Statistics are nice, but what good do a pair of sacks in the first quarter do for a guy when he’s too winded or too tired to have the same kind of impact in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line?
The desire to avoid such a lag is why the Buckeyes have focused so much of their recruiting energy on defensive ends over the last handful of years. It is a position that cannot be deep enough, though it would appear that Ohio State is going to put that assertion to the test in 2017.
All four defensive ends from last year’s rotation — Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard, Jalyn Holmes, and Nick Bosa — return for the Buckeyes this year, as do reserves Rashod Berry, Jonathon Cooper, and Darius Slade. Arriving this summer is freshman Chase Young, who will combine with Cooper to give Ohio State a pair of former 5-star defensive end prospects on the bench.
How long any of them remain on the bench is up to them, as defensive line coach Larry Johnson is welcoming all comers to find a place in a rotation that is designed to keep that position group as fresh as possible.
“I think that’s the key,” Johnson said. “Tyquan Lewis last year only played 45 plays a game as a starting defensive end, and that kind of tells you that we want our guys to be fresh. I think that’s the key, and they know that. Everybody is going to play, but we’re going to play fast.”
It is a long season, and had Lewis been playing 65 plays a game instead of 45, he would have gone into the Michigan game last year with 220 more snaps on his body, which equates to nearly five more games worth of work. Instead, he and his teammates went into the game as fresh as they could be.
“If you’re playing 45 plays a game, you really save yourself and that’s the idea,” Johnson said. “It makes you fresh again.”
Jalyn Holmes has been an increasing part of this rotation, and last year as a junior he was essentially one of four starters for the Buckeyes at the position. For a guy coming off of the bench, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he welcomes the rotation, but everybody benefits from it.
“Ever since we started the rotation, the whole rotation thing, you just get used to it so it’s not that big a deal,” Holmes said. “It helps a lot. You can see guys continue to stay fresh and it gives us the opportunity to do different things.”
While the rotation will keep the players fresh, one thing it will not do is help stuff the stat sheet. Lewis led the team with eight sacks last year, which was only sixth-best in the Big Ten. He was still named the conference’s Defensive Lineman of the Year, however, so clearly statistics aren’t everything, nor should they be.
“Your production definitely takes a hit, but that’s just selfish to want big numbers,” said Sam Hubbard. “You’re playing faster and fresher. Everybody plays at a higher level when you take less reps and you get on the field and make bigger plays. So, I think numbers go down, but overall as a unit we play together and (NFL) teams at the next level, they’re going to evaluate that too and you’re not gonna put any laziness on film, they’re going to be full go at all times.”