It is never easy for a true freshman defensive tackle to work his way into the lineup at Ohio State. Malik Barrow found that out last year in his first season as a Buckeye.
Unlike most freshmen, however, Barrow was also working his way back from injury after tearing an ACL as a high school senior. He came close to getting his redshirt taken off a couple of times last season, but it never quite happened.
There is no shame in being redshirted, especially when you live on the line of scrimmage. In fact, in 2015 the Buckeyes redshirted all six of their defensive line signees. Tackles Dre’Mont Jones, Jashon Cornell, Davon Hamilton, Robert Landers, and Josh Alabi all sat and watched as rookies, as did defensive end Rashod Berry. Cornell and Alabi had some health issues last season (and Alabi has since been moved to the offensive line), but Landers, Hamilton, and Jones were all major contributors as redshirt freshmen.
If there is a path to follow here, it would be that of Jones, who also suffered a significant injury prior to arriving at Ohio State. They brought him back at the proper pace, and when he was called upon last season to replace injured Tracy Sprinkle, he responded. As a redshirt freshman, Dre’Mont Jones ended up being one of the most productive defensive tackles in the Big Ten.
Could Barrow have a similar impact this season? Well, the unit is deeper than it was a year ago, but the potential is there. Like they did with Jones, they have made sure to work Barrow at a pace that would have him ready to contribute in 2017.
“What we’re trying to do is overload him slowly, but we’re overloading him to get ready,” defensive line coach Larry Johnson said this spring. “He’s got to play in the fall, so we’re trying to find out how many plays can he play at maximum speed. That’s the key. That’s where we gauge them right now. Can you play eight, can you play 10, can you play 15? And that’s based on what we see on the field in repetitional plays.”
Barrow responded well to the approach according to Johnson.
“I like where Malik Barrow is at right now and where he’s heading,” he said. “He’s a guy that has had an ACL and is just really coming back playing. He has really just come into his stride to move forward.”
This was Barrow’s second spring camp, but first as a healthy player. He is now in the midst of his first full-go summer offseason as well. He has a growing familiarity with what is needed to be successful. With that added experience, his confidence has grown, and it has shown in his play.
“There’s some young-guy stuff that all of us went through,” teammate Jalyn Holmes said this spring. “But Malik, he shows great talent and the sky is the limit for him.”
The sky is the limit? That may sound like a bold statement, but Holmes didn’t stop there.
“I feel like that’s a future first rounder, top-10 pick in my eyes,” he said of Barrow. “Once he starts believing that on a consistent basis, nobody can block him. That’s a strong statement. That’s a strong statement. I’m dead serious. When he is a first round pick, you all come call me because I said it first.”