Three members of Ohio State’s defensive end rotation the last three seasons have gone off to the NFL, and now defensive line coach Larry Johnson has to find a way to not let the Buckeyes be affected by it.
Having Nick Bosa back is a pretty good start. Pairing him with sophomore Chase Young and junior Jonathon Cooper makes life even better. Add in fourth-year junior Jashon Cornell and four more freshmen this summer, and it becomes a bit easier to see why Johnson isn’t lamenting his current lot.
“I’m really excited,” he said this spring. “Every year there is going to be a great player leaving, and my job is to make sure the next man is up. I try not to get down. The young guys have to step up. Coaching, that’s what it’s all about. Developing these guys and making sure they have a chance to make an impact.”
Don’t expect any offensive coaches around the Big Ten to send Larry Johnson sympathy cards. Nor should they. All four of OSU’s defensive ends on the roster this spring were former 5-star recruits.
Next month, the Buckeyes will add Tyreke Smith, Tyler Friday, Javontae Jean-Baptiste, and Alex Williams to the defensive end fray.
Overall, it’s a pretty impressive group for Ohio State, but Johnson wants to see something from the freshmen this year.
“I think it’s really good,” he said of the overall potential of the defensive ends. “We have to count on some young players and if they come in ready to go, I’ll be really excited about our defensive end position. We’ve got some young guys that are coming in that will have a chance to add to what we have right now.”
While the freshmen will add depth, it is the existing trio of Nick Bosa, Chase Young, and Jonathon Cooper that garners most of the attention. Bosa’s name is already on every 2019 NFL Draft board. Chase Young’s name will be found on the 2020 boards, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cooper there as well.
It is easy to see why Johnson is excited, but the players are even more excited than he is.
“We talk about it all the time. We can be, and we will be the best D-line in the nation,” Young said. “The best tandem, the best triplets, whatever you wanna call it. Me, Nick, Coop, we’re gonna do it.”
Bosa was the 2017 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year and is a proven commodity. In a limited role last season, Young finished with 3.5 sacks and 6.0 tackles for loss. Cooper ended up with 2.0 sacks and 3.0 tackles for loss.
When you look at who left for the NFL and who remains, there are those who believe this group can be even better.
“That’s a good question,” Young said. “I mean they look at Nick coming back and obviously after this year he’s probably going to the league. I guess they look at me, I made a few plays last year when I got my chance. Coop made two sacks in one game. So I think they see when we get our opportunity and we do good with our opportunities, then they see a lot of hype coming up this year.”
To many, Cooper may be a question mark. Not to Young, however.
“Coop, he’s on me and Nick’s level,” Young said. “He’s a gold guy. Coop goes hard on every play. His motor speaks for itself. Coop’s good.”
Cooper has played a limited amount of snaps during his first two seasons. Of course, arriving at the same time as Nick Bosa probably has that effect on defensive ends. When Cooper looks at 2018, he doesn’t look at who is gone, he looks at what remains.
“I feel like even though we lost a lot of people, I feel like this year’s defensive line, the culture hasn’t changed,” he said. “How hard we go, the Rushmen package, everything is still going to be just as good as it was last year.”
Chase Young agrees, and believes the defensive ends this season could be even better.
“I think so. Those guys, Tyquan, Sam, and Jay, they set the bar,” he said. “Now we gotta set the bar even higher.”