Ohio State defensive end Tyquan Lewis was the Big Ten’s Defensive Lineman of the Year last season. Teammates Jalyn Holmes and Sam Hubbard were named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten. Nick Bosa, meanwhile, was named Freshman All-American by virtually every outlet that puts such a team out.
Splitting reps between the four of them throughout the entire season, none of OSU’s vaunted “Rushmen” posted staggering numbers — only Lewis had more than five sacks — but they were each recognized as some of the Big Ten’s premier pass disruptors.
Most teams are lucky to have one defensive end receive accolades. Two on the same line is a dream. Three would be childish fantasy. And four? Four would be some other unreachable realm altogether.
Well, the Buckeyes reached the unreachable last season, and amazingly they are poised to do it again this year. Everyone returns to a group that has only gotten better, and will get even deeper when 5-star signee Chase Young gets to campus in the summer.
When defensive line coach Larry Johnson looks at what he has done over his career and the number of All-Conference players and All-Americans that he has mentored, few coaches can match his output. And when he sends players into the draft, the NFL takes note. Six times since 2000, he has had a defensive end selected in the first round.
That is why when Johnson is asked if this is the best group of defensive ends he’s ever had, it would be wise to hear what he has to say.
“As a collective group, yeah, I think it’s the best group I’ve ever had, if we keep doing what we can do,” he said.
Even though he added an “if”, Johnson has no doubt that they will keep doing exactly what they are capable of.
“They can start for anybody in the country,” he said. “I think the most important thing about these guys is that they are unselfish. They are really unselfish players. They don’t care who starts, they don’t care who plays, as long they play. The whole goal is to be the best and to be the best you’ve got to work as a unit, and that’s where they are. It’s real. It’s not a fake bond, it’s a real bond. These kids love each other.”
That bond isn’t just talk. It was on display last winter when each of Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes, and Sam Hubbard had an NFL decision to make. They all decided to come back, and there was a common theme for why each of them chose to return.
“Tyquan came back because of his boys,” Johnson said. “Because he wanted to be close to them. Jalyn stays because of those four guys. They won’t worry about who is going to play, it’s, ‘Coach, just make us better.’ And that’s my job. It’s to get every player better, and that’s what we’re working on.”
Can they match the accolades they received last season? It would be a surprise if they didn’t, but they aren’t chasing individual awards, only quarterbacks.
And according to Johnson, they’re the best group he’s ever had at doing that.