Ryan Day Expresses Confidence in Ohio State Defensive Line Coach Larry Johnson, Says He Will Coach Next Year

By Andy Anders on December 20, 2023 at 5:35 pm
Larry Johnson

Youth is a funny concept.

In material age, debate can range as to what is considered “young” and what isn’t. Maybe a person is viewed as an adult once they’ve passed college age. Perhaps when one turns 30, one isn’t considered as young anymore. Maybe it’s 40, 50 or the retirement age of 65.

No matter where one's perspective stands on that, 72 years on this tumbling blue marble – the age of Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson – is a lot. That’s why it may strike someone’s ear as odd that Ryan Day referred to Johnson as “young” in his press conference on Wednesday.

“Guys have brought (his age) up over the years in recruiting, but he’s young in terms of his approach every day. He’s got a lot of energy, and he wants to continue to coach,” Day said. “The guys in the room love him. He’s still got a lot of energy when it comes to coaching and he still has a passion for coaching. His wisdom, his experience is the best in the country.”

Of course, Day means young at heart in a certain respect, but the true intention of his words is to say that he feels Johnson has been able to modernize his approach.

That might be called into question on a day when Ohio State signed two defensive line prospects, one of whom is a developmental three-star defensive tackle in Eric Mensah. It was especially called into question when it was thought Alabama had successfully flipped five-star defensive end Eddrick Houston, the other defensive frontman in the Buckeyes’ class, on National Signing Day.

One thing is for certain though: Johnson will be the team’s defensive line coach in 2024 and perhaps beyond. Day confirmed as much when he spoke with the media.

“He’s got a lot of wisdom to him,” Day said. “So when you’re going into a room every day with somebody, you’re counting on them to mentor your young man. I think that’s where families feel comfortable with that. When they hand their son over to Larry Johnson, they know what they’re getting. They’re going to get someone who’s going to pour into him in all areas.”

At one time, it appeared that Ohio State might land four or five top-flight defensive linemen in its class.

Five-star defensive tackle Justin Scott committed to the Buckeyes in July only to flip to Miami (FL) on Nov. 29. Ohio State lost another battle to Miami for four-star defensive end Marquise Lightfoot.

The Buckeyes were also thought to be the leader for five-star defensive end Dylan Stewart before he committed and signed with South Carolina. They made pushes for four-star defensive linemen Amaris Williams and Carlon Jones, but the duo inked NLIs to Auburn and USC in the end.

Asked if Ohio State cast a wide enough net to nab a suitable haul for its defensive line class, Day didn’t feel that Johnson and the staff’s effort was lacking.

“I think so,” Day said. “When you look at our roster, just across the board on where our guys are from, we’re looking from coast to coast. You look at our D-line now, you’ve got a guy from Germany, a guy from Seattle, you’ve got guys from across the country. So we’re looking for the best we can possibly get.”

Looking at next year’s roster with the signees, Ohio State is likely to return Kenyatta Jackson Jr., Caden Curry, Mitchell Melton and Joshua Mickens at defensive end, with Arvell Reese an option at either defensive end or linebacker moving forward. NFL draft decisions await from JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer, this year’s starters. With Houston in tow, that’s somewhere between five and eight edge defenders.

"He’s young in terms of his approach every day. He’s got a lot of energy and he wants to continue to coach."– Ryan Day on Larry Johnson

Defensive tackle will see similar NFL draft decisions from Mike Hall Jr., Tyleik Williams and Ty Hamilton. Hero Kanu, Kayden McDonald, Jaden McKenzie, Tywone Malone, Jason Moore and Will Smith Jr. join Mensah at the position. Former Michigan State defensive tackle Derrick Harmon has emerged as a target in the transfer portal as well.

Those impending draft decisions will have a lot of impact on Ohio State’s ongoing portal strategy at both positions.

“The way that we do it, we want to have eight defensive tackles, eight defensive ends,” Day said. “When it is all said and done, we have to make sure that we have the right guys. We have a lot to consider. Guys coming back, we have the portal, we have guys that are growing in that position and then we have the high school recruiting.”

One of the challenges for Johnson in procuring prospects has been teams using his age to recruit negatively against him, saying that he’ll retire soon. That was reported to be one of the reasons that Houston considered flipping.

“The flip side is that this is a guy who’s developed unbelievable players,” Day said. “Some people can talk about how they develop and everything like that, Larry’s actually done it.”

That was clearly part of the pitch to Houston, who re-upped his commitment and signed with the Buckeyes at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

“Larry worked hard on this one,” Day said. “Comes from an unbelievable program down in Buford (Georgia). We feel like he’s an impact player day one. It was a long process to get to signing day here, but we identified him early as somebody who was a difference-maker. And again, I give Larry a lot of credit for the relationships he built down there.”

Whatever concerns there may be, Day is backing Johnson as his man in the assistant coaching position moving forward, citing his development of prospects as another reason for confidence. 

“There’s certainly different challenges these days but he is adapting and we’re going to have a really good D-line next year,” Day said.

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