Tracy Sprinkle started 12 of Ohio State’s 14 games at nose tackle this past season, and it would have been 14 of 14 games had the Buckeyes not started all four Rushmen against Indiana and Oklahoma to open the season.
As a nose tackle, Sprinkle wasn’t going to be called upon to make a bunch of plays. He finished the season with 16 tackles and 3.0 tackles for loss. He did do his job when it came to occupying blockers, however, helping lead an OSU rush defense that allowed just 2.94 yards per carry, which was the fourth-lowest mark in college football.
Sprinkle was also a very vocal team leader among a defensive line full of leaders. Replacing his production isn’t a matter of equaling his 16 tackles, it’s a matter of keeping the defensive front as consistent against the run as it was this past season. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, there are a number of options to turn to.
Being an Ohio State defensive lineman, Tracy Sprinkle shared reps with Robert Landers, and it would not be a surprise at all for Landers to be starting here in 2018. Landers is undersized, which he uses to his advantage in gaining penetration. There will be questions about whether or not he can hold up over the course of a season, but since everybody is sharing, he should be fine. The interesting part about Landers is that he has played on the nose for two seasons now and has 12.5 tackles for loss. Those are numbers comparable to past nose tackles Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington.
Another player who has received snaps here and there in 2016 and 2017 is Davon Hamilton. Hamilton is entering his fourth year at Ohio State, like Landers, and will now have an opportunity to be a much larger part of the defensive line rotation. He has certainly had his moments, but most of his production has come in blowouts. That should change in 2018. At 6-foot-4 and 297 pounds, Hamilton is certainly bigger than the 6-foot-1 and 283 Landers is listed at. He is an active defender who has looked very good in spring camps. He’ll need to translate that to the games from this point on, however.
With so many defensive tackles primed to play the three technique spot, you have to wonder if maybe one of them will slide over to nose. Perhaps a Malik Barrow or Haskell Garrett could get a look. Jerron Cage redshirted as a true freshman in 2017, so he will finally be allowed to play a bit in 2018. Spring camp will be big for him because Ohio State will be adding three more defensive tackles to the mix thanks to their 2018 recruiting class. Of those three, Tommy Togiai and Antwuan Jackson will be taking part in spring football. Taron Vincent will arrive in the summer, and he will bring the expectations of being the nation’s No. 1 defensive tackle recruit. Vincent and Togiai may not be nose tackles, however. There is still a lot of sifting to do here.
At 6-foot-2 and 305 pounds, Antwuan Jackson should be involved here. He was a junior college All-American last season, and is expected to play in 2018.
Robert Landers and Davon Hamilton will likely be the two main guys at nose tackle this spring, but Jerron Cage should be involved as well. Antwuan Jackson is expected to participate in spring football as well. That is a good number of players for one position. It will drive competition and allow for reps for everyone involved. We will see if there are any of the other guys mentioned above who get some time at the nose. This is a very deep group of tackles, so even if Larry Johnson can’t find snaps for everyone, there should be plenty of good snaps to be found.
The best bet is for Robert Landers to emerge as the starter here. He’s been the backup nose tackle in each of his first two seasons, so now the time is his. Barring somebody else coming along and making a huge jump, this is Landers’ job to lose. He is also a leader and a very unselfish teammates.
I believe the rotating duo here will be Robert Landers and Davon Hamilton, but Hamilton is going to have to hold off some players who will be vying for opportunities. It is too early for any sizable projection for Antwuan Jackson, who has JUCO experience, but not much else. He redshirted as a true freshman at Auburn, so he also has that experience.