How do you replace five former starting defensive linemen in one season? Well, it helps to recruit as well as Ohio State has over the years, and it also helps to have an assistant coach like Larry Johnson trying to make it happen.
The Buckeyes lose three-fourths of their defensive end rotation with the departures of Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, and Jalyn Holmes, as well as the last two starting nose tackles in Tracy Sprinkle and Michael Hill. Not only is that a lot of talent to replace, but it’s an awful lot of leadership as well.
The returning talent is good, no doubt, but what kind of leaders will they be? How calm will they be when it matters most? You can only find out so much about that during the spring, but Larry Johnson will do the best he can in the time he is allotted.
If you think about it, it’s times like this when a To-Do list from a non-coach is the perfect answer for somebody who has been coaching for decades.
1. Let the vets lead.
For the previous two seasons, defensive end Nick Bosa and defensive tackle Robert Landers have been in the rotation at their respective positions. They have followed the lead in that time, as Bosa gave way to three NFL defensive ends, and Landers allowed Tracy Sprinkle to be the captain that he was elected to be. Now, however, those veterans are gone and it is time for Bosa and Landers to lead a very deep crop of defensive linemen. They are going to be relied upon heavily this season, so let them continue doing what they’ve been doing since the winter. They are bringing this group along, and now that spring camp is finally here, this is no time to stop. Larry Johnson should lean on Bosa and Landers more, and fourth-year junior nose tackle Davon Hamilton as well, because he has to know that they’ll be the kind of leaders this defensive line is going to need.
2. Get Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper as many reps as possible.
Chase Young went through a three-game stretch last season as a freshman where he was playing more snaps per game on average than any of the other defensive ends. It wasn’t because he was that good — although he was still pretty darn good, but rather because the games were simply that out of hand. Those reps have helped to prepare him for what’s to come in 2018, but things are going to pick way up this year and he needs to get ready for that in the spring. Everything being said for Young applies to Jonathon Cooper as well. Cooper and Young are going to be in the defensive end rotation this season. They will be playing 50 snaps per game, which will give them ample opportunities to either help or hurt the Buckeyes. They need to get as much experience as possible before things get really real in September.
3. Do the same for Jashon Cornell.
Jashon Cornell was moved to defensive end for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the main reason was that Urban Meyer and Larry Johnson didn’t want to have to rely on a true freshman to be the fourth piece of their defensive end rotation in 2018. Since they’re not interested in that level of reliance in a rookie, they will need to be comfortable with that same kind of reliance on Jashon Cornell. Cornell came to Ohio State as a ballyhooed defensive end prospect, so this isn’t a huge stretch for him. The early returns have been good so far, but the reports from practice 12 will tell a much more vivid story than practice two. Cornell has been a defensive tackle the last two seasons, so he’s going to need some refreshing this spring. The good news is that they say returning to defensive end is just like riding a bike around a left tackle and crashing directly into the face of the quarterback.
4. Get the young defensive tackles comfortable.
Even Ohio State’s defensive tackles who have yet to really play in their careers would be the envy of most — if not all — Big Ten defensive lines. Names like Haskell Garrett, Malik Barrow, Jerron Cage, Antwuan Jackson, and Tommy Togiai could litter starting defensive lines across the conference. And then this summer, the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in the 2018 class arrives. Jackson won’t be healthy until the end of spring camp, so he’s not going to be able to do much in the way of contributing during camp. For Togiai, this is brand new experience, and all he will be asked to do is go full speed on every snap and they’ll work out the kinks later. For Garrett, Barrow, and Cage, however, this is an opportunity to show that they belong in the defensive tackle rotation this season. But before they can get to that point, they need to be comfortable with everything they are being asked to do. Once the understanding happens, the production will follow.
5. Keep Nick Bosa healthy.
Nick Bosa should just be watching every practice from a chaise lounge being fed grapes and Gatorade by an intern. Although it could be dangerous to eat small food items like grapes lying down, so I would assume Mickey Marotti’s science smarts would tell him to have Bosa sitting up when he eats. Also, maybe some of that OSU football money could be used to install automated walk ways because you never know when you might come upon an unlevel carpet or door entrance. Or, if that is too expensive, maybe a rickshaw could be used. Again, you could just use an unpaid intern for this.