The Ohio State defensive line rotated eight players last season, and they return every last one of them this year. Defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle also returns, as do the talented players who couldn’t quite crack the depth chart last year.
More players are then arriving in the summer, like 5-star defensive end Chase Young and 4-star defensive tackle Haskell Garrett.
Yes, it’s a good time to be Buckeyes’ defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
The great thing for Johnson is that even without the incoming reinforcements, or the players who didn’t play last year who are now ready to contribute, this OSU defensive line is already tested and proven.
Last year was just a preview of things to come, however, and this current group could very well be the best of the Urban Meyer era. Johnson already believes this is the best group he’s ever had. He’s not the only coach who’s been impressed.
“I like our D-line,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said this spring. “That’s a heck of a group, you know. And I think we have really elite defensive linemen and I think we have the best defensive line coach in America, so when you put those two things together, it’s fun to work with those guys, and I’m excited to see how it all comes together.”
If it’s anything like last season, it should come together very well for the Buckeyes. The Ohio State depth was on display all season long a year ago, especially later in the game when it is common for defensive lines to fade.
For instance, in 2016 the OSU defense allowed 4.3 yards per carry in the first quarter. They only got stronger as the game went on. In the fourth quarter, they only allowed 3.1 yards per carry.
What about overtime?
The Buckeyes played overtime games against Wisconsin and Michigan last season, winning both. How did they manage that? Because they only allowed six yards rushing in the three overtime periods they played.
That doesn’t happen without a deep defensive line that can stay fresh throughout the course of a game. Now they all return, and they’re a year better than they were in 2016. Especially at defensive end.
“I’ve played with a lot of great individuals,” said defensive end Sam Hubbard. “I don’t think collectively there’s been as much talent at this position since I’ve been here. I mean we have four guys that could start on any team in the country and we’re all playing together. It’s amazing what Coach Johnson’s done.”
Those four defensive ends will have four defensive ends behind them fighting to get onto the field as well, and in order for them to make an impact, they are being coached not to look at the depth chart.
“I feel like it’s the best (defensive line in the nation), but that’s just how I am,” said defensive end Jalyn Holmes. “We practice hard, we prepare hard, so I feel like we can line up against anybody if we keep doing that. We don’t have twos. There’s 1As and 1Bs, and really not even that. We’re all ones, that’s how we’ve got to approach it. Even guys like Coop and Rashod Berry, I tell them all the time, ‘You’re not a two, you’re not a three, you’re a one.’ So if you practice like that, you’re going to play like that.”
It didn’t take much coaxing from Larry Johnson to get his defensive line to buy into a rotation that would see their snaps reduced significantly. They believed him when he said they would be more effective in the fourth quarter with fewer snaps, and the numbers proved him correct.
Every player on the defensive line had to buy in, and they all have. It has brought them even closer and is driving them to get better every single day, regardless of where they are on the depth chart.
“I just feel like it’s a bond that we all have with each other and we just don’t want to let each other down,” Holmes said. “I feel like we have that bond and we’ve got that chemistry and we’re playing for something bigger than ourselves. So when you do that, you just play a lot faster and a lot smarter. I think we have a very, very great and deep, deep defensive line that could do a lot for the Buckeyes this coming season. It’s going to be fun and interesting moving ahead and I look forward to a great year.”