“Somebody has to take responsibility for being a leader.” ~ Toni Morrison
An Ohioan from Lorain, Toni Morrison is a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, as well as a Nobel Prize recipient for literature. While known for her literary works, I selected this quote from Toni Morrison, as I believed it defined what will be a crucial theme as it relates to the Ohio State defensive line heading into the 2018 season.
Over the next few weeks, I will be writing articles that will examine the various position groups within the team, leading up to the Ohio State Spring Game, scheduled for April 14th. These articles will look at the position groups from positions of least concern to greatest concern, based upon the returning players, incoming recruits, and performances that were seen throughout the 2017 season.
With spring practice, the threat of injury is of paramount concern, and the possibilities of transfers during/following spring practice can have an impact upon the position rankings. As always, it is my sincere hope that these articles will spark discussion and dialogue, and I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I look forward to writing them.
The first group to review? The Ohio State Defensive Line.
Players Lost: DE Jalyn Holmes, DE Sam Hubbard, DT Tracy Sprinkle, DT Dylan Thompson, DE Tyquan Lewis, DT Michael Hill
Players Returning: DE Chase Young (Sophomore), DT Dre’Mont Jones (Redshirt Junior), DT Haskell Garrett (Sophomore), DE Nick Bosa (Junior), DT Jerron Cage (Redshirt Freshman), DT Robert Landers (Junior), DE Jonathan Cooper (Junior), DT Malik Barrow (Redshirt Sophomore), DT Davon Hamilton (Redshirt Junior), DT Jashon Cornell (Redshirt Junior)
Incoming Recruits: DE Tyler Friday, DT Antwuan Jackson, DE Javontae Jean-Baptiste, DE Tyreke Smith, DT Tommy Togiai, DT Taron Vincent, ATH Alex Williams
Why did I rank the defensive line as my position group of least concern? Quite simply, look at the talent coming back, and then add in the talent that is on its way as reinforcements. For example, look at the departures of defensive ends Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis (both had 7 sacks in 2017) — for Ohio State to still have a defensive line that is arguably among the best in college football speaks volumes to the quality of depth that has been accumulated by head coach Urban Meyer and defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
This is where Toni Morrison’s quote comes in. Who will emerge as the leader of the group? All eyes will look to junior Nick Bosa to become the primary focus and leader of the Ohio State defensive line in 2018. Bosa had a terrific season in 2017, earning 1st team All-American honors with 16 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks, as a rotational defensive lineman.
With the departures of Hubbard, Lewis, and Holmes, and his stellar play in 2017, Bosa should be expected to emerge as a leader of the defensive line, and should anticipate double team blocks from the opposition throughout 2018.
What is an interesting twist as it relates to the Ohio State defensive line is not in its depth, but where the depth is located. Under Larry Johnson, Ohio State has employed a rotational approach, trying to keep players fresh by continually moving players in and out of the lineup throughout the games. Most of the defensive line depth has been at the defensive end spots, but this year it is actually within the interior defensive line.
Ohio State was able to secure a bumper crop of defensive linemen this past recruiting cycle, with Blinn Junior College defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson a strong candidate to earn playing time within the rotation. Jackson is an early enrollee, but will probably miss some/all of spring practice due to a foot fracture.
How could defensive line become a concern in 2018? As written up above, injury concerns are always paramount. While Ohio State has lost several talented players, it will be essential for the younger players, several of whom have played sparingly over the past few seasons, to step up throughout spring practice and fall camp, to warrant playing time by Larry Johnson next season.
The talent is there within the defensive line group — now all that remains is for the players within those groups to seize the opportunities before them for playing time.