Ohio State signed four defensive ends in the 2018 recruiting class. Two of them played and two redshirted.
The highest-ranked among them was Tyreke Smith out of Cleveland Heights, and he saw the most time out of anybody.
When Nick Bosa went down with injury against TCU, Smith was called upon to take more reps than some may have expected. He was the Buckeyes’ fourth defensive end and was also frequently part of the Rushmen package on passing downs.
Smith played in 13 games as a true freshman and couldn’t have done it without defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
“Have a motor and never stop going,” Smith said of what he learned from Johnson last season. “Use technique. Technique is everything. I feel like he’s the best D-line coach in the country and the technique that he teaches is the best. So if you use the technique and listen to the coaching then you’ll definitely succeed.”
The natural talent that Smith possesses makes coaches happy, but so does that attitude and hunger for getting better.
There was one other thing that Larry Johnson liked as well.
“One of the things that I was excited about Tyreke from the beginning is that he was so raw,” Johnson said. “I like raw. I like guys who have a lot of development left to do. He’s one of those guys, anything you give them, he takes it on. Right now, where he is from where he started, it’s a night and day difference. He’s got a chance to be really special.”
A freshman season can be an overwhelming time for an athlete. Competing against veterans who practice like everything they’re being asked to do is second nature can be tough as a rookie. The learning process is never ending, and for freshmen, there can be some very heavy slogging.
That’s why Smith relied on Johnson’s teaching and his teammates’ encouragement to get him through.
“Coach J and my teammates pushed me the whole time to go hard,” he said. “I can just give all of the credit to them for pushing me every day in practice and making me get game reps and mental reps in practice and then showing it on the field.”
Smith responded well to his expanded role and the more he was asked to do, the more capable he seemed of handling it.
It is not Larry Johnson’s habit of putting more on a player than he can handle, and more will be put on Tyreke Smith in 2019.
Even though the depth chart remains mostly the same from the Rose Bowl with Chase Young, Jonathon Cooper, and Robert Landers at the top, Johnson has shown that he will rotate players in no matter how talented his top two guys are. With a freshman year completely under his belt and an entire offseason to work, Smith’s reps should go way up in 2019.
And he’ll be relying on his technique and his teammates to get him there.
“The whole older D-line like Coop, Chase, BB, they all help,” he said. “If I have a question or they see something that I’m not seeing, they tell me. They’ve definitely been helping me and it will show in the long run.”