brotherhood.”
  • “We have that mindset that the defense wants to set the tone … We want shutouts.”
  • Asked if there’s something he’s tried to emulate from another one of Ohio State’s defensive tackles, Hamilton pointed to Hall’s speed and lateral quickness.

Tywone Malone

  • Malone said he has primarily played in the 3-tech since he arrived at Ohio State. At Ole Miss, Malone mainly lined up in the 5-tech or 4-tech, but he said the transition into a new technique hasn't been difficult: "It's different... (but) I've been playing it since high school, so I know what I am doing."
  • A former baseball player at Ole Miss, Malone said he hasn't practiced baseball since he entered the transfer portal in the spring. Malone said it has been good for him to be focused on one sport at Ohio State. "All of your focus on one thing is gonna make you do better (in that sport)."
  • Malone believes baseball has helped with different aspects of playing defensive tackle. He said the biggest helper has been hip mobility, which he has developed from years of swinging a baseball bat. Malone said swinging a bat has also helped him generate powerful torque that helps him shed blockers and get into the backfield frequently.
  • Malone said he has studied New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald to help him improve at his position. He said Ohio State's coaching staff uses film of professional players as example of how to stop the run and the pass. Malone also mentioned that Johnson frequently shares wisdom with the defensive line room that every player finds valuable.
  • Malone said his favorite professional baseball players are Los Angeles Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani, Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve and Cleveland Guardians third baseman Jose Ramirez. Malone said he "hopefully" has as good a right hook as Ramirez, who knocked down Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson during an in-game brawl last week.

Caden Curry

  • On how good this defensive line can be: “All of us are working really hard and we look like a great group. We communicate great together, we all work together, we all love each other. So I think it’s going to be a great year.”
  • Curry said that he and Kenyatta Jackson Jr. are “really pushing each other” to get to the next level of their respective games.
  • The offensive line has been improving throughout camp, per Curry. “They’re making us work and get better every day.”
  • “I’m working on everything that I can to make myself a better player.”
  • On what he took from last season: “Watching the older defensive ends and all those older guys, seeing the camaraderie – I feel like our defensive ends are just putting that all together.”
  • Despite adding weight this offseason, Curry feels as though his mobility is every bit as good as it was when he was lighter. He gave credit to strength and conditioning coach Mick Marotti for “building him up.”

Mitchell Melton

  • Melton said he is "grateful" to be back on the field with the Buckeyes after missing last season with a knee injury. "I feel great. I'd say this is the best I have felt since I have been here."
  • Melton said he was "held back a little bit" in spring practices so he could remain fully healthy in the summer and at the start of preseason camp. "I wanted to prepare as best as possible to get my body as healthy as (it can be) for the season. It was a planned spring for me."
  • Melton said he saw an opportunity last season when Jim Knowles introduced the Jack position in his first season as defensive coordinator. Melton said he had great momentum at the Jack before his injury, so he was disappointed to miss all of last year. Still, Melton wanted to keep a good mindset as he recovered. "I know all of these things happen for a reason. I kept working and did as best as I possibly could (to be ready for this season)."
  • On whether or not he will play the Jack position in 2023: "That's up to the coaches. I did a lot of that in high school, and I definitely succeeded at that kind of position. There are some similarities to that. I can be successful at that position."
  • Melton said he has split time between the defensive line and the Jack 50-50. He has primarily spent time on the defensive line. At either position, Melton said his responsibility is to "just go get the quarterback."

Jaden McKenzie

  • On fall camp: “It’s going good, we’re working hard and I love being out here with my brothers competing every day.”
  • On his mindset entering the fall: “Ever since I got here, my goal was to come in and compete as best as I can and compete as best as I can. Injuries held me back, but I’m getting over those and continuing to work hard. That’s what got me to where I am right now.”
  • On the interior defensive linemen’s goals, McKenzie said he wants to help stop the run and push the envelope.
  • On staying in Columbus: “The Lord kept me here, I didn’t want to leave and say what if. I feel like I still have a place here … It’s a special place to be.”
  • McKenzie said the biggest growth he’s had since he first arrived at Ohio State is his knowledge of the game.
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